By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor
Oregon waterfowlers have been enjoying some of the best early duck and goose hunting in several years thanks to available water and cold weather across western Canada this past week.
“If I could shoot well, I would have been done in 15 or 20 minutes,” says Chris Middleton of Tigard, who recently bagged his first all mallard drake limit of the season along the lower Columbia River. As it was, he decided there were enough ducks flying to be picky, and it only took him a couple hours to lay out his seven greenheads. “They were everywhere—mallards, wigeon, and teal. They just kept coming,” he adds.
Waterfowlers have also been having good luck on popular Sauvie Island Wildlife Area near Portland, where the average daily duck harvest per hunter rose to three birds last week.
In the east, hunters have been doing well on McCormack Slough and other parts of the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge near Irrigon, where the average daily harvest per hunter was better than four birds at the end of October.
“It’s been really good for the weather we’ve had,” says Eric Strand with S2 Outfitters and the Decoy Dancer company in Warren. “There has been a good push of birds on both sides of the state.”
Strand guides from Gaston and Forest Grove to the Columbia and downriver to Brownsmead. He says his contacts have seen large numbers of mallards and wigeon moving in from the coast.
Heavy winds and thunderstorms later this week should break up rafted ducks on Tillamook and Nehalem Bays along the north coast and should create ideal hunting conditions along islands in the upper Columbia estuary.
“I wouldn’t steer anyone away from the coast right now,” Strand says.
“I think the early hunting has been going pretty well,” agrees Brandon Reishus, a waterfowl biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We had a cold push of air across the Canadian prairies and reports indicate the weekend was pretty good.”
Reishus also notes that large numbers of ducks have been using high desert wetlands this season, but hunting pressure has been surprisingly light.
“I was on Warner Wetlands and there were plenty of birds, but very few hunters,” Reishus says. “It amazes me to see an area of public water like that go unused.”
Summer Lake is still holding between 40,000 and 50,000 ducks, and while overnight lows are now dipping into the teens, Reishus says most of the water is open with only skim ice in shallow-water areas. A hard freeze typically hits desert wetlands just before Thanksgiving, when the birds typically begin moving south into California. As a result, waterfowlers in the Klamath Basin may see some of the best hunting of the season over the next two weeks.
Reports indicate that goose hunting was excellent during the first season in the Northwest Oregon Goose Zone and should continue to be good when hunting reopens on November 18. Meanwhile, Canada goose hunters have doing well along the upper Columbia River and in Klamath County.
Snow geese are now moving through far eastern Oregon. Snows haven’t used Summer Lake as heavily as in recent years, but there should be enough birds in the area to make for interesting hunting this week and next.
Overall, good numbers of ducks and geese should continue to provide productive waterfowl hunting throughout Oregon as fresh birds continue to arrive from the north.
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 2017-2018 waterfowl season.