Ducks provided top-ranked entertainment last weekend for Oregonians, both on the football field and in the frozen fields.
“It was a good weather weekend for duck hunting,” said guide James Rice of Corvallis, where local Oregon State fans always take shots at Oregon ducks. He offered this photo as proof the ducks can be stopped. “I am sure a lot of limits were taken this weekend. I know that in my area around Finley, the birds were flying early and often.”
While Oregon’s football team soared to the top of the polls last week, ducks showing up at southern Oregon’s Klamath National Wildlife Refuge surged in the most recent survey as well. Like their football counterparts who sported green wings on their helmets last week, green-winged teal put up the biggest numbers in the latest Klamath NWR survey, showing an increase from 56,000 to 132,200 in the two weeks since the previous survey. Mallards and pintails both increased by around 20,000 in the same time period, while gadwalls tripled in number to about 14,000. Shovelers made room for the newcomers by leaving in droves, dropping from 116,000 to only 22,000.
About a third of the 29,000 white-fronted geese in the Klamath refuge complex moved on to greener pastures, while snow and Ross’s geese more than made up the slack by growing from 6,000 to 20,000 in number.
Steve DeBerry of the Southern Oregon Chapter of Delta Waterfowl has some good advice for the region’s duck hunters: Get ’em while they’re cold!
“I hunted the Klamath Basin on Saturday, and cooler temperatures are putting a skiff of ice on the shallow flooded fields and ponds,” he said. “Some of the ducks have moved south, leaving a fair amount spread around the basin, along with good numbers of specs and a few more honkers moving in.”
At nearby Summer Lake, a major stopover for migrating ducks and geese, hunter investment and return were down in the latest report. Hunter participation (235 check-ins) was down 9 percent from the same week last year, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the reported harvest of 423 birds was down 13.7 percent. Mallards and wigeons made up the bulk of the bag, with a fair number of greenwings, spoonbills and pintails in the mix. Some early snows were sprinkled in as well. ODFW predicted fair hunting for most of the upcoming week because of the expected favorable weather conditions. Most birds linger in the sanctuary areas or on Summer Lake proper. The entire area remains open and ice-free. Pass shooting from dikes has been dismal, and hunters with decoys have fared best.
In western Washington, the nasty weather last weekend kept many hunters home watching football, according to Kurt Snyder of the Washington Waterfowl Association.
“The Chehalis Valley is still holding a lot of migrating ducks, but a big part of the geese have moved on,” Snyder said. “The north wind kept all but the hardiest hunters from hunting the Nisqually Delta last weekend, but the ones who braved it did pretty well with 5 to 6 ducks per hunter and several limits. The weekend before last was awesome. Lots of new mallards came down, and hunting on both sides of the state did well for five or six days – ducks and geese. I’m hoping the next weather system brings down more sea ducks and divers.”
The Oregon Ducks playing at Cal weren’t the only ducks flying high in the Bay Area last weekend.
“We hunted surf scoters in San Francisco Bay,” said guide R.J. Waldron of Northwind Outfitters. “There were more than I’ve ever seen. They were coming in as fast as we could reload!”
Further inland in central California, hunters had the wind taken out of their sails, according to Curt Wilson of Avery Outdoors.
“It seems as though we have hit the early season lull,” he said. “We had cooler weather, but still very little wind. I went out Saturday and did not fire a shot and never really had a bird even look at the spread. The other guys I talked to who hunted this weekend had the same luck. There are still geese being killed, but it has slowed as well.”
Wilson said winds of change could be coming.
“We have some weather with wind coming in toward the end of this week ,and it could help,” he said. “There is more and more rice cut and starting to flood, so there will be more hunters out moving birds around as well.”
In the Rocky Mountain portion of the Pacific Flyway, Avery Outdoors pro-staffers in Utah and Idaho reported the recent weather covered some fields with water and others with snow. Swans have started pouring into both states.
David Harper in Twin Falls, Idaho, said the cold weather hasn’t cooled off the hunting.
“Weather has been chilly, and small waters have some ice on them, but it’s very thin and birds are generally able to keep open anything they want,” Harper stated. “Feeding conditions are still very good, and fields are full of food right now. The temps haven’t gotten cold enough to make birds feed twice a day, so they’re not eating fields out very fast yet.”
Chad Yamane in Syracuse, Utah, said snow has come and gone, as have some of the birds.
“We had a huge storm come through, driving temps down and leaving 4 to 8 inches of snow, but the sun has melted most of it,” he reported. “The WMAs and refuges are full, and with this recent storm, our flats have a sheet of water on them. Geese are feeding on the fresh-cut corn, and the ducks are finding fresh water and good feed inside the WMAs. A refuge manager the week before the storm said he lost 60 percent of his birds. This storm pushed a whole new batch in, though, and the swans are arriving in force.”