By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor
Chris Colson, DU’s regional biologist in Idaho, returned home last week with the kind of news Northwest duck and goose hunters are eager to hear.
“There’s frost on the ground in Montana,” he reports. “And I’m just starting to see northern birds come down.”
An early shot of frigid air across Alberta over the next week may encourage even more dabblers and geese to beat the ice by heading south.
And that’s just the vanguard of another large migration from the north, so many Pacific Flyway waterfowlers are brimming with optimism on the threshold of another season.
“We’re seeing some early migrants starting to arrive along the coast,” says Brandon Reishus, Oregon’s state waterfowl coordinator. “We’re seeing pintails, green-winged teal, and wigeon.”
Winter precipitation was variable across the Pacific Northwest, with good snowfall and water across most of Washington and northern Idaho and drier conditions in Oregon.
Still, biologists in all three states are encouraged by carryover water in many lakes and marshes and good numbers of locally-produced ducks to get hunters through the season’s early weeks.
Goose hunters, especially those targeting dark geese west of the Cascades, will benefit from another good hatch of cackling geese. East of the mountains, hunters should see plenty of birds following strong production of Canada geese, and there should once again be an abundance of whitefronts and light geese for late-winter hunting in Oregon and Idaho.
The best early-season action in this state will be found on the salt marshes along Puget Sound in the west and the Channeled Scablands and pothole areas in the east, as well as along the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
After the first push, eastern Washington typically fills up with birds by mid-November, and western hunters will find both ducks and geese in popular marshes and the braided estuaries of north Puget Sound. The lower Columbia River also offers plenty of action early and late.
Jeff Knetter, Idaho’s state waterfowl biologist, echoes Colson’s optimism, especially for “strong goose numbers.”
A good snowpack helped Idaho stay wet, north to south.
“There’s always water in the panhandle lakes and reservoirs,” he says, “and the traditional areas of eastern and southern Idaho are also holding water.”
Colson suggests hunters concentrate on perennial water bodies near agricultural fields and pastures, always a surefire combination for Idaho waterfowling.
In addition, the Snake River basin offers some of the state’s best waterfowl hunting throughout the season and is a duck magnet from one end of the state to the other.
Unlike its northern neighbors, Oregon had a dry summer as well as a poor spring runoff. Fortunately, there is still enough carryover water to sustain many key waterfowl habitats. Malheur Lake remains at a good level. There’s also water in the popular Warner Wetlands, and Summer Lake’s spring-fed marshes are ready for the season.
Oregon’s severe fire season didn’t impact any key waterfowl habitats, Reishus says. He says early-season hunters will likely find the best hunting opportunities on the state’s high desert marshes and Pacific Coast estuaries.
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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 2018-2019 waterfowl season.