Migration Alert: California Hunters Look at Strong Finish Despite Changing Conditions

Jan. 27, 2023 – Pacific Flyway – California

© Michael Furtman

There has been nothing ordinary about the 2022–2023 waterfowl season in California, unless you enjoy a rapid transition from drought to deluge. We’ve experienced both this time around, which has made hunting difficult for many.

Most public areas began the year with lower hunting capacities and wetlands that were just 50 to 70 percent full. Contrast the dry start with flooding that blanketed much of the Central Valley in early January and closed many state and federal areas because there was too much water. Go figure.

This year the waterfowl season extends through Tuesday, Jan. 31. However, goose seasons close on Sunday, Jan. 29.

The bright spot continues to be the Grasslands Ecological Area of Merced County. Coming down the stretch, public areas such as Salt Slough, Gadwall, Kesterson, Volta, San Luis, and Los Banos have boasted from 3.5 to close to five-bird averages.

Farther south, Mendota Wildlife Area wasn’t far behind. If green-winged teal, pintails, and shovelers top your list, the Grasslands is the place to be. Best of all, reservations usually are not required because these areas seldom reach capacity.

More than 150 private Grasslands duck clubs also fared pretty well during the unprecedented rain events, which were the heaviest in 150 years. The same couldn’t be said for the Suisun Marsh and the Sacramento Valley, from Willows down to Davis, which suffered off-and-on closures due to floodwaters.

Public hunters should contact their favorite areas to ascertain if they are open and if access is available, especially in the Sacramento Valley.

With a vast amount of ephemeral water available to birds, hunting has been slow to dismal in many high-volume hunting areas, private and public, especially in the Butte Basin, District 10 and rice ground west of Interstate 5. If you need evidence that ducks and geese take advantage of temporary habitat, simply take a jaunt along I-5 north of Lodi and note tens of thousands of white-fronted geese and ducks, predominately mallards and wigeon.

Perhaps late-season flooding is nature’s way of protecting the resource. It’s a good time to be a duck or goose.

With high pressure expected to extend through January 31, floodwaters should recede in time for three special “after season” hunts: youth hunts for children 17 years and under on Feb. 4-5; Veterans' hunts on Feb. 11-12 and the late goose hunts on Feb. 21-25.

Be sure to check the regulations for updates on the late goose season dates and more.