A week of wet weather swept through the Pacific Flyway, sparking a flurry of activity among West Coast waterfowl, and hunters reported putting more birds in the bag.
Goose hunters like Richy Harrod of Leavenworth, Wash., who hunts east of the Cascades in both Oregon and Washington, enjoyed good hunting ahead of the recent storms.
“Our goose hunt near Cheney was very successful,” said Harrod, who took this photo of Mike and Dax Harrod with the day’s bag of honkers. “My cousin had scouted a couple hundred local geese coming into a stubble field. Geese were coming in as small groups of 6 to 40 and were relatively easy to decoy into shotgun range. We gave them a little education, so we will leave them alone for a week or two so that they will start coming to the field readily again. “
Western Washington hunters gave opening week mixed reviews, according to Kurt Snyder of the Washington Waterfowl Association.
“I hunted Potholes Reservoir on the opening,” Snyder said. “Due to low water, the hunting spots that were available were more crowded than normal. The local birds kept us busy, but the three of us never limited. We had the opportunity to limit but missed some shots. We hunted three days. One of us got six ducks on opening day, and that was the most any of us got.”
Snyder’s party took a mixed bag of birds for the weekend – fewer wigeons and pintails than normal, and more gadwalls than usual. “Our take in order was gadwall, mallard, pintail and wigeon, with a few spoonies and the usual teal or two,” he said. “We spotted some ringnecks, but never had a shot at them. They are here early like last year. There were more ducks than in the past openers by about 50 percent, but the goose populations seemed to be low, and we didn’t get any like we usually do.”
But that wasn’t the case everywhere in western Washington, Snyder said.
“The western hunts for this week were pretty good, with limits of geese being taken by many in all the usual fields in Thurston and Lewis counties. Every day new cacklers and lessers are migrating in to my home area around Rochester. They were two to three weeks late, but have caught up now. The big honkers are prevalent here right now, and I took three on a lone hunt at a big reservoir near here. I would have had my four but I missed a bit!”
South of the Columbia, Willamette Valley hunters like guide James Rice of Corvallis reported seeing more birds than expected. “There were surprisingly a lot of birds around the local refuges here in the first week of the season,” Rice said. “The birds are moving during the day and giving hunters an excellent opportunity to harvest birds.”
A ton of teal kept central California hunters like Capt. R.J. Waldron busy on opening weekend. “Six hunters killed 42 ducks opening morning in the central valley of California,” Waldron said. “We were seeing lots of teal – green-wings and cinnamon.”
Farther inland, according to pro-staffers from Avery Outdoors, the first word in waterfowl hunting is, of course, water. “Our water levels this year are drastically different than those of last year,” reported Chad Yamane of Syracuse, Utah. “The WMA water levels are awesome, but once you get outside the dikes, water levels are low to non-existent. The Bear River Bird Refuge just started filling their units.”
Local feeding conditions also contribute to attracting and holding waterfowl. “Geese are feeding on the fresh cut corn and the ducks are finding fresh water and good feed inside the WMAs,” observed Yamane, who reported seeing good numbers of teal, gadwalls, mallards, pintails, shovelers, wigeons, redheads, bluebills and a few canvasbacks. “Find fresh water and get away from the crowds, and you’ll kill them. I just got back from a morning hunt and shot a mixed bag of seven birds in a couple hours.”
David Harper of Twin Falls, Idaho, advised hunters to either find moving water or fields with harvested crops. “Irrigation canals are still flowing full of water, and desert ponds and reservoirs are holding water, but are by no means full,” he noted. “The Snake is flowing at huntable levels and at about normal for this time of year.”
Crop harvest has the local birds in a feeding frenzy, he added. “Harvest is in full swing, and birds are starting to use the fields as soon as the farmers get out of them. The water is still holding good food, so the birds are getting fat and happy anywhere they go right now. Puddle ducks and teal are abundant right now, and starting to congregate into small flocks of birds. Local geese are doing the same and starting to show good numbers around the valley. A few divers have been seen on the river in different areas, but are just local birds and are few and far between right now. Most of the puddle ducks are mallards and gadwalls right now.”