Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Flyway Migration Editor
In Oregon, record-shattering rainfall in September and the closure of national wildlife refuges and other federal lands to hunting were responsible for a disappointing start to the duck season this past weekend. During the early season, Oregon relies largely on locally raised ducks supplemented by early migrants from Alaska and western Canada. These birds are typically concentrated on small wetlands with available water, which is often in short supply following hot, dry summer weather. This year, however, waterfowl were scattered on an abundance of wetland habitat created by torrential September rains, reducing early waterfowl hunting success in many areas.
In Oregon’s eastern high desert, a bright spot for duck hunters was Summer Lake, southeast of Bend. Marty St. Louis, manager of the state wildlife area at Summer Lake, said hunters averaged about three ducks per hunter on opening day, which was only slightly below average. The harvest subsequently fell off this week to 1.6 ducks per hunter, but "hunters willing to put in some hiking to the far end of the dikes will find plenty of good shooting," St. Louis notes.
On the highly popular state-managed Sauvie Island Wildlife Area near Portland, managers reported the slowest opening day in recent memory, with hunters bagging an average of slightly more than one bird per gun (last year's average was between three and four). Most of the harvest consisted of mallards and shovelers, but some wigeon and teal were also taken.
"The [duck breeding population] counts in Alaska weren't that good, so we didn't get much of an early push," says Brandon Reishus, chief waterfowl biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Some limits were taken along the Willamette River and at clubs bordering refuge lands in the Willamette Valley."
Up the Columbia River from Boardman to Umatilla, hunting success was also slow due to the closure of the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Perhaps the state's best duck hunting was along the north Oregon Coast and the islands of the lower Columbia River near Astoria. Hunters familiar with estuarine marshes in Nehalem, Tillamook and Nestucca bays reported good success. However, increased fishing pressure due to a bumper fall run of Chinook salmon was a nuisance for waterfowlers in some areas along the coast.
"One group that hunted Yaquina and Alsea bays told me there were too many salmon fishermen ─ too much commotion," Reishus reports.
Despite the disappointing start, in the next few weeks colder weather on the Canadian prairies and in the Western Boreal Forest will push the bulk of the Pacific Flyway’s waterfowl south, which will hopefully improve the fortunes of waterfowlers. For many Oregon duck hunters, the season can only get better from here.
Bill Monroe is an Oregon-based freelance writer who has hunted the Pacific Flyway for three decades. Monroe will provide hunting and habitat reports throughout the Pacific Flyway for the 2103-2014 waterfowl season.