As of early Saturday morning, waterfowl hunting season is officially on, and from what the DNR says, there should be plenty of ducks to be had during this year's opener.
But the threat of the bird flu – which has wreaked havoc on Minnesota's poultry industry – hangs over the kick-off of the new season.
That's why state officials are offering voluntary testing of hunters' kills in seven counties in west and central Minnesota during the first two weeks of the season, according to a DNR news release.
Officials assure hunters the test is quick, and they can "immediately take home their birds," even if the result is positive, as apparently positive results do not pose food safety concerns. However, the release notes whole ducks or geese should be cooked at the "safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit."
Another thing to consider: the avian flu has primarily hit commercial poultry flocks, with the DNR saying only two cases of the disease have been found in the wild since the first outbreak earlier this year.
Testing will be conducted at field stations in Kandiyohi, Meeker, Morrison, Pope, Stearns, Swift and Todd counties.
“These efforts will help us determine the prevalence of avian influenza in ducks,” DNR Wildlife Research Manager Lou Cornicelli said in the release. “The information learned will be widely shared with wildlife management and agriculture agencies and organizations.”
Officials also say the data collected could be useful to the poultry industry "as it develops biosecurity plans" for a potential outbreak this fall. The fast-spreading virus slowed way down over the summer, but experts warn it could make a comeback with cooling temperatures.