The 300,000-acre Grasslands Ecological Area is the place to be right now in California. In fact, duck numbers in the area are beyond belief for many hunters, even veteran waterfowlers. Seven-bird limits have been the norm on many of the 150 private clubs in Merced County, both north and south of Los Banos.
Green-winged teal, wigeon and pintails are the most abundant species in Merced County, which often leads the nation in harvest at the county level. Public hunting areas in the Grasslands have also been posting impressive numbers. The Gadwall Unit boasted an average of 5.6 birds per gun this week. Volta, Merced, Kesterson and Los Banos have also offered fast action. Boat-in areas such as the Freitas units have been producing mallards in the timbered coves along the San Joaquin River. Incidentally, the Freitas units allow hunting seven days a week with no fees or quotas.
Given the cold weather and overcast skies, foggy mornings have been a regular occurrence in the Grasslands and northern San Joaquin Valley—benefiting hunters—and these conditions should continue at least in the near term.
Farther south, Mendota Wildlife Area has been producing four birds per gun, predominantly shovelers and green-winged teal. Kern National Wildlife Refuge, which shoots just twice a week, is also putting up solid numbers.
In contrast, duck clubs in the Sacramento Valley and Butte Sink have been having disappointing success. Reports indicate mallard numbers are way below average, and there has been so much rain—a rare occurrence after five years of sustained drought—that waterfowl are now widely scattered on flooded rice ground instead of using traditional wetlands. On public land, however, Delevan National Wildlife Refuge is yielding about four birds per gun.
Hunting success in District 10 has also slumped in recent weeks. Clubs along the Highway 99 corridor from Yuba City to Dingville have been reporting sporadic success, with wigeon being the most common species in the bag.
On the Delta islands, white-fronted and snow geese are numerous on cornfields west of Stockton. There are Ross’s geese and Aleutians mixed in with these birds, providing outstanding goose hunting action. Ducks are far less abundant, with green-winged teal, ring-necked ducks, wigeon and pintails being the predominant species.
The Suisun Marsh, the largest brackish marsh on the West Coast, has plenty of habitat but not many ducks. Wigeon, shovelers and green-winged teal are spread along stretches of pickleweed. Unless there is a stiff breeze, many of these birds are staying put.
On San Pablo Bay and along the Napa River, canvasbacks are stealing the show. In addition to migrants that arrived in mid-December, there seems to be a good local population of cans that stay year-round on the restored Cullinan Ranch along Highway 37. There are also plenty of shovelers, ruddy ducks and pintails as well as Canada geese on the marshes rimming the northern edge of San Francisco Bay. Check with the Department of Fish and Wildlife for more information about public access in the area.
In southern California, private clubs around Mystic Lake have been taking wigeon and teal in pretty good numbers, although the San Jacinto Wildlife Area is producing fewer ducks than average for this area.