Migration Alert: California Hunters Forge into Final Week of Difficult Season

Jan. 21, 2019 – Pacific Flyway – California

Photo © Michael Furtman

By Peter Ottesen, WF360 California Migration Editor

One of the most up-and-down waterfowl hunting seasons in memory closes January 27 in most parts of California. The northeastern zone, including Klamath Basin and Modoc National Wildlife Refuges, is already closed.

In a season that began with high hopes, bolstered further by the third-highest fall flight forecast since 1955, hunting has proven to be rough and unpredictable. It just goes to show that strong bird counts don’t necessarily mean good gunning. 

This week’s extended downpour, which dropped heavy amounts of rain and snow, has not only scattered birds and temporarily flooded most area habitats but also forced the closure of some public areas in the Sacramento Valley. Be sure to call ahead to areas such as Little Dry Creek and other nearby refuges, and check with Cal Trans about road closures due to flooding, especially near Colusa and Gridley.

Mallards have seemingly disappeared from the Sacramento Valley. At some high-end clubs, wigeon dominate. Public areas aren’t seeing very good shooting except during weather events, with most yielding fewer than two birds per hunter. Shovelers, gadwalls, wigeon, and green-winged teal are providing a real mixed bag. Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) offers the best chances of bagging a goose.

With so many rice fields suddenly full of water, it is difficult to predict what the final weekend of the season will hold, but most veteran hunters don’t expect too much action because of all the available habitat.

The Sutter and Yolo Bypasses, now plagued with flows from high runoff, also have had disappointing seasons. Hunting has been poor for most of the season in the Bay-Delta region, which includes the Suisun Marsh and islands west of Stockton. The complex simply isn’t holding ducks like in past years. Public areas like Grizzly, Joice, and Twitchell Islands give up about one bird per gun, and these are usually shovelers and wigeon.

Massive flights of geese, mostly white-fronted, have been dispersed by the rain and heavy winds from Bouldin and Staten Islands and scattered about the Delta. Duck hunting has finally hit its stride on Empire Tract, Bacon Island, and Mandeville Island, with mallards, wigeon, green-winged teal, and northern pintails providing good action on weather-event days.

In the Grasslands of northern San Joaquin Valley, hunting for green-winged teal, shovelers, and wigeon has been good, with public areas giving up close to three birds per gun. At Volta Wildlife Area, near Los Banos, the average harvest tops five birds, made up of mostly greenwings.

Private clubs in the north Grasslands, such as the Salinas Club, have enjoyed consistent hunting for greenwings, shovelers, and ringnecks for the past six weeks. Clubs south of Los Banos haven’t been as fortunate, with hardly a shot fired on some days. Farther south, on Mendota Wildlife Area, averages hover just above two birds, with greenwings and wigeon topping the charts. East of the San Joaquin River has been slow for private clubs, and at Merced NWR, though averages did exceed three birds this week on the all-blinds public area.

East of Los Angeles, San Jacinto Wildlife Area is holding shovelers, gadwalls, and greenwings, but gunning has been modest overall. Nearby Ramona Duck Club is seeing an influx of greenwings, with the prospect of more northern pintails to close out the season.

Peter Ottesen is an award-winning, California-based writer who has a passion for hunting, conservation, and farming. Ottesen will provide Migration Alerts for the Pacific Flyway during the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.