Harvest Diary Surveys
National harvest surveys of sport hunters have been conducted annually since 1952 in the United States and since 1967 in Canada. Although these surveys have undergone some changes since their inception, they are conducted by mail and consist of asking selected waterfowl hunters to report the number of ducks and geese they harvested during the hunting season. These surveys provide annual information that allows biologists to evaluate long-term trends in harvest, hunter numbers, and hunting pressure.
Typically in the late summer of each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases a summary of hunter activity and harvest from the previous year.
The most recent summary report is from 2012. More than 15.8 million ducks were harvested in the United States during the 2010-2011 waterfowl hunting season, according to these preliminary estimates. This is up from 14.8 million ducks harvested the previous season.
Currently in the U.S., the Cooperative State-Federal Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) is the program the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the states use to produce reliable estimates of all migratory bird harvest across the country. In a nutshell, here's how the program works: The state agencies collect the name and address of every migratory bird hunter who purchases a hunting license, and they send that information to the USFWS. The USFWS selects a random sample of hunters in each state, and mails them a diary survey form. Finally, the USFWS uses the hunters' responses on the survey forms to estimate harvest and hunter activity at the state, flyway, and national levels.
States have the most difficult job--identifying all of the migratory bird hunters in their state. Most states use their licensing systems to identify migratory bird hunters and to collect hunter name and address. Once identified, hunters are asked a series of standard "screening" questions about the species they hunted and their hunting success the previous year. Contrary to popular belief, hunters' answers to these questions are not used to compile harvest estimates, but simply to identify what types of migratory birds they usually hunt. This allows the USFWS to mail surveys to the appropriate types of hunters. HIP certification is mandatory for all migratory bird hunters in every state in which they hunt.
The USFWS receives name, address, and screening question information from about 3,500,000 migratory bird hunters each year. The USFWS selects a random sample of hunters from this list and mails them a hunting diary form and asks each hunter to record the date, location and number of ducks and geese taken for each day of waterfowl hunting. Survey forms are usually mailed out at the beginning of the hunting season or shortly after the USFWS receives the selected hunters' names and address information from the states.
After the end of the hunting season, the USFWS sends reminder letters and replacement survey forms to the sampled hunters (if necessary), and asks them to complete and mail back their hunting diaries. About 70,000 waterfowl hunters are selected annually for this survey. Responses from hunters who choose to participate are kept strictly confidential. Participation is voluntary, and on average, the response rate is about 60%. In addition to the HIP waterfowl survey, the USFWS also conducts 4 other harvest surveys, including: 1) doves and band-tailed pigeons, 2) woodcock, 3) snipe, coots, rails and gallinules, and 4) sandhill cranes.
Hunters' survey responses are analyzed using standard statistical techniques and are used to estimate the total harvest of ducks and geese, the number of active hunters, the total days hunters spend afield, and the average seasonal bag per active hunter.
The Canadian waterfowl harvest survey system was established in 1967. All sport hunters who wish to hunt waterfowl in Canada must purchase the Canada Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permit, which is a national permit issued by the federal government, primarily at post offices throughout the country. The permit includes a stub on which the postmaster records the person’s name and address, and whether or not that person purchased a permit and hunted the previous year. The postmaster then detaches the completed stub and sends it to the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). Thus, the sample frame for Canada’s harvest survey system consists of all sport hunters who are legally authorized by the Canadian government to hunt migratory game birds—about 200,000 sport hunters each year.
The CWS selects samples of permit buyers, stratified by geographic survey zone, permit renewal status, past hunting success and county of residence. The permit includes a hunting diary on which hunters are asked to note the date, location, and harvest for each hunt. Near the end of the migratory bird hunting season, each sampled hunter is mailed the Harvest Questionnaire Survey, which is a more detailed survey form. Hunters are asked to use their permit diaries to help them report hunting activity and harvest accurately on the survey form.
About two months after the first mailing, the CWS sends a second survey form to those who have not responded. About 45,000 hunters are asked to participate each year. Participation is voluntary, and the response rate is about 40%.
Like the U.S., the CWS uses hunter response data to estimate total duck and goose harvest, hunter activity and hunter effort.
Currently, there are no annual estimates available for hunter harvest in Mexico. However, a study by Kramer et al. (1995) gives a good indication of the magnitude and species composition of the annual waterfowl harvest in Mexico. From 1987 to 1992, Kramer et al. conducted a census of harvest in all the traditional waterfowl hunting areas of Mexico, visiting each major area in a different year. Then they applied area-specific correction factors to adjust for under-reporting by hunters. Finally, they summed the results for each area across years to obtain estimates of average annual harvest for all of Mexico. Generally, the waterfowl harvest in Mexico is less than one percent of the total North American harvest.