Pacific Flyway Hunters Struggle in Lull



Pacific Flyway Hunters Struggle in Lull

Posted 2018-11-15T13:14:00Z  by  M.D. Johnson

Warm, Dry Weather Stalls Migration in Many Areas

Date: Nov. 15, 2018

Location: Pacific Flyway, emphasis on western Washington

So, I'll be honest. To date, I've had more skunk hunts, during which not a trigger was touched, this season — and we're only 30 days in — than I had during the entire 2017-'18 season, including the late (Feb. 9 through March 9) goose season.

I'm not bellyaching. However, I'm struggling to introduce a great young man to the thrills of waterfowl hunting, and, well, he's just not buying it. It will get better as 2018 winds down, but for now, at least here in western Washington, it's pretty slow. Really, really slow.

Major Weather Trends

Here in southwestern Washington, a big part of the problem — if not the problem — is a lack of water and weather. November, said Dave Zaleski, a meteorologist in Portland, Oregon, is traditionally our wettest month, with roughly 9 to 10 inches of rain. Today, almost halfway through the month, we've papered only one-third of an inch. And sunshine? A total, on average, of three days of sun for November. Thus far, we've seen three times that, along with higher-than-normal temperatures. Again, I'm not bellyaching about the wonderful weather. I'm getting a lot done around the house. But it really doesn't make for exceptional waterfowling. There has been a bit of cold on the eastern side of the state and eastern Oregon. The Beaver State's Willamette Valley has been mild, as have those parts of California that aren't currently on fire, which, as many know, is a huge portion of the northern and southern thirds of the state. In fact, a lingering high-pressure system has been keeping much of the West and the entire Pacific Flyway clear and, in spots, chilly, with temperatures ranging from the mid-20s to high 30s inland and high 30s to mid- to high 50s along the coast, north to south.

Pacific Flyway hunters are finding a mix of birds, but action hasn't been fast and furious. Photo © Tom Rassuchine/Banded

Water/Habitat Conditions

Southwestern Washington is dry — more than I've seen it since 2015, when we returned as full-time residents. Typically, I'd be hunting sheet water now, but there's little to be found. And what is here should be disappearing within the next three to four days, unless the skies open up. On the eastern side, Bill Saunders has water, thanks to that half of state being heavily reliant on irrigation via the Columbia River. To the north and east of our home, Geff Duncan, an Avery/Banded staffer, feels my pain as far as water's concerned. He should also be hunting sheet water, if not ample at least adequate, at this point of the season. However, there's little to be found along the Interstate 5 corridor. Utah native Travis Madden said, Water (around the Great Salt Lake area) is slim. Utah didn't have a very good winter last year in terms of snow, and they (Utah Game/Fish) have done a lot of work on the local WMAs, meaning they were dry much of the summer. They're accessible but awful shallow.

South of the Columbia River, Gene Carter of Yuba City said his water is good right now, although he's not seeing as many harvested flooded rice fields that he typically would.

There wasn't the usual amount of rice planted (this year), he said. And the harvest was late due to labor issues.

Species and Numbers

A buddy wrote from the water a couple of days ago, saying he'd found 30,000 scaup and a few thousands scoters. That's quite a few. However, I trust his judgment. He went on to have an outstanding shoot, as you might suspect. Overall and throughout the flyway, it's the usual suspects. I'm seeing what I'd expect to see in southwestern Washington at this time of year: mixed mallards, pintails, wigeon and green-winged teal. Gadwall numbers, unscientifically, seem to be up, along with specklebellies, although our (Washington) specks have mostly moved out.

I'm not seeing as many birds as I'd usually see, Duncan said. It's been pretty dry, both in terms of birds and water. We even drove down to the coast and didn't see much.

In the Beehive State, Madden said the situation is changing.

There not a lot of big ducks moving in, he said, but there's a lot of pintails. And the divers — the cans and redheads — are starting down. And there's been a good influx of swans during the past week, so from here on out, it should get nothing but better.

In California, Carter said smoke from the 111,000-acre Camp Fire has made it horrible around our club. Still, he has plenty of sprig, wigeon, teal and white-fronts in and near the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge. Oh my gosh, the specks, he said.

Personal Hunting Report

Honestly? The weather we've had — sunny and 60 —at home has been fantastic for everything but duck hunting. So, I'm getting things done around the house before The Wet actually begins — chores such as putting up more firewood, canning tomatoes, cleaning gutters (again) and trying to put a blacktail in the freezer. I have done a bit of hunting on the tides, with only moderate success. A couple of birds here, a couple there. Like Duncan to my northeast, I'm really not seeing much now, but they're coming. I hope. We had a tremendous in-migration of cacklers and lessers the past week — more lessers than I've seen in previous years, by my recollection. Big geese (Westerns), though, still seem to be few in number, an apparent decline for which I have no explanation. I saw more buffleheads on Willapa Bay yesterday than even a week ago, so something's happening somewhere.

Chatter/Upcoming Patterns/Hotspots

It's quiet for the most part — eerily quiet in fact. We're looking at rain Nov. 14 — 50/50 chance — and then clearing again, with sunshine in the forecast through the Nov. 19 before showers roll in, just in time for the second goose opener Nov. 24. So, like Madden said, it's just going to get better.

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