The odd 2020–21 regular duck season will come to a close this weekend, leaving many hunters scratching their heads.
“If I were to look for a single word, it would be ‘inconsistency,’” DU biologist Kelly Warren says of the season in Oregon.
Indeed, the winter has been unusually mild across the region until just the past week. Even nominal freezes in eastern Washington and Idaho are far from normal —and way too late.
“It does not seem like there’s a typical year anymore,” says Tina Blewett, Warren’s counterpart in eastern Washington. “We’d get snow and then a thaw, then snow and thaw. In a typical year, we get a hard freeze and it gets real quiet.”
Same across Idaho.
In fact, waves of ducks seemed to pulse back and forth across all three states and even within local regions.
The best hunting occurred early on, with a cold snap across British Columbia and Alberta that got birds moving before it unexpectedly warmed back up.
While the duck season is coming to a close, several late goose seasons will keep many hunters busy.
Hunters in north Puget Sound did well through early December, when heavy rains spread sheetwater across the region, causing ducks to disperse. Hunting was stale until agricultural fields dried out, but the action still isn’t back to normal.
In eastern Washington, mild weather greeted migrants, and the lack of water encouraged many to continue on south. Hunting was good at times, however, especially near the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Chris Bonsignore, DU biologist out of Spokane, mentions that only in the past few days has it begun freezing up. “We had a lot of birds that did stick around,” he reports, “but it got challenging because they got smart in a hurry. We don’t give them enough credit for smarts.”
As with many other locations, waves of ducks moved en masse from one location to the next, making hunting difficult for those unable to travel.
Lingering flocks of Canada and snow geese have provided one bright spot for beleaguered hunters.
Down the Columbia and all the way to the coast there were good and bad days too. Heavy windstorms pushed birds back and forth and December sheetwater spread them out.
“It's been very, very mild,” observes Jeff Knetter, waterfowl biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “What I’m hearing is that hunting in southern Idaho has not been good.”
Same for the north, although Knetter says eastern Idaho froze relatively early.
Chris Colson, DU biologist in Boise, notes that early-season hunters found success with migrating ducks, but then “we didn’t have the usual frigid kind of weather. We haven’t had a constant inversion that locks everything up.”
That changed a week or so ago, and for the last weekend hunters should find plenty of opportunity near open water, such as rivers and canals.
Colson and Knetter agree that the outlook is good for late-season goose hunters.
Warren reports inconsistency among hunters, with some telling him they’ve had a better season than last year while others say it’s been the worst.
As in the rest of the Pacific Northwest, large flocks of ducks moved unpredictably, showing up in one location on a given day and then dozens of miles away the next.
Brandon Reishus, waterfowl biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, note the early northward movement of snow geese from California has him optimistic for late hunts.
“Hunters had a good year at Klamath [Basin National Wildlife Refuge],” Reishus reports. “That had a lot to do with work we’ve done there over the last two years in cooperation with Ducks Unlimited and other partners. Hunters shot birds there all season long.”
Summer Lake, in the southeast desert, never froze hard enough to improve hunting on the vast marsh.
Willamette Valley hunters fared well at Fern Ridge but scrambled to keep up with erratic duck movements.
On Sauvie Island’s popular public hunting grounds, the total harvest of birds was higher than it’s been in nearly a decade, although the average was still just 1.8 birds per gun.
Reishus believes that the large harvest was due to a major increase in the number of hunters, possibly due to the confining requirements of the Covid pandemic.
“I think there were more hunters cooped up in their homes thinking this was a great way to get outside for a few hours,” Reishus says.