The first two weeks of the waterfowl season are in the books in Washington and Idaho, and the consensus among hunters is generally positive with few surprises. Waterfowlers are now hunkering down to wait out a persistent warm weather pattern until the next major cold front arrives, delivering fresh birds from the north.
“Many hunters had pretty good luck on opening day,” reports Callie Moore, a wildlife biologist with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department (WFWD) in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. “It was really, really busy on the public areas with lots of cars overflowing parking lots.”
Farther south, hunters at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge near Vancouver have been harvesting between two and three birds per gun—a good average for a public hunting area early in the season—and the harvest has included some snow geese as well.
Now mild weather has returned, and conditions are more typical for this time of year.
“We’re just waiting for the rain to give us some sheet water,” Moore notes. Until that happens, she suggests hunters stay close to Puget Sound, where there’s plenty of water and birds come and go with the tides.
Waterfowl hunters in eastern Washington are also off to a good start. Mike Franklin, owner of Pacific Wings guide service near Othello, says a mix of mallards, wigeon, and teal arrived with the colder weather. He has also been seeing good numbers of geese, including whitefronts, which continue to be a highlight this season.
“We had a lot of snow geese a couple weeks ago, but they’ve moved down to Umatilla. Some are still up around Moses Lake,” Franklin says.
National wildlife refuges near the Tri-Cities have been providing good public hunting opportunities, says WFWD waterfowl biologist Matt Wilson. “There were lines at the refuges before opening day. There are birds around, and folks are anxious to get out,” he says.
As expected, Idaho appears to have had a productive opener thanks to unseasonably cold weather that pushed down early migrants from the north, says Jeff Knetter, migratory bird coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“I heard very good reports from the north and east,” he says. “Some wetlands have already frozen in eastern Idaho.”
Knetter also believes recent movements of snow geese and swans “are a good sign for ducks and geese as well. Migratory birds have arrived.”
Wetlands at high elevations in eastern Idaho freeze first, concentrating waterfowl on larger bodies of water and along rivers and streams.
Chris Colson, DU regional biologist in Boise, offers the following assessment: “Many areas that I visit had a typical opening week. I received good reports from southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon.”
Northern Idaho has seen good pushes of ducks coming down from Canada, where Colson says the lack of hunting pressure doesn’t appear to have impacted the birds’ movements.
Milder weather in Alberta should slow the migration, so there is still plenty of action to come as the weather gets colder.