Migration Alert: Hit-or-Miss Success for California Hunters All Season

January 20, 2022

© Michael Furtman

The 2021–2022 waterfowl hunting season, which closes Monday, January 31, will go down as one of the most interesting, if not frustrating, seasons in memory.

Approximately half of California’s historic wetlands were dry at the start of the season due to five years of drought and a lack of water for fall flood up. Many rice fields in the Sacramento Valley, the virtual life blood for migratory waterfowl, were left fallow. Opportunities on public areas were cut in half, and some public lands, such as Sutter National Wildlife Refuge, remained closed.

It was not a way to celebrate the much-anticipated migration of ducks and geese. But, as hunters, we persevered. 

“I’ll be happy when the season is over,” said Michael Passaglia, DDS, of Yuba City. “This year, a normal shoot in the Butte Sink is two guys with half limits of mixed birds: pintails, mallards, green-winged teal, gadwalls, wigeon, and even spoonies. I’ve never seen a weirder year in my life.”

Following a miserably dry start to the season, torrential rain finally hit the state and accomplished a number of things, including spreading birds to temporary habitat and preventing rice fields from being harvested because they were too wet. The rice fields proved a huge attraction for ducks and geese, drawing them away from traditional wetlands, most of which were finally flooded by early December.

With high numbers of snow geese, Ross’s geese, and white-fronted geese using the Sacramento Valley and the Delta islands west of Stockton, hunting at times was fast and furious, but primarily during periods of dense fog.

The Suisun Marsh offered flooded wetlands from the onset, with shovelers, green-winged teal and wigeon taking advantage of the pickleweed there. However, it appeared that there were many more places for ducks than there were ducks to take advantage of all the habitat. Thus, without a stiff breeze, hunting was generally mediocre.

Pintails were in short supply in the Suisun Marsh, but to the east the Delta was loaded with the elegant birds throughout the season.

Only the 300,000-acre Grassland Ecological Area of Merced County found steady hunting for the entire season, with a dramatic uptick after the early rain and heavy south wind. Green-winged teal, shovelers, ring-necked ducks, and pintails moved into the Grasslands and never left.

In the southern San Joaquin Valley, Mendota Wildlife Area, west of Fresno, and Kern National Wildlife Refuge, west of Bakersfield, have flourished the past 30 days, offering green-winged teal and shovelers.

Joe Fass of San Jacinto Valley, east of Los Angeles, said the season has been “pretty good.” Fass noted good numbers of wigeon in December. A month later green-winged teal arrived en masse, and cinnamon teal began migrating north from Mexico.