West Coast waterfowlers are counting on Jack Frost to make it a happy new year. The latest push of cold, wet weather that dumped snow even on valley floors in mild coastal climates has put waterfowl on the move in the Pacific Flyway, but some hunters have complained that flooding has scattered the birds to the point where they may not be few, but they may be far between.
My friend David Wei, who hunts on the frontline of the flyway in British Columbia, said the ducks and geese in his area have turned into chickens.
“There are lots of ducks around from the coast all the way up the Fraser Valley, but they are quite skittish,” he said. “They’ve been pounded pretty hard this fall, and with lots of water in the fields, they can hop over to a safe location right in the middle of a field.”
Wei said geese are trying to duck him, too.
“Canada geese opened up on Saturday for three weeks, but they get pretty wise after only a shot or two are fired. I didn’t see any geese in the fields I can hunt, but a couple of big flocks flew by…right down the center of the road…smarties.”
Stateside, Avery Outdoors pro-staffers Kent Contreras and Allen Riggs hosted a youth hunt in eastern Washington last week and helped the young lady in the photo above take her first-ever waterfowl, a ring-necked duck from the Pend Oreille River.
“It was hard to coax the birds in, as what we have sticking around are educated birds and they know where the safe zones are,” Contreras said. “Puddle ducks and geese have dropped in numbers, but we’re seeing the influx of divers. With the freezing temps, birds are concentrating more in open water. River hunting should get better as more and more of the backwaters freeze up.”
In the Columbia Basin, nasty weather makes hunters like Abel Cortina of the Washington Waterfowl Association do what the birds do – seek shelter.
“The cold snap has moved birds around, but high winds have made hunting bigger water dangerous, and finding sheltered waters was key to success,” Cortina said. “Big waves made the birds move off the big water and we were able to do well.”
On Washington’s west side, The WWA’s Kurt Snyder has been concentrating efforts in the Chehalis Valley and has seen an abundance of birds.
“The field hunters have been doing very well if they have water on their fields,” Snyder shared. “We have lots of cacklers and more honkers than normal. The hunters with the most decoys are the winners here. It’s taking a lot to get them in. We’re seeing more mature shovelers this year than anyone can remember. Scaup have started coming in good numbers but this weather we are getting may move many of them on.”
South of the Columbia, Oregon’s Willamette Valley hunters like Scott Haugen reported water, water everywhere.
“Hunting was slow in the Willamette Valley until a couple days ago,” Haugen said. “Lots of wigeon, pintail and teal came into the valley on that front from Alaska. Birds were decoying well, despite lots of high water and flooded fields. A big push of greater Canada geese also seems to have hit the valley, with lots of birds taken the past couple days.”
In southern Oregon and northern California, Jason Haley and Frank Galusha of MyOutdoorBuddy.com said they’ve seen good numbers of birds arriving, but the latest cold spell in the frigid Klamath Basin has put a chill on duck hunting.
“The ponds here got slammed with birds last night,” said Haley, who lives in the Rogue Valley. “We had snow this morning and there were more honkers and mallards, and new wigeons, buffleheads, ringnecks, and a big bunch of woodies and shovelers.”
Ice isn’t a problem in the Rogue Valley, but east of the Cascades, too much ice isn’t so nice.
“This week was the first good freeze and now we’ve got hard ice in the Klamath Basin, Modoc and in parts of Ash Creek,” Galusha added. “That’s going to make it tough, unless we have a warm spell. If that happens, I think there will be good hunting, because there’s plenty of food and there are ducks up north that haven’t been driven south.”
Refuges in the Sacramento Valley have received a huge influx of white geese in the past month, ballooning from 149,000 in November to 263,000 in December. White-fronted geese also increased in number from 67,000 to 87,000. During the same time period, more mallards and green-winged teal showed up, while more than 200,000 of the 700,000 pintails surveyed in November had left before the most recent counts. Gadwalls and wigeons dipped slightly, while shovelers remained close to the 79,000 figure from last month.
Farther inland, Avery Outdoors pro-staffers in the Rocky Mountain portion of the Pacific Flyway reported that more birds are arriving, but the same storms that bring them down from up north are also pushing them farther south.
Bailey Ortley in Missoula, Mont., reported a new wave of birds in the area.
“We’re entering the later season of bird hunting as birds migrate south and stop here for a few days or until wind and weather make them leave,” he said.
David Harper in Twin Falls, Idaho, reported that Pacific storms have brought an increase in birds like divers and wigeons.
“We’re seeing lots of mallards, pintails and wigeons around, as well as divers on the Snake River and a fair amount of Canada geese spread through the valley,” Harper reported. “If the snow keeps piling up to the northeast of us, we will see even more birds in the valley. “
Farther south in the Rockies, Rob Friedel in Hooper, Utah, reported unseasonably warm temperatures and birds congregating on big waters like Great Salt Lake.
“Take advantage of the freeze coming up,” he said. “Follow the ice to open water, and the ducks should follow.”