Now you see them. Now you don’t.
Northwest ducks have been hatching a shell game of sorts with the region’s hunters, showing up one day and disappearing the next, proving that the hen is quicker than the eye.
Ducks continue to streak south in the Pacific Flyway, but hunters like Richy and Ron Harrod of Harrod Outdoors say the birds are just making whistle stops, so you better be at the station when they pass through.
“The waterfowl seems to really be on the move in eastern Washington, as one day brings lots ducks and the next they are gone,” said Richy Harrod, who hunted with Alex Yerges and Trevor Austin of Pacific Calls last week, when they took the birds in this photo. “The geese, however, are abundant and are hanging around. Open water, such as the Pend Orielle River, are great places right now to find good numbers of geese, and they appear to be flying well throughout the day. A modest spread of decoys near points or islands works well. Aggressive calling can bring them from a distance, but call sparingly when they give your spread a look.”
Washington’s west side provided good shooting last week for hunters like Kurt Snyder of the Washington Waterfowl Association.
“We did a seaduck hunt in north Puget Sound with some clients from Texas and got the oldsquaw we targeted,” Snyder said. “Seems the scoter count is down. There are lots of brant in the area, and the WDFW plans to open it up for them this season. We hunted Rufus Woods Lake on New Years and we did pretty well with 47 divers and one white-fronted goose taken for three hunters in three days. The ringnecks were prevalent, and the goldeneyes were better than normal.”
On the Oregon side of the Columbia, Ron Harrod said it’s much the same in eastern Oregon as in eastern Washington.
“The theme is here today, gone tomorrow,” he said. “Good hunting can still be found with a lot of hard scouting, but you better not wait to hunt them. Lots of northern ducks moved into Wallowa County the week of Christmas. Within four days most of them fueled up and flew out. A few geese are lingering, but they’re very hard to fool this time of year. You need to take the first shot you can. If they circle your spread more than a couple of times, they’re gone. There’s not much open water around now to keep birds on roost. The season is definitely winding down for us.”
Temperatures dipped below zero at Oregon’s south end last week, and the bird numbers dropped, too. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports most of eastern Oregon’s still water and ditches have frozen, and dabbling ducks have moved south.
At Summer Lake overnight temperatures plunged as low as -1 and averaged about 7. Hunter effort declined, with a reported harvest of 88 ducks and 19 geese. Warmer temperatures this week should thaw some frozen ponds and allow the modest wintering populations of ducks and geese to disperse. The latest Summer Lake survey counted about 4,628 ducks and 1,100 geese.
Where have all the ducks gone? Northwest hunters say they’ve flown south to California, but hunters there say they haven’t arrived. Jason Haley of MyOutdoorBuddy.com thinks he’s picked them up on his radar.
“I think I found where all the ducks are,” Haley said. ” I fished Oroville yesterday and Highway 99 between Oroville and Chico is absolutely loaded. I’m talking tens of thousands of ducks and geese. It’s like 20 miles of flooded rice on each side of the road and this is just a small piece. I-5 to the west is probably the same between Willows and Maxwell and even on down to the Yolo Causeway.”
In the Rocky Mountain portion of the Pacific Flyway, Avery Outdoors pro-staffers Gage Charlesworth, Travis Madden, and Rob Friedel in Utah reported cold temperatures have frozen most water, so the best bets are fields where birds can still find food. Good numbers of ducks, especially teal, will provide decent hunting in the last two weeks of the season.
“Birds are moving once a day with the cold weather,” Friedel said. “It’s been late, as the birds are waiting for the flooded grass to thaw enough to be edible. Geese are moving late, too. We’ve seen a lot of the divers move out, and quite a few of the puddlers as well. But if you find open water, you’ll find ducks. There are only a few days left, so make them count!”