By Duane Dungannon, Field & Stream's Pacific Flyway Duck Reporter
Duck hunters will find nothing great about the Great Northwest as the season comes to a close this week, but the forecast continues to be fair in sunny California. While only a few hearty ducks and geese remain in the Pacific Flyway's colder climes, it only takes a few to make your day, as Richy Harrod of Harrod Outdoors shows in this photo during a goose hunt with Alex Yerges of Pacific Calls near Moses Lake, Wash., last week.
"Numbers of geese are still pretty high in the basin," Harrod said, "but the birds are becoming very difficult to decoy, especially on clear, sunny days. You really have to pay attention to details on hiding blinds and decoy spread."
The bright spots in the Pacific Flyway lately have been the areas with the brightest weather. Who can blame a duck that chooses a hot spring over a cold shower?
"This last weekend was good," said Curt Wilson of Avery Outdoors in central California. "I heard reports of good goose hunting – snows and specks – in the Sacramento Valley, as well as some decent duck hunting. It was clear with decent wind. I was in the Central Valley and had a fabulous goose hunt on Saturday with a three-man limit of geese, including 13 Aleutians and five specks. The other guys hunting on the club where I was had a decent duck hunt, killing 24 ducks and three geese between two other parties of hunters."
It was good down by the bay, according to R.J. Waldron of Northwind Outfitters.
"We had good hunting in the San Francisco Bay for the last couple weeks, with limits of scaup--lesser and greater--goldeneye, surf scoter, and cans. The rice field hunts we've been hosting are definitely down in overall bird numbers this year, but pintails seem to be at an all-time high. That's really all we see some days."
Farther north in the Golden State, the prospects are more bust than boom.
"The duck hunting remains lousy," reported Frank Galusha of My Outdoor Buddy. "Most of the water is frozen, and it's colder than usual. If you can find open water anywhere in the western half of the country, there are birds around, but not as many. I think most flew the coop and are now on their way to Mexico."
Frankly speaking, Frank speaks the truth. The latest Klamath Basin surveys tallied only about 4,000 ducks and 1,750 geese, down from more than 300,000 ducks and 25,000 geese counted just two weeks ago.
While it may be a bit warmer west of the Cascades, the duck hunting wasn't any hotter, according to hunter and outdoor photographer Randy Shipley of Medford.
"I went jump-shooting Saturday morning," Shipley said. "Lots of hunters at Denman (Wildlife Area) and other ponds in the valley. Not a lot of open water, and I did not see many birds. Sunday I was down at a pheasant preserve in the Shasta Valley and saw large flocks of honkers and mallards passing through."
That's much to the chagrin of hunters like Avery Outdoors pro-staffers Allen Griggs and Kent Contreras in eastern Washington.
"Puddle duck numbers have dropped, and I expect that a large number migrated south," lamented Contreras. "Goose numbers have leveled off a bit, and we are holding some birds, but far fewer than last week. Lots of divers have made it into the area."
Added Riggs, "Ponds and creeks are frozen. Birds have no local fields to feed in, so they are loafing and feeding in lakes and larger rivers."
Rivers are currently the place to be.
"River hunting should get better as more and more of the backwaters freeze up," Contreras said. "Had a nice relaxing afternoon on the river yesterday, and had a suicidal goose come into a small spread. I watched a lot of birds fly around and pick out their safe spots, so this tells me they are educated to the point they will give hunters fits."
Riggs and Contreras reported that deep snow put a wet blanket on field hunting in Washington's eastern edge, but in other areas it's still green in the Evergreen State, and where the snow is thin, the birds can be thick, according to Abel Cortina of the Washington Waterfowl Association.
"Recently the ducks and geese have been using the cornfields quite a bit," said Cortina, who offered proof in this photo. "If you have access to a cornfield, make sure you scout it and be ready right at shooting time. They need that extra fat to continue their migration. Water hunting has been good if you can find open areas. The extreme cold temps have frozen most of the small water. Hit the rivers and you should find ducks."
Northwest Duck Hunting Goes on Ice; California Has Hot Spots
Find migration and hunting reports on Ducks Unlimited's Migration Map.