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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Gunning the Great Basin

A duck hunting expedition through southern Oregon’s closed-basin lakes
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While on the lookout for birds, Shannon explained that Goose Lake is part of a closed-basin system that collects runoff from surrounding mountain streams. “The resulting wetlands provide critical habitat for ducks and geese during their fall and spring migrations,” he said. “In addition to the lake, waterfowl congregate on adjacent wetlands like this one. Last year we enhanced this property by installing water-control structures and strengthening its levees.”

By noon, we had gathered a mixed bag including two stout greenheads and four other species. A canvasback, however, was not among them. There had been no sightings all morning, until Shannon suddenly whispered, “Watch that duck on the left. I think it’s a canvasback.” My eyes locked onto a single bird in the distance as it turned back toward the spread. At 50 yards out, its size, speed, and coloration left no doubt. With the wind at its back, the bird rocketed over the water at full tilt. It drew several shots from both of us before finally falling lifeless beyond the decoys.

Recounting this memorable finish, Shannon and I returned to Klamath Falls in high spirits. Our expectations for the next day’s hunt were equally high. Some scouting conducted after our diver hunt had revealed many ducks and geese using a wetland next to Agency Lake. And, in the morning, Shannon and I planned to meet Rounsaville and the area’s DU volunteer chairman, Travis Grieser, at Agency Lake’s boat ramp.

Under a star-filled sky, our party rode across dark, calm water to a canal bordering the wetland’s perimeter levee. We tied off the boat and began portaging our gear over the steep embankment. Hauling sneakboats, decoys, guns, and other gear, each of us was soon out of breath. Yet, the daylight drawing in the east urged us to hurry. We paddled gear-filled boats down a small canal, while Grieser and his black Lab, Tuko, walked the bank.

After half an hour of paddling, Shannon chose to situate our blinds on a small peninsula of forbs and spike rush surrounded by shallow water. Breaking skim ice, Grieser and I deployed two dozen mallard, pintail, wigeon, and Canada goose decoys in front of our blinds on the west side of the peninsula. Thirty yards away, Shannon and Rounsaville set a similar spread. As we brushed our boats, dawn broke over the eastern mountains, casting a brilliant spectrum of red, orange, and violet over the open landscape.

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