Migration Alert: California Duck Hunters Welcome Change in Weather

Nov. 27, 2019 – Pacific Flyway – California

© Michael Furtman

Very mild weather and zero rain have been the reality since waterfowl hunting began. However, a major storm that hit California yesterday could be a game changer.

Mystic Lake, an historic flood plain in the San Jacinto Valley, is boasting plenty of water thanks to last winter’s rain that turned the natural sump from bone dry to plum full. Joe Fass at the Ramona Duck Club reports that ducks are rafting on the lake, set within the San Jacinto Wildlife Area and literally sleeping during the balmy weather.

“Wigeon are starting to show, so there appears to be some southern migration underway,” Fass says. “Perhaps the storm will bring stiff winds to blow ducks off Mystic Lake and attract more birds from the north and east.”

He explains that hunting appears to be quite good at the Mystic Lake Duck Club, but shooting has been very slow at the neighboring Ramona Duck Club.

At Kern National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) near Bakersfield, a reduced water allocation has caused the hunter capacity to drop from 126 per day to just 65. When at capacity Kern NWR offers 730 acres with spaced blinds and 1,867 acres for free roam hunters. On Nov. 16 hunters averaged 2.4-birds-per-gun. Shoveler and gadwall were top birds in the bag with 72 and 29, respectively.

Farther north at Mendota Wildlife Area, more than 11,800 acres of habitat await public hunters. This is the largest of all California’s public areas but, with a shortage of water and a shortage of ducks, as well, hunters take about 1.5-birds-per-gun, with shoveler and green-winged teal the most prominent on the strap.

At the Grasslands Ecological Area of Merced County duck hunting has been very slow. On Nov. 16, Volta Wildlife Area produced 3 ducks for 21 hunters; Kesterson NWR gave up 11 ducks for 29 hunters; Los Banos Wildlife Area just 26 ducks for 75 hunters; San Luis NWR, 27 ducks for 44 hunters, and China Island Wildlife Area, 3 birds for 28 hunters.

In all fairness, duck scores normally drop dramatically during pheasant hunting season, which continues through mid-December. The two hunting activities simply aren’t compatible and when seasons overlap, the results aren’t pretty.

Private clubs on the north end of the Grasslands, just south of Gustine, are reporting more shovelers than any other bird. “Green-winged teal have really been scarce,” Paul McHaney at the Salinas Club reports. “Hopefully, this storm will trigger the migration and at least bring us green wings and wigeon.”

Peak migration usually occurs in the Grasslands around December 10. Meanwhile, hunters in California are thankful for the heavy rains – the first measurable precipitation since April.