Migration Alert: Washington Hunters Facing Difficult Conditions

Jan. 3, 2020 – Pacific Flyway – Washington

© Michael Furtman

With some exceptions (but not many), Washington’s duck and goose hunters are echoing the frustration felt across the Pacific Northwest this waterfowl season.

“There are no ducks up here,” says Travis Smith, Mossy Oak Pro Staff member. Smith, when reached on his cell phone, was in a blind near Auburn that usually produces, but not that day. “We’re just trying to chase what we can for the last couple of weeks of the season. There are a lot of birds in British Columbia, but nothing [weather-wise] to push them around.”

The sentiment is a common one, agrees Kyle Spragens, waterfowl section manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“It’s slow,” he says. “A lot of guys in the [Puget] Sound are focusing on divers. When it’s been this slow, they start going after sea ducks.”

In the north sound, duck hunters surrender to smart birds rafting in calm waters far offshore. Hunting has yielded to the season’s glut of snow geese from the Skagit Flats north. “But even that has been a bit off,” Spragens reports.

Like most duck hunters, Spragens holds out hope for the upcoming brant seasons. He predicts that sharp drops in temperatures across Alaska will force brant (and perhaps other birds) to finally make their tardy migrations, mostly into Puget Sound, some continuing as far south as central California.

“Winds have been up to 50 miles per hour in Alaska,” Spragens notes. “That will get the brant nervous. It’s cold, too, across Alberta, so perhaps that will force some birds this way,” he says.

From the south Puget Sound to the Columbia River, recent heavy rains flooded some fields, and the most ardent hunters have found a few batches of puddle ducks. However, most of the action has been for cackling geese, reports Logan Boone, with the Mossy Oak Pro Staff.

Down the Columbia, bluebills remain clustered near the mouth, from Astoria upriver to the refuge islands. Dabbling ducks seem to have moved on. Scaup will move upriver into the interior as the rain increases.

Eastern Washington hunters continue to hope for another push of ducks across the Palouse and Potholes regions, but for now the best clusters are hanging out near the Tri-Cities.

DU Regional Biologist Chris Bonsignore says there were still birds in Canada late last week, but like Spragens he’s carefully watching the temperatures drop (to well below freezing) and hoping for the best.

“There have been days when the temperature in Calgary was even warmer than Spokane,” Bonsignore recalls. “When they have water and grain on the ground, birds will sometimes hold to the last minute.”

Bonsignore notes some very good goose hunting across eastern Washington, but “the birds aren’t patterning very well. They’re in one field one day, another the next day, hunted or not.”

The weather, he believes, is the culprit.

“We have had hardly any weather,” Bonsignore says. “We get a little snow, then it’s gone by the end of the day.”