Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
A couple of ducks take a few minutes to clean their feathers. Duck-hunting season begins Saturday.

Early predictions are that there will be more ducks flying into and then sticking around Utah marshes this fall. Which means the opening of the Utah duck-hunting season should be as good if not better than last year's. And, that hunting through the season could be better than it was last year.

Meaning, of course, that those hunters who go prepared, are able to hit a moving target and are patient, will do well. That could mean anything from shooting a couple of ducks up to a limit of seven.

The hunt will open Saturday at 7 a.m. statewide, except in five of the main waterfowl hunting counties — Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Salt Lake and Weber. In these five counties, hunting will open at 8 a.m. The season will last for 107 days.

While Utah does have some resident birds, most of those flying past hunters are from southwestern Alberta, Canada.

Pond conditions, noted Tom Aldrich, migratory game bird coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, were "improved."

According to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it estimates a total duck population of more than 36 million; or a 14 percent increase from last year's estimate and 9 percent above the

1955-2005 average.

Aldrich is predicting an "average flight of ducks this fall, but I think the ducks that do migrate through will stay in the state longer."

That's because there's more good habitat on the marshes around the Great Salt Lake. The lake level is up about one foot over what it was last year. This has created thousands of acres of prime duck marsh.

"As soon as the hunt starts, the ducks start looking for a place to escape the hunting pressure and rest, and the Great Salt Lake is the best rest area we have," he said. "The birds rest on the lake for a while, and then they make flights back into the marshes to feed. When the weather gets rough, the birds also come into the marshes looking for a place to ride out the storm.

"With all of the space that's available on the lake right now, the birds have plenty of room to rest, and that should keep more birds in Utah longer into the season. Because more birds will be around for a longer period of time, hunters should enjoy a better hunt this season."

The latest report from the Howard Slough management area list marsh conditions as "excellent." Bird numbers were also reported as "excellent" in the main impoundments and on the new marsh areas.

Conditions vary on Ogden Bay. Unit 1 is good, Unit 2 is poor to fair, Unit 3 is good, the Weber Delta is fair and the Pintail marshes are good. Unit 3 is said to have the most birds, with higher numbers expected as the season progresses.

Most of the birds are concentrated on the larger waters in Units 1 and 3.

Water levels at Salt Creek are said to be normal, vegetation is listed as healthy and green, and bird numbers are building.

Water levels in Locomotive Springs are low. The West Lake area is dry, and the Migrant Lake holds some water. Marsh vegetation is said to be "stressed." As a result, bird numbers are down and not expected to increase significantly.

Conditions on the Harold Crane management area range from fair to excellent. The main impoundments are in good shape, and the exterior flats are flooded and in excellent conditions. The Rainbow unit is listed in fair conditions. Bird numbers on the main and exterior flats are excellent, with birds packed into flooding flats.

The 2006-2007 daily duck bag limit is seven ducks, including not more than two hen mallards, one pintail, one canvasback, two redheads and three scaups.

Aldrich predicts that hunters may see fewer geese at the start of the season, but expects numbers to increase as the season goes on.

"Most of the geese that hunters hunt during the first part of the season are raised right here in Utah," he said. "The wet spring this year caused many rivers to swell and ponds to rise, and that affected the number of geese that were raised locally. People canoeing down the Bear River this spring reported seeing destroyed nests and eggs floating down the river."

States that raise geese that will migrate into Utah, such as Alberta, Idaho and Montana, reported good nesting conditions.

The daily Canada goose bag limit is three.