Migration Alert: Incoming Cold Weather Should Improve Hunting in Washington

Dec. 31, 2018 – Pacific Flyway – Washington

Photo © Michael Furtman

By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor

Unseasonable temperatures and heavy rainfall have plagued waterfowl hunters in western Washington over the past few weeks, but colder weather and more seasonal conditions will hopefully usher in better hunting for 2019. 

“There’s water everywhere,” says Kyle Spragens, waterfowl manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “British Columbia is super mild right now, so with temperatures in the low 40s, why would ducks have to move on?”

Eastern Washington has also seen milder-than-average early winter temperatures, but colder weather in recent days has improved the fortunes of many hunters.

“It’s getting better,” says Trevor Austin, who guides for Honk Stomper Guide Service out of Moses Lake. “We finally got some snow on the ground. A big push of honkers came in and we’re seeing more mallards.”

Local hunters along the upper Columbia River are still waiting for a push of divers, reports Jordan Osborn, who hunts the river out of Wenatchee.

“Moses Lake gets the pushes of mallards, but we get wigeon, redheads, canvasbacks and the other divers,” he says. “We normally get a hard freeze and it stays frozen; this year it’s just been little cold snaps, then it thaws out, then another cold snap—back and forth.

Across the rest of eastern Washington, the DU Migration Map lit up a little this week with some good duck reports, so hunters may find better hunting as a predicted hard freeze sets in next weekend.

Unfortunately, duck sightings are scarce in the west, where Spragens and his fellow biologists are carefully watching predictions of a hard freeze sweeping south across western Alaska.

The state’s popular brant season is scheduled to begin January 12 across Clallam and Whatcom counties, but the hottest hunting area in Skagit County (Padilla Bay) won’t open unless more birds are forced south, and that hasn’t happened yet.

Spragens says that he’s waiting for aerial survey results due January 9.

“It’s going to be a close call,” he predicts.

As for ducks, the hunting has been slow around Puget Sound, unlike the past few years when freezing weather inland forced large numbers of birds to the salt chuck.

“I don’t think it’s for a shortage of birds,” Spragens notes. “They’re just spread out a lot more.”

Warm rains from the “Pineapple Express” have inundated inland valleys with large expanses of standing water.

“The birds are able to feed at night, and they’re not feeling the need to move around much until there’s a storm,” Spragens notes. “They’re just spread out all over the place.”

Hunting along the lower Columbia River, while spotty, has been good at times around Grays and Deep River, between Altoona and Megler.

Bill Monroe is an Oregon-based freelance writer who has hunted the Pacific Flyway for three decades. Monroe will provide hunting and habitat reports throughout the Pacific Flyway for the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.