It was almost quiet on the Western front this week as many West Coast waterfowlers chose to deck the halls with boughs of holly rather than deck the hull and bow with camo. While many Pacific Flyway’s ducks and geese may have enjoyed a brief holiday from hunting, hunters may receive a gift in return if the short ceasefire makes birds a bit less wary. Last week many hunters lamented that hard-hunted ducks and geese had become skittish and difficult to decoy and call.
In its weekly recreation report, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers timely tips for getting the best of gun-shy birds this time of year:
“Waterfowl can become call-shy as the season progresses and hunters should consider limiting high-ball calling and concentrate on more feeding calls. Closely observe the ducks’ behavior when calling to determine if you are flaring birds. After our recent heavy rains, ducks will be taking advantage of food sources found in sheet water areas, and hunters should consider leaving traditional blinds and setting up decoys in these areas to increase their success.”
Ducks may like the rain, but Willamette Valley guide James Rice says snow makes them flakey.
“We had a good push of birds come through,” Rice said. “I am not a fan of hunting in the snow because the birds don’t fly in it. When it stops, they come of the refuge and feed. With the season getting further and further along, birds are becoming more educated and the weather is the key factor in success.” Rice took a couple of clients out last Sunday. “We got a three man-limit on with Oregon Hunters Association Vice President John Gander and his guest. We stacked up 21 ducks by noon.”
East of the Cascades, southern Oregon’s Summer Lake Wildlife Area is starting to look like nearby Winter Rim, as ice now covers about 90 percent of the area’s wetlands. Most of the units are flooded, but nearly all are iced over. The area continues to flood, particularly in the northwestern part of the lake head. Birds are concentrated on openings in the ice on Ana River and other places where moving water is kept open by birds. Waterfowl numbers dipped drastically last week, when 87 die-hard hunters took 150 ducks and 12 geese. The weekly survey count tallied about 5,600 ducks and 1,200 geese.
In eastern Washington a white Christmas turned into a white-out for hunters like Kent Contreras of Avery Outdoors.
“It looks like the birds saw the weather coming and left,” Contreras said. “The weekend hunt produced very few birds. We had 14 inches of snow overnight on Thursday, and I’m sure the birds didn’t like that at all. Goose numbers have leveled off and the puddle duck numbers are lower than average. Divers are starting to show up. I’m looking forward to some colder weather to get the birds to concentrate on the river. Hunting has been tough. I brought home some fat mallards this weekend, but it’s been but pretty slow altogether. Geese have wised up pretty good, so it’s time to throw some new stuff at them to try and trick them into the spread.”
Even California has seen its fill of winter weather this week, according to Frank Galusha of MyOutdoorBuddy.com.
“Prior to the storms that hit on the 20th, I did not hear of any good hunting in Modoc or east Siskiyou counties,” he said. “The last good report I got came from the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area, where I was told they had good hunting for ducks and doves of all things. That was over a week ago, but even there I suspect the storms and snows have made hunting difficult if not impossible by now. I-5 has been closed a lot, and chains are required much of the time on Highways 299, 44, and 36.”
Galusha noted that the latest survey at Sacramento NWR shows fewer birds at that refuge complex. “I suspect that count does not include all the birds resting on private land that is flooded but not being hunted, and I would say that’s where the NorCal duck hunters should go over the next two to three weeks,” he advised. “The Sacramento River refuge and places like Black Butte Lake would be sleepers. That and the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California, and Lower Colorado should be very good as seasons wind down. I’ve hunted there a lot and January was always good.”
It was indeed good for Ron Lara of Western Wildlife Adventures, who managed to ride the storm out before the white-front season closed Friday in his part of the Sacramento Valley.
“I hunted the big storm,” he said. “It was heavy rain – 45 mph winds.”
But as his photo above shows, it was worth weathering the storm.
“We had limits in a few hours with all big birds.”