When my son Tyler’s knee surgery ended his college basketball season at Eastern Oregon University, it also cut short his duck hunting season. Because he was hobbling around the house on crutches during the holidays like Tiny Tim, I bought him the duck hunting game for the Wii. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though; his virtual hunting seems to be better than real thing for virtually all West Coast waterfowlers this week.
In northeast Washington, hunters like Kent Conteras and Allen Riggs of Avery Outdoors started the New Year with cold duck on ice.
“Snow on the valley floor has all but shut down field hunting with 8-12 inches of snow in the fields and more coming,” said Contreras. “With the freezing temps, birds are starting to concentrate a bit more in the open water. River hunting should get better as more and more of the backwaters freeze up.”
Hunters in the Columbia Basin and eastern Oregon managed to bag their birds this past week, but they had to put in their time, by either scouting in advance or hunting all day.
Abel Cortina of the Washington Waterfowl Association said doing your homework and working a little harder than everyone else will pay dividends.
“The hunting has been pretty good over the holidays,” Cortina said. “The key to success is scouting. We’ve had a couple different guys scouting and we have been able to connect. We’ve been hunting small, out-of-the-way sloughs and it has paid off big time. Don’t just go where it’s easy to go, because everyone will do the same.
“The lack of wind these past few days has had an impact on bagging birds, but locating where the birds are in good numbers and setting up close the next morning is the key. Don’t over do it with huge spreads. It’s late season, and they have seen that trick.”
Cortina said goose hunting is improving in the Columbia Basin, but finding access to private land is essential, and that means you need to locate fields that are being used.
In northeast Oregon, Richy Harrod of Harrod Outdoors has put birds in the bag recently, but not without plenty of patience and persistence.
“Duck numbers in the Baker Valley remain low like other places throughout the Northwest, but there are enough birds to keep you interested,” Harrod said. “We have put 44 ducks in the cooler the past two days, but we had to hunt all day both days to do it. Birds were flying in small groups on and off throughout the day and were responding to calls and decoys well.”
Harrod said hunters in his party saw just the opposite for geese–large groups that did not decoy well–but they still managed to add eight geese to their holiday harvest pictured in these photos.
Goose hunting is warming up with the cold weather farther south, according to Steve DeBerry of the Southern Oregon Chapter of Delta Waterfowl.
“I got over into the Klamath Basin goose hunting, and it was not really a red-hot day, but I had enough luck to bag a limit of dark geese,” DeBerry said. “There’s a fair amount of geese around, mostly specks, and with the colder weather, they are moving to feed more often. Upper Klamath Lake is frozen over, but the river is still open and holding plenty of ducks. The Rogue Valley is holding good numbers of ducks and geese, mostly on private land. We’ve been limiting out on mostly mallards and picking up a few honkers. When storms come through, it would be a good time to hit your favorite pond or field.”
In California, hunters report too much ice in the north and too much water further south where it’s not cold enough to freeze.
R.J. Waldron of Northwind Outfitters in central California said flooding has made hunting a challenge.
“We’ve been running my Mudbuddy 7000 up in the backwaters,” he said. “We’ve had really good puddle duck hunting all week with a good mix of birds: greenwing teal, cinnamons, mallards, pintails, shovelers and a few bonus geese.”
In the northeast corner of the state, Jason Haley of MyOutdoorBuddy.com reports that winter weather has cooled off the hunting there.
“The northeast corner and mountainous areas are pretty much frozen or snowed in,” Haley said. “There are a few honkers to be had, but very few ducks. They hit the big water or rivers that are unfrozen or they head south. It’s mostly goose hunting in the pastures or the snowy fields, in this case. Find a place where the snow is thin or the cows have been fed and get your decoys out before daylight the next morning.
“I think all the ducks are in the Sacramento Valley, but everybody is complaining about the water spreading the birds out. Some of the refuges are closing due to flooding where the pit blinds get submerged, the island blinds get under water, or you simply can’t get to the blinds.”
They don’t call it waterfowling for nothing.