By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor
Some say Western Oregon's October duck opener was the best in years, but after a flurry of local ducks got smart and early migrants kept flying south to California, Oregon hunters have had to hunker down and weather the November doldrums.
That may end this weekend as a powerful storm system is predicted to sweep across western Canada, bringing freezing temperatures from Prince George, British Columbia, to Edmonton, Alberta. Even chillier weather is expected to settle into the region over Thanksgiving week.
"I always keep an eye on Prince George," says Mark Nebeker, manager of the Sauvie Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Portland. "It seems to coincide best with our pushes of birds on the west side."
Nebeker reports that tundra swans are now showing up on the island, and hunters have been taking more wigeon and some gadwalls. The average daily harvest on the WMA jumped to more than two birds per gun on Monday, up from barely one bird per gun in recent weeks.
"That's a sign there's movement of new birds in from the north," Nebeker says. "It's a nice surprise."
He estimates that current duck numbers on the WMA total between 60,000 and 80,000 birds.
The island's east side check station is running smoothly after installation of a new draw system, which awards hunt applicants a place in line weeks in advance, rather than requiring them to arrive early in the morning or camp overnight. "People seem to really like the new system," Nebeker says.
A "nonreservations" line remains for those who did not draw a permit, where hunters can show up and gain access to unclaimed spots. (Hint: On the east side, arrive at the check station between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. There are no lines and many hunters on the best units will have already checked out with their birds, leaving some prime spots available.)
North Oregon Coast fishing guide Joe Watkins, who hunts ducks from an Aquapod on his days off, says now is the time for new ducks to show up along the north coast. In fact, good numbers of wigeon are already present on Miami Cove near Tillamook.
Most of the state remains open for goose hunting (which has been slow), but the Northwest Zone, roughly from the Cascades to the coast and from Eugene to the Columbia River, will reopen Saturday with abundant goose numbers reported throughout the area.
Brandon Reishus, waterfowl biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, flew home Sunday from a hunt in Alaska and his plane banked right over Sauvie Island while on final approach to Portland International Airport.
Reishus, an experienced aerial waterfowl surveyor, was stunned to see acres of snow geese on the WMA, which is typically a stronghold only for Canadas and cacklers.
At Summer Lake, wildlife area manager Marty St. Louis reports that both duck and snow goose number are low, despite an abundance of open water.
Klamath Marsh has decent water, but again, without new birds from the north, hunting has been slow.
Ladd Marsh in northeast Oregon started the season in poor shape for water, but fall rains have helped, and hunters are waiting for a push of new birds out of the north there as well.
Along the Oregon side of the upper Columbia River, wigeon are mixed with rafted coots along Interstate 84, but the usual flocks of scaup haven't arrived yet.
"Everyone is just waiting to see how this cold snap turns out," Reishus says.
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 2016-2017 waterfowl season.