Migration Alert: California Hunters Reporting Mixed Results

Jan. 23, 2020 – Pacific Flyway – California

© Michael Furtman

As waterfowl season winds down in California, hunters are likely to experience variable success across the state. Keep in mind that while most of the state will remain open for duck hunting through January 31, goose hunting closes on January 26 and hunters should be careful not to pursue geese during the five-day extension.

In early January the entire Central Valley lit up because of a high, dense fog cap. Ever since, the hunting has been marginal at best, and recent heavy rains have done little more than disperse ducks. If the fog persists, hunters likely will shoot pretty well. But if the weather turns flat and temperatures warm, the season could close with a whimper.

Up and down the 800-mile length of California, green-winged teal are the top duck, followed by shovelers and wigeon. Mallards have not been the primary species this year on any public area or at private clubs, even the most exclusive ones.

“The Butte Sink clubs shot well for most of the season, except for the last two weeks, when all the ducks seemed to have departed,” reports Mike Passaglia of Yuba City. “Maybe they flew to Hawaii, but they sure aren’t doing much in the Sink.”

Sacramento Valley hunters’ best bets for a successful end to the season on public areas include Colusa, Delevan, and Sutter National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs), where green-winged teal and shovelers dominate hunters’ straps. On Sacramento NWR, snow geese have piled into the hunting area. Hunting so-called “rice blinds” has been extremely spotty to downright poor.

In the northern San Joaquin Valley—specifically the Grasslands of Merced County—it is difficult to find anything to hunt except green-winged teal. Hunters on the Gadwall Unit of North Grasslands Wildlife Area and Kesterson Unit of San Luis NWR have seen success, and optimism will be very high if the fog returns. As it stands, the area is experiencing mild weather and little bird movement, and the traditional return of pintails from rice country hasn’t happened yet.

Boat-in areas like the North and South Freitas Units of San Luis NWR yield high birds-per-hunter averages, made up of mostly greenwings and mallards, along the San Joaquin River. The units are open daily, and require a fee only on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Southern San Joaquin Valley is producing nicely in the Tulare Lake basin, Mendota Wildlife Area, and Kern NWR. In keeping with the theme elsewhere in the state, it’s a “teal deal” in this region as well.

Grizzly Island, both on clubs and public areas, is relatively slow compared to other parts of the state, sporting a smattering of greenwings, shovelers, wigeon, and ruddy ducks.

On San Jacinto Wildlife Area and Wister Waterfowl Management Area, good days yield an average of 2 1/2 birds per hunter, mainly greenwings, wigeon, and cinnamon teal. Private clubs surrounding Mystic Lake are doing very well for small birds and the occasional pintail.