Young guns earned their wings in youth waterfowl hunt weekends in states across the Pacific Flyway in late September, and their adult companions got a preview of how local duck populations look going into the October openers.
Youngsters and their faithful hunting companions enjoyed warm weather for the youth weekends, which is a mixed bag in itself, because birds were flying at dusk and dawn and not much in between as temperatures soared into the 90s in some areas.
While the bulk of the bag consisted of resident populations of mallards, wood ducks and teal, with a few western Canada geese sprinkled in, some northern birds are already beginning to arrive and add a little variety to the bag.
Brandon Reishus, assistant waterfowl program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, reported that youth hunters at Summer Lake Wildlife Area averaged 3.5 birds per hunter for the weekend, while kids at Klamath Wildlife Area bagged an average of four birds apiece.
“That’s pretty good for kids,” Reishus said. “Our youth hunt is usually pretty good, with a lot of shooting for resident birds. Kids were seeing good flights in the morning and evening , but not much going on during the day. I was at Summer Lake that week, and I saw a few birds moving just about any time of the day, but mostly toward the morning and evening, just like any waterfowl hunting.”
For the general season openers, Reishus said he expects an even greater influx of migrant ducks and geese.
“The kids saw a lot of resident birds, but we’re already seeing plenty of what you call northern birds – pintails, green-winged teal and wigeon. They started moving down in August. They’re kind of calendar migrants, because they move no matter what the weather does.”
Reishus noted that in the few days since Oregon’s youth weekend, large numbers of cackling Canada geese had invaded the Willamette Valley.
White-fronted geese made the move first, arriving in August and descending on agricultural fields in numbers never seen before.
“White-fronts are early migrants, as far as geese are concerned, and they’ve already arrived in strong numbers,” Reishus added. “Their numbers are at historical highs, at least since surveys have been conducted. Oregon isn’t a major stopping ground for them – a lot of them make a direct flight to California – but in those places like the Klamath Basin where they do stop, hunters should do well.”
Even before the arrival of the white-fronts, Northwest goose hunters got a shot at resident western Canada geese, and hunters like Avery Outdoors pro-staffer Mike Reed of Centralia, Wash., were waiting in the weeds.
“The early September Canada goose season was fair to good, depending on location,” reported Reed, shown above with the geese he bagged. “As the week progressed, the temperatures rose higher and higher, making geese harder and harder to harvest. When the temps get over 80 degrees, geese will simply sit all day long on a loafing area, because feeding is not critical in high temperatures.”
It’s been late to bed and early to rise for ducks and geese so far this season, he explained.
“Most Canada geese have been feeding real early in the morning and in the evening and have been roosting throughout the heat of the day. Ducks are similar.”
Reed noted that most of the birds he’s seeing at the present are western Canada geese, mallards and wood ducks.
“You will see several hundred geese in fields and on ponds at a time. The mallards and wood ducks are just starting to move around a lot, but you will only see them in small numbers from 5 to 20 birds at a time right now. But numbers will grow as the season moves forward.”
Reed reported seeing few migrants in his area at this early stage of the season, but added that he’s observed enough white-fronted geese to signal that it’s underway.
Both Reid and Reishus reported low water levels throughout the region as the current drought stretches from summer into early autumn. Hunters should get out before the season and scout their favorite areas to learn how the water levels affect accessibility to boat ramps and hunting spots. Hunters this season may discover unwelcome barriers such as exposed gravel bars and mud flats blocking access to their traditional hunting spots. That’s not a pleasant discovery in the dark an hour before the season opener.