Opening day! What could be better? OK, maybe opening day with an October storm, but we can’t always have everything we want.
General duck and goose seasons opened across much of the Pacific Flyway last week, and though weather conditions didn’t produce fantastic flights, western waterfowlers made the most of the opportunities provided by robust duck and goose populations throughout the region. Solid numbers of resident birds received an infusion from some early migrants just prior to the openers in many areas, offering good shooting in the morning and evening hours.
Seasoned duck hunter and outdoor photographer Randy Shipley of Medford, Ore., braved the beautiful weather on opening weekend.
“We shot three limits of puddle ducks – mostly spoonies, pintails and teal – over decoys on Upper Klamath Lake,” said Shipley, who’s showing off some of those spoils here. “I saw as many Canada geese as I’ve ever seen on the opener, but only shot one. The weather was way too nice and the honkers were flying high.”
Further east in Oregon, the ever-popular Summer Lake Wildlife Area hosted some 40,000 ducks and 1,600 geese surveyed before the opener. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported that the fall migration is underway and healthy numbers of staging ducks – including early northern migrants such as northern pintail and northern shovelers – are beginning to make use of the wildlife area, where habitat conditions in most wetland units are good, with the exception of the Between The Dikes Unit, which is dry. Crews are conducting habitat improvement work that will continue through the early portion of the season. As compensation for less flooded habitat, ODFW will open the northern portion of Bullgate Refuge to hunters. The northern portion is currently flooded, and water is gradually entering the southern section. Summer Lake itself remains somewhat low, but its surface area is steadily increasing, according to ODFW. Contact Summer Lake Wildlife Area at (541) 943-3152 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Paul Gery of Nor Cal Waterfowl Guide Service said improved water conditions in his area near Martinez, Calif., rolled out the red carpet for ducks just in time for the opener.
“They’ve flooded the Garibaldi refuge near my house recently, and I’m starting to see some local nesters and early migrants flying around, mostly mallards and pintails,” Gery said. “As a big-water hunter, I generally have my eyes on the diving duck species. There’s a scattered population of surf scoters and scaup that stayed over the summer – mostly juveniles – in the various bays and waterways of the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re extremely excited about the new season with a bump in the scaup limit to a full seven birds.”
Elsewhere in the Pacific Flyway, the outlook is good and getting better, according to pro-staffers from Avery Outdoors.
In Newport, Wash., Kent Contreras reported high temperatures and sunny skies, but noted a strong, dry cold front was expected to move through the area, creating windy conditions. He added that conditions are excellent for water and field feed sources, and that good numbers of resident birds are available to early season hunters.
“We went out and knocked down a few for the strap,” Contreras said. “We still have some pintails in the area and also wood ducks.”
Allen Riggs in Chattaroy, Wash., reported that water levels in local rivers and lakes remain on the low side, but levels are beginning to rise, which will improve hunting opportunities.
“Birds are eating in the waterways and local fields,” Riggs stated. “Wood ducks are prevalent, and mallards and wigeon are here in small numbers. Canada geese can be seen in small numbers. We’re hoping for a good year. The spring hatch in Canada was good, so all are in good spirits!”
Chris Wakefield in southwest Washington reported that geese – including thousands of cacklers – have been feeding on harvested farm crops.
“The cacklers have shown up on several different farms – thousands on several different fields,” Wakefield reported. “It’s hard to believe we’re seeing migrants already with these unseasonably hot temps, and they seem to be hanging out in the fields, even though it’s so hot.”
So much for “it never rains in Southern California.” Matt Thomas in Indio, Calif., reported light showers a couple of days last week. He noted that local refuges were starting to flood, with water levels elsewhere beginning to return to normal. He also reported plentiful food available for resident birds.
“Locals have been feeding early morning and late afternoon on into the evening,” Thomas stated. “The blue-wings have come and gone, but there’s an abundance of local mallards and shovelers. There are also a few small groups of local honkers moving around the valley. Everyone around here is pretty excited about the opener and waiting for that first push from the migration. It should be a great season with record numbers of birds making the trip.”