With a 107-day duck season and seven-bird daily bag limit in the Pacific Flyway
again this year, the West may indeed be the best for waterfowl hunters. From the northern coast of Washington
to the Salton Sea in Southern California
, the Pacific Flyway hosts some of the most impressive concentrations of migrating and wintering waterfowl in the United States. This flyway also boasts a wealth of public hunting opportunities, especially for waterfowlers willing to travel and explore new territory. Following is a sampling of five of the best public waterfowling destinations in the Pacific Flyway.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Ridgefield, Washington)
Situated along the Lower Columbia River, the 5,300-acre Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is conveniently located only 25 miles north of Portland, Oregon
. Waterfowl hunting is allowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays during Washington's general waterfowl season. With 21 blinds scattered throughout the property, Ridgefield NWR offers a unique experience for waterfowlers. The most commonly harvested species
include mallards, northern shovelers, northern pintails, green-winged teal, American wigeon, and cackling geese.
"The hunting here is pretty good earlier in the season, which was unfortunate last year because we had some problems when the government shutdown took place," says refuge biologist Alex Chmielewski. "There are limited public hunting opportunities on the west side of the state, so we draw hunters from as far away as Seattle, and we are full on most Saturdays."
The blinds at Ridgefield NWR are allocated via a lottery system and during daily draws. A second drawing is held at 10 a.m. for blinds vacated by hunters earlier in the morning.
"If you are going to come on the weekend, I'd recommend getting into the lottery," Chmielewski says. "You can go online and learn a lot about the property. We post weekly success reports for each blind, so you can see which blinds are better than others."
For more information about hunting waterfowl on Ridgefield NWR, visit
View a Ridgefield Map in PDF format:
Sauvie Island Wildlife Area (Sauvie Island, Oregon)
A list of the Pacific Flyway's top public hunting hotspots wouldn't be complete without Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, one of Oregon
's most highly regarded waterfowling destinations. Fifteen miles long and four miles wide, Sauvie Island encompasses nearly 26,000 acres, roughly half of which are owned by the state and managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for waterfowl and waterfowl hunting.
"Sauvie Island is famous for its duck hunting," says area manager Mark Nebeker. "We have put a lot of effort into moist-soil units and wetland-based practices."
Public hunting units on the island can accommodate up to 450 waterfowlers. Habitat conditions and weather
dictate the best hunting spots on any given day, so scouting is crucial for success.
"I always tell people who are visiting Sauvie Island for the first time to show up at 9 a.m., draw a spot, scout it, and then come back the next day and do the same thing," Nebeker says. "Hunter success increases significantly once you get to know the property."
Hunting spots are allocated via an online reservation system and daily drawings. Walk-in hunting opportunities are also available. Mallards are the most commonly harvested species
at Sauvie Island, but pintails, green-winged teal, and American wigeon are also numerous in the area.
"My advice to hunters who would like to try a hunt at Sauvie Island is to be patient," Nebeker says. "There are a lot of people out here, and you have to know what you are doing. If you talk to the staff at the check stations, they will be happy to assist you. If you put in the time, the duck hunting can be fantastic."
For more information about public waterfowl hunting on Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, visit
View a Sauvie Island Map in PDF format: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/waterfowl/sauvie/docs/Island%20Map.pdf
Delevan National Wildlife Refuge (Colusa, California)
Delevan National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is one of five refuges within the Sacramento NWR Complex. Managed wetlands and uplands on this 5,797-acre refuge provide superb habitat
for waterfowl and other wildlife. Public hunting is allowed on 1,922 acres of the refuge, and harvest data clearly show that Delevan NWR ranks among the nation's top public waterfowling destinations.
"Of all the refuges in the area, Delevan probably has the highest duck-per-hunter average," says refuge manager Steve Emmons. "I think that has a lot to do with the way the hunting areas are laid out. There are no-hunting refuges north and south of the hunting areas so birds move through the entire area."
With such a high success rate, it's no surprise that Delevan NWR is a popular destination among waterfowlers, hosting 6,268 hunters during the 2013−2014 season alone. Emmons recommends applying for a spot through the online reservation system, but hunting opportunities are also allocated during daily drawings at the refuge.
"At one time, Delevan was the most difficult place to draw a reservation in the entire state," Emmons says. "That had a lot to do with the high success rate, but also the variety of hunting opportunities available on the refuge, which include staked hunting sites, two pit blinds, 16 blinds, 10 assigned ponds, and multiple "free-roam" areas. To get a spot, I'd recommend arriving on Tuesday night and getting into the lottery for a Wednesday morning hunt."
For more information about public waterfowl hunting on Delevan NWR, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/Sacramento/
View Delevan NWR maps in PDF format
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (Brigham City, Utah)
Surrounded by the high desert of northern Utah
, the marshes of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and surrounding state-owned lands provide crucial molting and migration
habitat for millions of Pacific Flyway waterfowl and shorebirds. These wetlands also support almost 60 percent of the continental breeding population of cinnamon teal. The refuge encompasses nearly 80,000 acres of marsh, uplands, open water, and alkali mudflats. While only portions of the refuge are open to waterfowling, the hunting can be phenomenal in these areas when conditions are right. Mallards, gadwalls, pintails, green-winged teal, and a variety of diving ducks are the most abundant species
on the refuge during the waterfowl season.
Local waterfowler Jeff Bringhurst, who has hunted in this area for nearly 15 years, has the following advice for visiting waterfowlers. "Bear River refuge offers a variety of opportunities to hunt by boat, airboat, or walking in," he says. "But it's important to get here early because the number of hunters isn't limited by reservations or drawings. It's also important to scout before you hunt because the area is so big."
In addition to the refuge, good public waterfowl hunting is available on adjacent state-managed properties and the Great Salt Lake itself. "We typically hunt the refuge and some of the surrounding state areas until they freeze, and then move out into the lake," Bringhurst says. "The Great Salt Lake is shallow, so I remind people to be careful. If the wind picks up, it can get dangerous. There are several hunters who get stranded out there every season."
For more information about waterfowl hunting on Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, visit
View a Bear River Map in PDF format: http://wildlife.utah.gov/maps/other_maps/brmbr.pdf
Los Banos Wildlife Area (Los Banos, California)
Los Banos Wildlife Area consists of 6,217 acres managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. This property is located in the San Joaquin Valley's legendary Grasslands, the largest freshwater marsh complex west of the Mississippi River. Los Banos's green-winged teal flights can be epic, as these fast-flying migrants flock to their historical wintering grounds here late in the season.
"Los Banos Wildlife Area is a great place to hunt, and the property has a variety of seasonal, semi-permanent, permanent, and riparian wetlands," says Chris Hildebrandt, a DU regional biologist in California
. "The predominant birds are green-winged teal, but you can also expect to see northern shovelers, northern pintails, American wigeon, and mallards. There are even some larger wetlands with good diving duck
hunting as well."
Los Banos Wildlife Area offers a combination of reservation and walk-in hunting opportunities. Applicants had a nearly 1-in-7 chance of being drawn for a hunting spot during the 2013−2014 season.
"If you are new to the area and you have a reservation on a particular day, I would recommend hunting one of the spaced-blind locations," Hildebrandt says. "These hunting areas are easy to find, and you won't have to compete with other hunters."
Hildebrandt says that seasoned waterfowlers typically hunt the "free-roam" areas. The best locations for mallards and gadwalls are wetlands with thick emergent vegetation. Weather patterns, the status of the migration, and habitat conditions
can all impact the quality of the hunting.
"As the season progresses, the weather will determine where the best hunting locations are found," he explains. "The mallard hunting is better earlier in the season, while the green-winged teal numbers are spectacular later in the season. The variety and quality of the hunting is what makes Los Banos a great public area."
For more information about public waterfowl hunting on Los Banos Wildlife Area, visit http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region4/losbanos.html
(Editor's note: Severe drought conditions throughout the Pacific Flyway may impact waterfowl habitat conditions and hunting opportunities in unprecedented ways. Many public hunting areas have strategic water plans in place, but some of them—including locations listed in this article—may have limited hunting opportunities during the 2014−2015 waterfowl season. Check with the appropriate government agencies for the latest updates on habitat conditions and hunting opportunities before planning a hunt on these areas this fall.)
Learn about destinations in the other flyways: