Bitter cold temperatures earlier in the week had many waterfowlers in eastern Washington and Idaho scrambling to find open water as an early blast of winter weather gripped the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s unusually cold for sure,” says Chris Bonsignore, a DU biologist in Spokane, Washington. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of normal going on.”
Following a decent early season, hunters willing to scout are finding birds and success as both local and migratory birds are filtering south across the Canadian border.
Bonsignore confirms that waterfowlers have been having good luck in the central Columbia River Basin, from the Tri Cities up the Snake River and north to Spokane. Moses Lake and the potholes region have also been producing for many hunters.
“The temperatures have been down in the low teens the past couple of mornings,” Bonsignore notes. “The weather is moderating, but I expect the smaller potholes will be locked up for a while. Look to agricultural lands and open water, like the rivers, to find birds.”
A variety of migrating waterfowl have moved into the basin in recent days, including mallards and several other species of ducks. Goose hunters should concentrate on the upper Palouse and areas closer to Canadian border.
In neighboring Idaho, waterfowl are concentrated along the Snake River, says Jeff Knetter, upland game and waterfowl coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“This is a good time to move to the river,” Knetter suggests. “We’ve got a good number of ducks around, but not so many geese.”
In the Panhandle, many hunters are reporting strong duck and goose numbers despite single-digit low temperatures.
West of the Cascades, weather conditions have been milder. Wrangell Island snow geese are settling in for the winter in the Skagit Valley and north Puget Sound.
Mossy Oak pro-staffer Travis Smith, of Maple Valley, says hunting from Nisqually Flats south to Chehalis “is pretty hit and miss right now. Weather like this is not optimum.”
He has seen an early movement of pintails and wigeon into his hunting area, but the ducks are spending much of their time rafted up offshore.
“They won’t get pushed off the bays unless they have a reason to leave, like bad weather,” he adds. “High tides will get them going too.”
Sea ducks, including harlequin and long-tailed ducks, are moving into their usual haunts along the north Olympic Peninsula, but Smith advises against hunting them until late December and January when the drakes have their full breeding plumage.