Excellent Early Goose and Duck Seasons in the Wings

Waterfowl season on the West Coast started with a bang on Sept. 1, when Washington's early goose season opened in Zone 2B in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Early goose seasons get underway elsewhere in Washington and Oregon in the next couple of weeks, and a few states will offer youth-only waterfowl hunting weekends later in the month.

Resident populations of ducks and geese provide the action for these early-bird hunts, and numbers of local birds remain high in most areas. Mike Franklin of Pacific Wings Waterfowl Adventures in Yakima, Wash., said the early goose season in southern Washington should offer excellent opportunities to collect some Canada geese.

"The early season should be good, because there are a lot of resident geese," Franklin said. "They seem to be feeding on wheat and sweet corn. With the warm weather, they're heading out really early in the morning to feed. There are a lot of birds on the Yakima and Columbia Rivers."

Further east in the Evergreen State, Mike Bernsen of Eagle Lakes Ranch Lodge in Othello reported a rosy outlook for the early goose opener there Sept. 14 and 15.

"There are lots of resident honkers coming off the lakes and rivers down in Tri-Cities," Bernsen said. "Around wheat and alfalfa is where we're seeing most of the birds. We're seeing some in sweet corn fields that have been harvested."

Honkers will provide fun in the sun in the Pacific Flyway's September seasons, but water levels this fall will be the big factor in attracting and holding migrant birds, Bernsen said.

"We had no duck shortage last year ourselves," Bernsen explained, "but some people around the potholes said they had a pretty skinny year compared to what was predicted."

South of the Columbia, Oregon's early goose season opens the second Saturday of September in most counties, and its youth waterfowl hunt for kids under age 16 takes place Sept. 22-23 statewide. Like Washington, Oregon holds its early goose season to target resident honkers before migrating geese arrive. The short season may offer temporary relief for landowners suffering goose damage, but it hasn't dented the state's goose glut.

"Geese are everywhere," said Roseburg-based guide Jody Smith, who hunts the Umpqua River and adjacent fields from the Elkton area down to the coast. "They're on the (Umpqua) river and in the fields. Down on the coast they're in the hay and short grass fields. There are also quite a few in the tidewater areas of the coast." Smith added that he's seen only greater Canada geese so far, and that no cacklers have arrived yet.

When the youth weekend arrives, mallards, shovelers, gadwalls and teal will make up the bulk of the bag. Smith said if it's true that pintails are still struggling in the Pacific Flyway, he hasn't seen it in the Umpqua Basin.

"I've never seen so many pintails," he said. "Last year we had flock after flock come in but we couldn't shoot. They're usually wary, but they were just dropping in to our decoys like mallards." Smith said pintails may have become less wary during recent years of tight harvest restrictions for the species.

The fields in California currently hold good numbers of resident ducks, according to Ron Lara of Western Wildlife Adventures in Chico.

"This time of year most of the birds are still in the brood areas, but they will be moving to the refuges once the fields are drained and ready for harvest," Lara said. "Pintails and specklebellies will be moving in later this month as they are the first to migrate."

California's youth-only waterfowl hunt takes place Sept. 22 and 23. The California Department of Fish and Game will offer a waterfowl hunting clinic on Sept. 29 at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area in Ventura County. Clinic topics include decoy placement, blind design, calling, duck identification, dog work, gear, game care, cooking tips and safety. The clinic costs $45. Students 16 and younger are free, but must be accompanied by an adult. To register, visit www.dfg.ca.gov.

Nevada offers some of the Pacific Flyway's earliest opportunities for duck hunting. Guide Bill Gibson of Elko Guide Service will kick off the season Sept. 22 in the Elko area.

"You can hunt in your shirtsleeves for ducks that are usually in Mexico by the time the season opens in other states," Gibson said. Cinnamon and green-winged teal are the most common birds in the early-season bag here, but prized canvasbacks are available as well. "We have a lot of canvasbacks," Gibson added. "Some guys have never killed a canvasback, but want one to mount, and there's a lot of opportunity to do that here. Nevada is a real sleeper state for duck hunting."