Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge - Oregon
Established in 1972 to preserve the vital fish and wildlife habitat of the Columbia River estuary, the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) has evolved into one of the Pacific Flyway's top public hunting locations. This little-known refuge is located in Oregon near the mouth of the Columbia River, providing wintering and resting habitat for an estimated 1,000 tundra swans, 5,000 geese, and 30,000 ducks.
"I'd say it's one of the best places to waterfowl hunt in the area," says Paul Meyers, Lewis and Clark NWR wildlife biologist. "The property is accessible by boat, and there are several access points. The inland waterways are where you'll find the puddle ducks-pintails, wigeon, and mallards-while the diving ducks stay in open water. The refuge is a huge wintering area for scaup."
Meyers warns visiting hunters to be aware of the nearly seven-foot tidal swing that occurs in this area. Many of the low-lying islands are completely inundated on a high tide, and many of the shallow backwaters are completely dry on the low tide.
"I would recommend that hunters who aren't familiar with the area visit our website and even the refuge office for more information on closed areas and tide charts," Meyers says. "People from all over the state come here to hunt, and we don't want anyone to get stuck out there on the outgoing tide."
Much of the refuge is open to waterfowl hunting. For more information, download a Refuge Waterfowl Hunting Handout or visit the Lewis and Clark NWR website.
Visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for additional waterfowl hunting information.
Imperial Wildlife Area, Wister Unit - California
Located in the Southern California desert, the Salton Sea wouldn't appear to be a duck hunting hotspot at first glance. But the Imperial Wildlife Area, made up of approximately 7,900 acres of salt marshes, freshwater ponds, and desert scrub, is well known by locals for providing top-notch waterfowling. The Wister Unit, in particular, is renowned for offering consistently good hunting for a variety of duck species.
The Imperial Wildlife Area consisted largely of desert scrubland until 1905, when the Colorado River broke through an irrigation bypass and created the Salton Sea, which today has a higher salt content than the Pacific Ocean. The property was designated as a wildlife area by the California Fish and Game Commission in 1951, and in recent decades the majority of the property has been developed as wildlife habitat and for public outdoor recreation.
Rick Francis, wildlife habitat supervisor with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), says the Wister Unit offers an abundance of waterfowl hunting opportunities.
"Early in the season, we have great cinnamon teal numbers, and as they move out, green-winged teal and other ducks arrive," Francis says. "We hold impressive wigeon numbers, and they are starting to trickle in now. It's a great area to harvest a mixed bag."
Francis advises hunters to visit the CDFW website for detailed information about the area's reservation and walk-up options.
"Typically, we are packed on opening weekend, but after that it's pretty open," Francis adds. "The best day to get in as a walk-up would be Sunday."
Reservations on many of California's state-operated wildlife areas are issued through random drawings. You can apply for waterfowl reservation drawings through the Online License Service, at any CDFW License Agent, or at the CDFW License Sales Office. For more information about reservations through CDFW, visit their reservations website.
Colusa National Wildlife Refuge - California
Colusa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) spans more than 5,000 acres in California's Sacramento Valley, providing vital wintering habitat for a great abundance and diversity of waterfowl. At peak times, this area supports more than 350,000 ducks and geese, one of the largest waterfowl concentrations found on any of the state's public hunting areas.
"Waterfowl use Colusa NWR by the thousands because of active management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners like Ducks Unlimited," says Matt Weegman, regional biologist for DU. "The proximity of the refuge to Sacramento and the Bay Area make it a popular place for waterfowlers as well as bird- watchers, who also come here to enjoy the spectacle each winter."
During the waterfowl season, Colusa NWR is generally open to hunting on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. Hunting on the refuge is regulated via specific permits, fees, and regulations.
Located in the Colusa Basin, the refuge is part of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which consists of five national wildlife refuges (Sacramento, Delevan, Colusa, Sutter, and Sacramento River) as well as Willow Creek-Lurline, Butte Sink, and North Central Valley wildlife management areas. Visit Sacramento NWR website for more information.
Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, Potholes Reservoir Unit - Washington
The Pacific Northwest is filled with natural treasures, including Washington's 32,820-acre Potholes Reservoir Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area, which earned a spot on our list of the Pacific Flyway's top public hunting areas.
"The hunting at Potholes Reservoir can vary depending on the time of year, but the area offers a wide range of opportunities," says Rich Finger, district wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "Early in the season, the water levels are low, which creates pockets of good habitat that can offer great hunting. Most hunters come in by boat, but there are walk-in areas as well."
The Potholes Reservoir was created by the construction of O'Sullivan Dam to impound water for the federal Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. The larger Columbia Basin Wildlife Area encompasses about 192,000 acres across many different units within the "Big Bend" of the Columbia River in Grant and Adams Counties, and is managed by the WDFW, although most of the land is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation or other federal and state agencies.
"The waterfowl harvest on the Potholes Reservoir Unit averages from three to three and a half birds per hunter, with mallards and green-winged teal being the most commonly taken species," Finger adds. "This is really a great jumping-off point for people interested in hunting the area. I would recommend that walk-in hunters focus on the fringes of the property and spillways. Later in the season, following a freeze-up when we get a strong southeast wind, the hunting can be spectacular."
Visit Potholes Reservoir Unit for more information.
Additional waterfowl hunting information is available at WDFW website.
Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area - Utah
Located 25 minutes north of Salt Lake City, Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area (WMA) is one of Utah's top public waterfowl hunting destinations. Consisting of freshwater ponds, marshes, expansive mudflats, and open water, Farmington Bay's diverse wetlands support an abundance of waterfowl and other wildlife.
"Waterfowlers who hunt on Farmington Bay WMA harvest a variety of different species of dabbling and diving ducks throughout the season," says Jason Jones, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "We provide opportunities for individuals who just want to sit and pass-shoot on our dike roads as well as those who prefer to use duck boats. Some of our most successful hunters ride mountain bikes packed with gear and then hike various distances into the sheet-flow wetlands in search of mallards, pintails, wigeon, and green-wing teal."
Overall, marsh conditions at Farmington Bay WMA this year are considered good outside the diked units and excellent inside them, and all units within Farmington Bay will be holding and spilling freshwater throughout the fall, with all at 100 percent capacity by the general waterfowl opener.
The primary water source for Farmington Bay is the Jordan River, with numerous secondary sources during spring runoff. For more information, check out the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website.
Fantastic waterfowling action can be found on public land across North America. The following highlights five destinations for each flyway to help you plan your next hunt.