Choosing from three proposed options, the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission set the dates for the 2011-12 waterfowl season at a meeting held on Thursday morning.

The Commission chose Option 2, with the first stage opening the season on Nov. 19 and lasting until Nov. 27. The second stage will continue the season beginning on Dec. 8 through Dec. 23. The final stage of the season will begin on Dec. 26 and conclude on Jan. 29, 2012.

The upcoming season will avoid a calendar overlap with Christmas, unlike last season. Many hunters and commerical hunting guides voiced a strong dislike with the conflict of dates.

The 2011-12 season will open the weekend before Stuttgart’s annual Wings Over the Prairie festival, a huge tourism draw for the area.

The longest span of hunting days will occur in January, aligning with the time that most waterfowl make their migration to Arkansas. It will also aim to avoid more hunting days at the beginning of the season, after the 2010-11 season began in warmer and wetter conditions.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Bird Management estimates that this year could have a record number of waterfowl in Arkansas, should weather and water conditions cooperate. The Division released a report saying the breeding population of the 10 most populous duck species numbers 45.6 million birds.

Largely as a result of more than a decade of mostly wetter-than-normal years on those nesting grounds and the abundance of crucial wetland/grassland habitat they create, North America’s duck population is estimated to be higher than in any year since standardized surveys began in 1955.

The breeding population of mallards total 9.2 million, an increase of nine percent from last year. It’s the most mallards counted since 2000.

The popular Youth Hunt weekend is set for February 4-5, 2012, the same weekend that Super Bowl XLVI is scheduled to be played.