November 30, 2012
After Turkey, Feast on Ducks and Geese
By Duane Dungannon
Even after stuffing themselves with Thanksgiving turkey, hunters in the Pacific Flyway left room for duck. Between family, food, and football, guide James Rice in Corvallis, Ore., got some hunting in, too.
“I had a chance to get out and harvest some waterfowl bounty on Thanksgiving weekend,” Rice said. “The flooding from all the recent rain spread the birds out a little, but even with all the sheet water in the fields and creeks out of their banks, you could still find birds if you worked at it. New food sources became available when the water started rising. A lot of wigeon are in the here, but pintails seem to have moved. Mallards are getting more educated, but they are still callable and looking for corn and millet to feed on.”
It was a similar story in southwest Oregon over the holiday for hunters like Steve DeBerry of the Southern Oregon Chapter of Delta Waterfowl.
“I was able to sneak in a couple local hunts over Thanksgiving. We’ve been getting limits of a mix of ducks, including mallards, wigeon, pintails, and wood ducks. There’s a fair number of birds around the Rogue Valley, but with recent rains there’s also a lot of water everywhere, which spreads them out. We see smaller flocks coming from all directions in these conditions.”
Hunters north of the Canadian border, like my friend David Wei, not only got the migration first, they got Thanksgiving first, too.
“Our Thanksgiving is in early October, but being mostly retired, every day is a holiday,” he joked. “I went to a farm south of Vancouver on Thursday. Within 45 minutes, I was dead-eye Dave with five nice mallards. I didn't even bother with the wigeon that came in big flocks.”
He added that storms in northern B.C. have brought ducks south in droves.
South of the border, the migration appears to be ahead of schedule, according to Mike Franklin of Pacific Wings Waterfowl Adventures in Richland.
“The migration in eastern Washington is about three weeks early this year,” Franklin said. “There are about 20,000 mallards already in the corn ponds. Normally there would be only one or two thousand.”
Gone away are the early birds, said Kent Contrera on Washington’s eastern border, and he’s awaiting the new birds.
“Ducks got hit pretty hard over the holiday with a lot of pressure,” he said. “It looks like we lost some birds to the (Columbia) Basin. We are awaiting the next push.”
If the ducks are moving into the Columbia Basin, they seem to be moving out of Oregon’s other basin, according to dedicated duck hunter and wildlife photographer Randy Shipley.
“We hunted Upper Klamath Lake last weekend, and it was location, location, location,” Shipley said. “The main lake was calm with few birds moving over the water, but the private land behind us was loaded with ducks and geese. The farmer had flooded his field and at times it looked like every bird in the Pacific Flyway wanted it. This made for impressive bird watching, but slow shooting. We each shot a pair of redheads, which is always a nice surprise around here, but other than a few buffleheads buzzing around, nothing else would decoy.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported that puddle ducks, such as mallards and gadwalls, are leaving the Klamath Basin as cold weather freezes smaller standing water, but good numbers of diving ducks, such as goldeneye and lesser scaup, are using large, open waters like Upper Klamath and Agency Lakes.
Just to the east at Summer Lake, 208 hunters reported taking 288 ducks (mostly shovelers, mallards, and wigeon), and only a handful of geese of each species last week.
The holiday weather was warmer and shooting action hotter in California for hunters and guides like R.J. Waldron of Northwind Outfitters, who hunted San Francisco Bay last week.
“It was great hunting for us, with over 175 birds this week,” Waldron said. “The top bird was scaup.”
In the Rocky Mountain portion of the Pacific Flyway, pro-staffers for Avery Outdoors in Idaho and Utah reported a mixed bag.
David Harper in Twin Falls, Idaho, said there is plenty of water in the area and it’s not freezing yet.
“Things around the valley look great--lots of water available for birds, but it makes for tougher hunting,” Harper reported. “Most fields around the valley are still full of food, allowing the birds to move most anywhere they want. The puddle ducks are around in great numbers along the Hagerman refuge and around the valley. Divers are gathering on the Snake, and geese of all kinds are starting to fill up. More and more birds are moving into the area every day.”
Not so much further south, according to Chad Yamane in Syracuse, Utah.
“Birds have fed out a lot of the sego and pond feeds inside the WMAs and have moved out onto the Great Salt Lake, using the Salcornia mud flats,” he noted. “We have lost a huge portion of our swans due to lack of feed for them. We lost a lot of birds here locally and have not seen a replacement of migrating birds. On a recent trip I did see what appeared to be migrating geese moving into the valley.”
Certain goose seasons closed recently in Pacific Flyway states, but some will reopen soon, so check your local regulations.
Ron Harrod of Harrod Outdoors found good goose hunting in Oregon’s Wallowa County a week ago and offered this photo.
“The birds are enjoying the mild weather and are hard to pattern,” he said. “They have so many calories that they sit for a while and then head back to roost, or they do different things each day. You have to do a lot of scouting to get on the X.”