Migration Alert: Snow Changes the Game for Idaho Hunters

Dec. 3, 2018 – Pacific Flyway – Idaho

Photo © Michael Furtman

By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor

Idaho woke up Monday morning to a surprise: a glistening blanket of snow spread across the state. All this white stuff has ducks and geese seeking alternative food sources, and somewhere to rest, which is good news for hunters.

“The birds will hit the river,” predicts Jeff Knetter, waterfowl biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Brooks Haden, operator of Soar No More Wingshooting Company in Boise, agrees. Haden's company specializes in pigeon and predator hunting across the entire state, but his stable of guides also includes avid waterfowlers who will likely add their expertise to the menu.

Meanwhile, for the next few days Haden says it hasn't been cold enough yet to freeze up all the ponds, so he recommends that hunters look for fields of standing feed corn as harvests near completion.

“Choose your spots carefully and you can find some really good corn hunts,” Haden says. “But be quick, because once the ducks find it, those fields are only lights-out for a week or two.”

Temperatures will plunge by the end of the week, Haden predicts, and then the ponds will head into a deep freeze and ducks will move toward the Snake River and other waterways that remain open.

Chris Colson, DU's field biologist in Boise, agrees. “We're in for no weather for a week and a half, and that brings inversions that will lock us down in a freezer,” he notes. “Goldeneyes and divers are passing through unless they can stay on open water, but geese and plenty of greenheads will stick around no matter what.”

Ducks, Colson believes, are willing to tolerate the lack of food for a week, which makes the outlook better for open-water hunting.

How long before they'll clear out? Colson is optimistic, especially about southwest Idaho, where the snow isn't as deep as it is on the long drive to the east.

“Four or five inches doesn't hang around very long,” Colson says. “Some birds may pick up and go, but this event hit northern Nevada and Utah as well, so they'll have to go pretty far to find anything.”

Plenty of public hunting areas feature streams and rivers, but Colson says that the snow got deeper the farther east the storm spread. While Boise received three to five inches, close to 10 accumulated just a 45-minute drive east, he observes.

Knetter noted the presence of some snow geese on Lake Coeur d'Alene last week, which he says is unusual. While neither Colson nor Haden have seen any in the valley, it's possible that the late showing may have been caused by increasing numbers of snows wintering a bit west in the upper Columbia River Basin.

Knetter also notes the east side of the state had an earlier winter than the one that just hit. “It was a very short season over there,” he says.

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.