By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor
As duck season heads into its last week in Oregon and Washington (closing on January 27), hunters are scratching their heads at the sporadic harvest this year.
“The best word to sum up the season is inconsistency,” observes Kelly Warren, DU biologist for western Oregon. “I don't think there's a lack of birds.”
Washington's waterfowl manager, Kyle Spragens, agrees, offering optimism for the diehards.
“As we head into some weather this weekend, following two ridiculously calm days, remind folks to be boat-prepared and not forget safety,” Spragens warns. “With the lack of weather and no freezing, birds haven't had to concentrate.”
Indeed, after a spate of balmy days, some decent duck hunting weather approaches. Spragens notes that strong fronts across southern British Columbia may have pushed a few birds south.
Spragens's caution to boaters applies especially to the north Puget Sound and upper Columbia River Basin. Both locations are scheduled for some on-and-off stiff breezes in the next week, the kind that scatter rafted ducks off big water.
Spragens and Brandon Reishus, his counterpart with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, agree it hasn't been the best of seasons.
“But things have picked up a little bit,” Reishus reports.
Pintails have begun their annual staging across northwest Oregon and parts of Puget Sound, and a few more wigeon and green-winged teal have been spotted in the same areas.
Oregon's popular Sauvie Island public hunting area also reports more of all three of these species in hunters' bags, which spiked Thursday to a whopping three birds per gun.
While the lower Columbia River hasn't its usual volume of scaup and other divers, the hunting has been decent, Reishus says.
“I heard a good share of our birds went north to Skagit and Vancouver [British Columbia] for Christmas,” Warren quips, adding that ducks will soon turn from grain to fields, swamps, and flooded timber. “They'll look for slugs, invertebrates, and organisms as the standing water heats up,” he predicts. “Females need the protein for migration and eggs and males will want to produce their vibrant colors.”
Up in the Columbia Basin, mallards are sitting tight in large, inaccessible rafts as they enjoy the calm, balmy weather – which could change for a day or two next week.
The basin's relatively new influx of wintering snow geese has spread around a bit and a few even made it south to Summer Lake.
Oregon's high-desert duck hunting ends January 20, and hunters are already looking ahead to the late-season snow and white-fronted goose hunts from late January through early March.
Spragens notes that the brant season will end on Sunday in Skagit, Clallam, and Whatcom Counties, but will continue January 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, and 27 in Pacific County, with enough birds in the area to go around.
Eric Strand of S2 Outfitters in northwest Oregon reported Thursday morning that he began the day with clients in the Willamette Valley, but after a no-show on birds, picked up and moved north to a location closer to the Columbia River. By the end of the day, a predicted wind came in, ducks stirred from the open, whitecapped water, and his hunters filled their limits.
“We could still use a little rain,” Strand laments. “It's all about pressure management.”
Hunters should heed DU's pointers about the late season: Scout, scout, scout; reduce calling; make spreads more realistic, and don't be afraid to pick up and move.
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.