Those squeaky noises over the skies of Washington, Idaho and Oregon this past week are clarion calls for waterfowl hunters across the Pacific Northwest.
And the sing-song music of Canada, cackling, snow and white-fronted geese herald the arrival of an early fall, along with heartening prospects for duck and goose season.
All three states have good water levels, and birds have already begun filtering in from the north, encouraged by some unseasonably cold weather across much of western Canada.
“That's just a hop, skip and a jump from us,” proclaims Chris Bonsignore, DU's resident biologist in Spokane, Wash. “It bodes really well for a good opener.”
Ditto for western Washington, Oregon and Idaho, agree waterfowl managers in all three states, which are poised for Oct. 5 openings in eastern Oregon and eastern Idaho and statewide openings on Oct. 12 for Washington and the rest of Oregon and Idaho.
All three states also report good numbers of local ducks and geese and early arriving waterfowl of all species.
“Local numbers of geese look great over all our counties,” says Mossy Oak pro-staffer Tab Smith of Burley, Idaho. Smith, owner of Goose Pit Kennels, hunts geese up and down the middle and eastern Snake River Valley, and added, “We'll look for ducks later in the year.”
Smith's contacts also tell him that the state had good waterfowl production this summer, especially for cinnamon teal and Canada geese.
Brandon Reishus, waterfowl manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, observes what may have amounted to record production for snow geese on Russia's Wrangell Island, where the majority of the birds in the Pacific Flyway are raised.
“We're going to see phenomenal numbers of gray birds—young of the year,” he predicts.
Prospects by state:
There has already been a big push of wigeon and pintails through the Skagit Valley and flats, and the first snow and cackling geese have arrived. Willapa Bay has also seen an early push of ducks.
Hunters will find most early arriving ducks on estuaries, where the birds push into the salt marshes to feed on high tides. That's the pattern throughout most of Puget Sound until fall rains begin to fill inland ponds.
In the east, Bonsignore says water conditions are good, with many ponds in the scablands already holding water.
Further cold, wet weather has delayed crop harvests, so both local birds and early arrivals will have plenty of feed.
While most northern birds will arrive in late October and early November, there may be another early push following the recent cold snap across Alberta and Saskatchewan.
(Note to Veterans and Active-Duty Military: Washington will offer an additional day of hunting for youth, veterans, and active-duty military after general duck seasons close.)
Bonsignore also reports good water conditions in northern Idaho, and Jeff Knetter, waterfowl manager for Idaho Fish and Game, says the same is true across most of the state.
“We have quite a few ducks around,” Knetter reports. “We'll have good hunting for the first couple of weeks, then it lets down a bit. Then we'll see another push of birds in late October and early November.”
Some state-managed areas such as Fort Boise in the west and Market Lake in the east have drawn down some wetlands for habitat management purposes, but it won't affect the hunting, Knetter predicts.
As usual, the Snake River is the state's primary duck magnet, and water remains open even through the winter freeze. Ducks tend to move back and forth from the river's riparian zones to agricultural fields.
Local duck production was good in western Oregon and excellent across much of the east, where Reishus reports “phenomenal” habitat conditions on the high desert.
While most of those birds will head to California following the hard freeze in late October and November, the prospects for opening day are promising.
Look for birds across the Warner Valley wetlands, Summer Lake and Malheur (carefully check regulations before planning a hunt).
As in Washington, the bays along the coast will offer good shooting for early arriving teal and wigeon.
And again, look for excellent snow goose hunting opportunities with this year's bountiful hatch. Sauvie Island will winter at least 20,000 snow geese and another 50,000 birds will show up in the upper Columbia Basin between Boardman, Oregon, and Patterson Ferry, Washington.
Duck hunters may “struggle a bit” later in the season, Reishus says, unless weather in the north gets colder and moves them south out of British Columbia and Washington.
Canada and cackling goose numbers remain well above average, and Oregon may also host improved numbers of large western Canada geese.
(NOTE: Oregon hunters who opted for the state's new electronic license and tag system must still carry a signed federal waterfowl stamp on their person while hunting.)