Migration Alert: Washington Hunters Finding Success as Conditions Vary

Dec. 19, 2022 – Pacific Flyway – Washington

© Michael Furtman

Seasonal snow and ice has descended on eastern Washington, including the waterfowl country west of the Cascades.

And, after relatively good success statewide following the opener, hunters are changing their strategies accordingly.

“It's been pretty dry,” notes Rob Wingard, regional private lands biologist in north Puget Sound for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Wingard reported decent hunting earlier in the season for those who had access to limited standing water.

Then one heavy rain event hit and produced some very limited sheet water.

Then it got cold.

“There's not a ton of sheet water,” Wingard observes. “What we do have is pretty well locked up.”

This sends Puget Sound hunters into tidelands.

“Hunting is better out in the salt with these long daylight high tides,” Wingard says.

However, the cold snap may break in the next week or so, and when it does, “it’ll get really good,” he adds.

That’s because all those dry fields will get more sheet water and float tons of readily available feed that has usually been eaten up by this time during a typical year.

In eastern Washington, the migration from Prairie Canada has passed across the far northeast corner of the state, and the Palouse, Spokane, and Yakima areas are “frozen up pretty hard,” notes Matt Wilson, statewide waterfowl specialist for the WDFW.

Wilson says hunters in the Tri-Cities area are finding success along the Columbia River, which offers some of the only available open water.

He also reports decent hunting before the freeze in waterfowl strongholds around Potholes Reservoir, Moses Lake, and Othello.

Mike Franklin, owner of Pacific Wings Waterfowl Adventures and a Mossy Oak pro-staffer, says, “I lost 20,000 ducks last week” to the snow and ice. Nevertheless, Franklin's hunters continue to do well because his diverse properties are spread across much of eastern Washington.

“It's supposed to warm back up after a week of cold weather,” Franklin adds. “It's the way it is.”

Franklin and Wilson both also mention the continued presence of large Canada geese.

Hunters near Tri-Cities also report an influx of ducks along the Snake River.

Down the Columbia to Vancouver, hunters will find slower going for ducks until they reach the river's mouth, where some flocks have converged during the cold snap. It may take some severe storms to drive them back inland.

Hunting is slow on both Vancouver Lake and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

Mossy Oak pro-staffer Travis Smith of Maple Valley scouts his hunts religiously, from south sound to the Canadian border. He says birds are spread out in the Centralia/Chehalis area.

“The freeze will push birds around,” he notes. “We're just now starting to see wads of wigeon and little geese.”

Wilson and Wingard both mention an epidemic of avian flu, mostly among geese and especially among concentrations of snow geese in north Puget Sound and some locations in eastern Washington.

For more information about avian flu, visit https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases/bird-flu. You’ll find a map showing cases by county, along with instructions on reporting dead or diseased birds and cautions about handling waterfowl.