Migration Alert: Cold Snap Rings in New Year, May Improve Utah Hunting

Dec. 31, 2019 – Pacific Flyway – Utah

© Michael Furtman

As in many other parts of the country, the weather during Utah’s waterfowl season has been unusual, with a severe cold snap early in the season followed by periods of milder weather. Colder temperatures will return this week, which may bring new birds from the north and a much-needed jolt of optimism for waterfowlers.

“We have been stuck in awkward transitions back and forth from freeze to thaw,” says Utah DU State Chairman Lucas Davis. “The ice isn’t thick enough to stand on, but it’s too thick to boat in.” 

Blair Stringham, migratory bird coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says many ducks have moved south to other wintering areas, but mallards, shovelers, green-winged teal and goldeneyes remain on the open waters of Great Salt Lake.

“They move back and forth,” Stringham notes. “Goldeneye will winter here all year. They use the saltwater more.”

Davis has had success hunting salt marsh habitats that thaw in the morning, opening up food resources for dabbling ducks.

DU Regional Director Kyle Green has recently had good hunts for “smaller ducks”—such as American wigeon and green-winged teal—but goose hunting has been slow. With the return of colder weather, hunting should pick up on 

warm springs and flowing waters, he says.

Stringham expects Canada goose numbers to increase during the cold snap, following their typical pattern of building into the state’s western agricultural areas. He says Utah Lake, near Provo, is holding large numbers of geese and ducks, and he believes the lake will remain open through the end of the season.

Rob Fehr, DU’s state council chairman, remains optimistic despite tough hunting during the past six weeks. “We’ve had a lot of odd weather,” he says. “An unusual deep freeze in mid-October pushed a lot of birds out. There are still a few birds around, but they’re sparse.”

Fehr is hoping the colder weather will deliver new birds from the north. “I just talked with my counterpart in Montana,” Fehr reports. “He said he’s never seen so many birds. Idaho is also still holding quite a few. I’m always hopeful. Every year is different.”