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Migration Alert: Duck Hunters Dream of a White Christmas

Dec. 17 - Pacific Flyway
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  • photo by Michaelfurtman.com
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By Duane Dungannon, Field & Stream's Pacific Flyway Duck Reporter

West Coast duck hunters want not only a white Christmas but also an early one that will deliver all the ducks on their wish lists. But the recent warm weather is saying "Bah humbug!" Ron Lara of Western Wildlife Adventures (www.wildlifeadv.com) in Chico, Calif., managed to beat the odds last week and offered this photo of his lucky seven mallards. "I went out to a honey hole last week and took seven mallards in one hour. But it's been slow otherwise," Lara said. "It's always about weather. Cooler temps should pick up the hunting." Curt Wilson of Avery Outdoors (www.averyoutdoors.com) in the Sacramento Valley said the warm weather has cooled off the duck hunting. "All of the water from the latest storms and rains has the birds spread out," Wilson said. "Warm weather has slowed things down, and we need new birds to migrate into the area. I did kill three mallards on Sunday, but there were very few birds around." 

North of the Oregon state line, it's been a similar scene on the west side of the Cascades, while the onset of cooler weather in eastern Oregon has duck populations literally on thin ice. 

Guide James Rice in Corvallis said local fowl have only been moving with foul weather. "The birds have been hit or miss lately," he said. "There are a lot of birds in the area, but they're only moving on blustery and rainy days. The creeks and rivers have been out of their banks, so birds are spread out and only using the food ponds at night to feed." It's the same story in southwest Oregon, where the fields on the Denman Wildlife Area are now flooded, but hunting success depends on storms keeping birds on the move amid high winds and rain. 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported this week that ice forming on still waters during the night has made ducks in the Klamath Basin and Warner Valleys leave the area for warmer water. 

In Lake County, the ODFW reported that recent storms pushed most of the migrating waterfowl south. Remaining birds will concentrate on open-water areas, such as moving water or warm springs. 

Summer Lake reported good duck hunting with unsettled weather most of the week. A storm system early in the week was followed by cold overnight temperatures that created a thin layer of ice on some ponds. Last week's 72 Summer Lake hunters reported harvest of 167 birds, mostly wigeon, shovelers, and mallards. The weekly waterfowl count totalled about 19,200 ducks and 1,900 geese, similar to the previous week. 

The first December survey of Klamath Basin refuges tallied mallards and wigeon at about 50,000 each, and pintails at nearly twice that number. 

At the Klamath Wildlife Area, the ODFW reported that the harvest rate has dropped to less than one bird per hunter, with about three hours between birds taken. Cold nighttime temperatures have formed ice on the ponds, clearing most of the ducks from the wildlife area. 

Farther east in Malheur County, the ODFW reported that Treasure Valley waterfowl hunting is slow due to mild weather that has kept birds scattered on ponds and the Malheur and Owyhee rivers. 

North of the Columbia, Avery Outdoors pro-staffer Karl Shaffer in southwest Washington said that geese and ducks are still present in good numbers in Lewis and King counties, but no new birds appear to have moved in. He hopes that forecasts calling for rain, cooler temperatures, and snowfall farther north will move more birds into the region. 

Abel Cortina of the Washington Waterfowl Association (www.waduck.org) said new birds have arrived in the Columbia Basin. "Numbers are starting to build up," Cortina said. "Guys I have spoken to have been doing pretty well. Tri-cities has had some birds move in. I have heard of big numbers of birds in western Washington, but the weather up there is nice and the birds are not moving, so that means we don't get new birds." 

East of the Cascades, Richy Harrod of Harrod Outdoors (www.harrodoutdoors.com) said hunters must work for their birds until they see the next wave of migrants. "The warm weather has continued in eastern Washington, and duck and goose numbers remain really low," he said. "A recent hunt at the Potholes only yielded six birds all day. There are now hundreds of small-water pockets from the recent rain. My cousin Mike and I hunted last weekend and found that you can have good success early in the morning at these small ponds. The hunts only last about an hour, but if mallards are steadily going to a particular pond, they will come in at first light." 

Farther inland, Avery Outdoors pro-staffers said it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Jeremy DeVries in Billings, Mont., reported that ponds have started to freeze, and rivers are starting to ice up, as well. He said light snow cover makes fields a good bet for Canada geese and mallards. "Wigeons, gadwalls, and green-wings are around, too, and I saw large groups of goldeneyes the other day," he said. "Birds are in large bunches right now. If you are where they are, shooting a limit is likely. If you're not in the right spot, it can feel like there are no birds at all." 

David Harper in Twin Falls, Idaho, said current conditions offer plenty of options. "The Snake is looking great, with good rafts of divers," he reported. "Most smaller ponds and reservoirs are staying open with warmer temps, but even in colder temps, it's just sheet ice forming that can be broken in the mornings. Fields are still plentiful with grain and corn, and most birds are feeding on corn at least once a day." 

Further south in the Rockies, Travis Madden in Orem, Utah, said winter weather is giving him chills. "It's finally starting to feel like winter! We have been in the low 30s and 20s. Snow is on the ground, and the waters are starting to freeze. Expect to see changes in feeding habits as birds start looking to fields for feed." 

Madden said the best hunting is still on the horizon. 

"Duck hunting seems to have picked up with the arrival of more birds," he noted, "and with the cold, we should continue to see more."


Find hunting and migration reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.

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