My friend David Wei of Vancouver put himself in the right place at the right time last week, but he was toting a camera when he should have been packing his shotgun. Goose decoys spread over the field, he distracted himself by picking blackberries from his natural blind while he waited for honkers to arrive. When the farmer’s wife dove up, he left his shotgun in the blind and walked over to talk with her. After 15 minutes of chatting, they were interrupted by honking–not from another vehicle, but from these eight geese that came flying quickly downwind out of the east.
“As soon as they saw my set of oversize goose shells, they slowed, went the end of the field, and turned into the wind,” he said. “The birds came lumbering toward my set, wanting to land. Twice more they circled the field before slooooowly flying right over us at about 40 yards. Easy triple … if I had my shotgun.”
Early goose seasons in the Northwest arrived in bluebird weather throughout the region, but hunters who did their homework and positioned themselves in the path of geese moving between open water and fields fared well.
“Geese are roosting overnight on the big lakes and moving to alfalfa fields to feed in the mornings,” reported Craig Foster of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Lakeview, where the local high school is the home of the Honkers. “One landowner had a couple hundred birds coming into her pivot in the morning and again in the evening.”
As September comes to a close with the arrival of youth hunts in states throughout the Pacific Flyway, resident populations of ducks and geese are still literally the only game in town. That’s fine for hunters like southeast Washington guide Paul Sullivan of Burbank Guide Service, who supports between 3,000 and 5,000 mallards on his properties year-round, as well as a fair number of teal.
“When 50,000 come down, though, they can eat you out of house and home,” said Sullivan, who added that efficient crop harvesting sometimes hurts the hunting in some places. “Some of the combines are so efficient that they don’t leave much for the birds. For guys down south that could be a good thing if there isn’t enough food to hold the birds up north.”
Farther south in Oregon’s Klamath Basin, the wild card is water. It’s not much of a basin if it can’t hold water, according to guide Darren Roe of Roe Outfitters.
“Everything is looking good except that the refuges don’t have any water, Roe said. “Some birds won’t even stop if we don’t have water.” Roe was gearing up for Oregon’s youth hunting weekend, when he was to guide a group of youngsters on a private field devastated by white-fronted geese, which now descend on the Basin’s crop fields in record numbers.
The resident duck population in central California bodes well for the season opener in the Bay Area, according to guide R.J. Waldron of North Wind Outfitters.
“It looks really good for resident mallards and spoonies,” reported Waldron, who hunts San Francisco Bay, the delta and rice fields in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. Waldron looks forward to hunting without the special bag limits on scaup this season.
“I feel we have the birds to fill those limits,” he said. “Last year in San Francisco Bay we saw more scaup than we’ve ever seen, but I can just tell you what I see, and I’m not hearing that from some other parts of the country.”
Good duck hunting in the region will require not only high duck numbers, but also low barometer readings.
“Last year was such a mild winter that we had very few storms come through,” Waldron said. “We really had to work for our birds.”
Farther inland, northwest Nevada will offer a youth-only waterfowl hunt on Sept. 29, while kids in Arizona and Idaho will get the whole weekend to bag their birds.
Guide Bob Fields of AZ Waterfowl in central Arizona reported good numbers of local birds that will be available for the youth weekend, with mallards and teal making up most of the bag.