Virginia hunters will have a chance to bag early ducks for the second straight year when a special 3 1/2-day season opens at noon Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
Not all the hunters are thrilled by the prospect.
The early season is designed to provide Virginians with a shot at blue-winged teal, which pass through extraordinarily early on their migratory flight from the Canada prairies to as far south as South America.
It also offers a chance to bag four birds a day from the full local populations of wood ducks, some of which will move south when the weather grows colder.
Virginia is on a 100-point bag limit system. Birds are assigned point values, and the one that puts a hunter at or over 100 is the last can be taken that day.
Wood ducks normally carry a pint value of 70 in Virginia, which means that only two a day are permissible. But during this early season, this year being the first time, the point value will be lowered to 25 and the bag limit will be four a day.
That does not sit well with Tom Charlton, a Charlotte County duck hunter for the last 17 years who has spent time and energy trying to foster the growth of the wood duck population.
Says Charlton: "Wood ducks at one time were so scarce they were closed to hunting. It's only been through careful conservation that the flocks were built up.
"We've gone to a lot of trouble to build boxes and nests for wood ducks. It's one of the race breeds that you can actually raise in your own backyard. You can make a significant contribution to improving the population.
"It's very difficult for me to think of them as abundant. We've been so careful about them for so many years."
But the state game commission contends that wood ducks are abundant. According to game biologist Fairfax Settle, woodies provide the fourth-biggest bag among ducks in the Old Deminion, and apparently they are prospering.
Settle said wood ducks are not doing as well in northern areas, and that's oe reason for the early shooting days here. The idea is to put more pressure on local birds so there is less pressure when migrating wood ducks arrive from the north later in the year.
He said wood duck habital has improved dramatically in this region over the last 20 years, in part because of the re-establishment of thriving beaver populations.
Beaver dams provide the kind of backwoods ponds wood ducks need. They are puddle ducks that nest in trees and they need shallow ponds streams to feed in.
Even if there are abundant wood ducks, Charlton doesn't feel right about the early hunting. "I see no point in it. I think extra days at the end of the season make more sense. The birds are stronger and they are fully mature. Anyway, it just doesn't seem right to be duck hunting when the weather's hot."
As for the blue-winged teal, their appeal is narrower because they hold to brackish and freshwater tidal marshes, which are neither as widespread nor accessible to casual hunters as the wood duck habitat.
Blue wings are smaller than the 1 1/2-pound average wood ducks, generally weighing in at about a pound. In the bag their point value is 10, so the daily limit is 10 birds.
One thing is certain the brief early season is having an effect on the total take of both species in Virginia.
In 1975, when there was no early shooting, wood ducks comprised 5.8 per cent of all ducks taken in Virginia. Last year, with the first early season, woodies were up to 9.4 per cent.
Blue-winged teal made up only half of one per cent of ducks taken in 1975. Last year they jumped to 3.3 per cent.