Situated in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains, this waterfowling venue may be second to none
By Gary Koehler
Every so often—when the stars and moon align, the wind is just right, and the water level is at the very least adequate—ducks seem to become much more cooperative. That is, if you are fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. On Great Salt Lake, it helps when an airboat is thrown into the mix.
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We motored for several miles from our Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area (WMA) launch site, traveling over open water and extensive mud flats before maneuvering into a marsh split by a narrow channel. We are surrounded by alkali bulrush, which ranks among the primary waterfowl food sources in this part of the world.
Farmington Bay WMA, a 13,000-acre complex, had provided an early glimpse of what was to come. Northern pintails, wigeon, mallards, gadwalls, teal, northern shovelers, and other waterfowl were stacked up in a rest area to the tune of perhaps 40,000 birds. Maybe more. And that’s not counting the coots.
“Really, this isn’t anywhere near the most ducks I’ve ever seen here,” says Jerald Olsen, who serves Ducks Unlimited as Utah regional director. “There are days when the whole rest area is covered. And I mean all of it.”
The abundance of ducks on the refuge was one thing, but no one was prepared for what we saw on the ride to our hunting site. There was a slight haze, which limited visibility in some places. From a distance, the humps protruding from the patch of mud ahead looked to be a collection of low stumps, or maybe geese. Nope. Tundra swans. Several hundred of them. Their mass exodus as we drew near was enough to take one’s breath away.
“There’s a swan season here,” Olsen says. “Hunters can take one a year. You’ll see them all over the place during your stay.”
Our focus this afternoon, however, is on ducks. Scott Farber is at the airboat controls and knows exactly where the hidden marsh opening is located. DU Area Chairman Shane Lindquist, like me, is a newcomer to the big lake, which is more than 70 miles long and mostly shallow. Locals allow that mud motors are fine, but airboats will go the distance.
Hundreds of ducks flee the channel and adjacent open-water pockets in response to the roar of Farber’s airboat engine. “That right there was worth the ride out here,” Lindquist says as he watches duck tails disappear into the midday sky. “That’s what we all work for.”
“I bet 90 percent of them were mallards,” Farber says as we begin unloading decoys, guns, gear, and a peppy black Lab named Rox. “I found this place the other day, and it was loaded with ducks. We did really well here.”
We hide in the reeds, sitting on plastic bucket chairs to ensure a low profile. There is very little wind, and the sun is at our backs. The temperature is in the 50s, which is substantially warmer than the norm for this date in November.