Waterfowl managers in Minnesota and other states are concerned that increased kill rates associated with the use of spinning-wing decoys (SWDs) may negatively affect local breeding populations of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). Accordingly, we conducted 219 experimental hunts to evaluate hunting vulnerability of mallards to SWDs during the 2002 duck season in Minnesota. During each hunt, we tested 2 SWD treatments: 1) SWDs turned OFF (control), and 2) SWDs turned ON (experimental) during alternate 15-minute sampling periods that were separated by 5-minute buffer periods. We found that mallard flocks (≥1 duck) were 2.91 times more likely to respond (i.e., approach within 40 m of hunters), and sizes of responding mallard flocks were 1.25 times larger, on average, when SWDs were turned ON than OFF. Mallards killed/hour/hunter/hunt averaged 4.71 times higher (P<0.001) when SWDs were turned ON than OFF. More hatch-year (HY) and after-hatch-year (AHY) mallards were killed when SWDs were turned ON than OFF; however, AHYs were relatively less likely than were HYs to be killed with SWDs turned ON. We found no evidence that SWDs reduced crippling or allowed hunters to harvest relatively more drakes than hens. Using a worst-case scenario model, we predicted that if 47% and 79% of Minnesota hunters had used SWDs in 2000 and 2002, respectively, Minnesota mallard harvests would have increased by a factor of 2. However, increasing use of SWDs by northern hunters may result in a partial redistribution of annual mallard harvests if naïve ducks are harvested upon initial exposures to SWDs, and those ducks that survive become habituated to SWDs, as suggested by our results. Our study was confined to a single hunting season in Minnesota and thus did not assess whether vulnerability of mallards to hunters using SWDs varied among years or geographically. A multi-year, flyway-wide study is needed to make stronger and more rigorous inferences regarding potential changes in harvest distribution and annual harvest rates of mallards due to increasing use of SWDs by hunters in North America.
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