By Peter Ottesen, WF360 California Migration Editor
The extended Thanksgiving holiday is over and, if the limited hunter success in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley are any indication, there were very few ducks and geese anointing festive tables laden with food. Hunting was much better at local grocery stores than nearby wetlands.
“I cannot explain it,” says Sean Allen, acting manager at Los Banos Wildlife Area. “Hunting isn’t very impressive. We’re seeing a few more birds—gadwalls and wigeon—but not a lot. There aren’t many green-winged teal. Our top producing area the past week was Merced National Wildlife Refuge that ranged from 1.4 to .9 birds per gun. Every other public area paled in comparison, it was that slow.”
Allen reports that all public areas are completely flooded and ready to accommodate the maximum quota of hunters, once the shooting improves.
Among ducks, shovelers are the top bird. At Merced NWR, a mixed bag included more light geese—snow and Ross’s—and white-fronts, signs that northern birds are beginning to arrive.
The East Bear Creek Unit opened just before Thanksgiving but hunters harvested less than a half-bird per gun. Pheasant hunters have found the best action at China Island Wildlife Area.
“Pheasant hunting is a non-factor when it comes to the poor duck hunting,” Allen says. “There aren’t any conflicts. There simply aren’t many ducks.”
Private clubs haven’t fared much better, reports Paul McHaney at the Salinas Duck Club near Gustine. “There were very few birds this week and the only shots taken were at passing ducks,” he says. “Nothing worked decoys or the calls. Green-winged teal are conspicuously absent. We’re fortunate to have a few shovelers and ring-necked ducks.”
Farther south, Mendota Wildlife Area is producing a few shovelers and green-winged teal and remains a prime location for pheasants for those willing to tromp literally miles of uplands and levee tops. At Kern National Wildlife Refuge, shovelers and gadwalls have composed more than 50 percent of the ducks taken by hunters, who collectively averaged about 1.5 birds per gun.
Near San Jacinto Wildlife Area, it seems like wigeon have arrived in steady numbers this week, reports Joe Fass at the neighboring Ramona Duck Club. “Hunters did pretty well on wigeon,” he says. “It was a welcome change for the better.”
Michael Marshall at Mystic Lake Duck Club confirmed the arrival of wigeon. “Hunting had really dropped off after the first two and a half weeks of the season,” he says. “Action is still quite slow, but wigeon and a few more green-winged teal have filtered south to us. We’re also holding some cinnamon teal.”
The Wister Unit of the Imperial Valley Wildlife Area has yielded about a half-bird per gun, with a harvest consisting of wigeon, gadwall and snow geese. The area got off to a rough start this season because of issues surrounding fall flood up.
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Peter Ottesen is an award-winning, California-based writer who has a passion for hunting, conservation, and farming. Ottesen will provide Migration Alerts for the Pacific Flyway during the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.