Duck Hunting photo

Duck hunting can’t heal all wounds, but it can soothe the soul.

Many who serve our country say that what they most look forward to when returning home are the simple pleasures and freedoms for which they fought–and in some cases made supreme sacrifices. Injured veteran Joey Lowe lost the use of his legs in an IED explosion in Iraq, and last week, he got to enjoy one of the simple pleasures he fought for when he joined Avery Outdoors pro-staffers Allen Griggs and Kent Contreras for a duck hunt in eastern Washington.

“Each year my hunting partner Kent Contreras and I donate a guided hunt to the Wounded Warrior Program,” said Riggs, who snapped this photo of Lowe with the day’s bag of birds. “We had a great time, and Joey shot several nice birds.”

An influx of new birds helped the hunting, he said.

“Things are picking up here,” Riggs said. “We are in the beginning stages of migrations with increasing numbers of ducks and geese showing up. We had a great weekend with a good harvest of ducks. Opportunities were plentiful. With the increase in the duck and goose populations, the hunting should continue to improve.”

In western Washington, Karl Shaffer said it’s all about the food, and in the case of geese, it’s fast food.

“Row crops are being hit hard by huge concentrations of cacklers, and the fields are getting wiped clean of food within a few days,” he reported. “Cacklers continue to increase in number, with large concentrations in some areas. Most birds are holding in local cut grain fields and short-cropped alfalfa fields. Geese may not stay in the local areas long if they eat themselves out of house and home. Hopefully they will shift from row crops to alfalfa fields in the area.”

Shaffer added that duck numbers are increasing with storm systems moving through the area, noting that mallards, pintails, widgeon, and teal are present in good numbers. “Birds were decoying well in response to good calling, good decoy spreads, and good concealment,” he added.

Down on the Columbia, Eric Strand’s report from Sauvie Island found river levels on the rise from recent rain, with hunters working flooded millet and corn, as well as recently flooded grass-seed fields. He reported mallard and pintail numbers on the rise, along with those of wigeon and shovelers.

“New birds have been pushing into the area over the last week, with thousands of geese arriving daily, along with a trickle of mallards and pintails,” Strand reported. “Hunting was good over the last week. We were lucky enough to kill two banded mallards.”

Farther south, the forecast called for gloomy weather, not the gloomy duck hunting experienced by avid waterfowler and outdoor photographer Randy Shipley of Medford.

“It was a slow day on Upper Klamath Saturday. We were hoping for a big day after last week’s unsettled weather, but the ducks were elsewhere. We did see a bunch of buffleheads–over 30 of them sitting in the decoys at one point–that were not around last week, so the birds are headed south. I am not a fan of buffleheads on the plate, so I didn’t shoot any, much to my dog’s dismay. I did experience a first, shooting a common goldeneye in October. Goldeneyes have always been late migrators so it was a surprise when it decoyed in. However, other than one pintail and one mallard, the puddlers and geese were scarce.”

Jason Haley and Frank Galusha of have been hearing from their folks in the field in the State of Jefferson that low water levels in the Klamath Basin are keeping the birds away.

“All the battles over water have not helped the waterfowl at the refuges,” said Haley, who said heard that the first flights of snow geese had arrived in the Lower Klamath and Shasta Valley of northern California this week.

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge recently surveyed over 16,000 white geese, but the big numbers belong to the specks, which showed up in the counts at all six refuges in the survey, tallying over 350,000 in all. The vast majority of the geese gathered at the Sacramento and Delevan refuges, while Butte Sink showed a huge influx of 52,000 pintails and 26,000 wigeon. Pintails numbered over 300,000 throughout the complex, with nearly half of those at Sacramento.

Further inland, guides and hunters in the Rocky Mountain portion of the Pacific Flyway are counting on severe weather to bring more birds into the region over the weekend.

“The forecast is calling for a severe drop in temperature,” said Avery pro-staffer David Harper in Twin Falls, Idaho, “so things could be in for a good change-up.”