Shovelers, Teal, Wigeon Dominate the Bag
Date: Oct. 18
Location: Flyway-wide, emphasis on western Washington
Major Weather Trends
Here's what lead Washington waterfowl biologist Kyle Spragens said just before the Evergreen State's kickoff Oct. 15.
With healthy waterfowl populations, mild temperatures and some early rainfall, it should be a strong opener.
Well, as Meatloaf said in his song of the same name, two out of three ain't bad. True, the 15th dawned with unseasonably warm temperatures, as in mid-70s by early afternoon. And again true, it appears the Pacific Flyway will hold plenty of birds from October through the end of January season.
Favorable habitat conditions and breeding pair counts from Washington, Alaska and Canada, Spragens said, indicate a strong fall flight.
However, where the gentleman wavered a bit — well, actually a lot — was on the side of early rainfall. Washington's behind the curve in terms of rain. So are Oregon, California, Idaho and the entire Pacific Flyway. Drier and colder is the long-range forecast, thanks largely to the predicted La Nina winter on the doorstep. And although a crystal ball would be nice, it's going to be a wait-and-see kind of thing.
In Washington, water's tight on the western side, but that's not true east of the Cascades.
Our water comes from the river and irrigation, said call maker and outfitter Bill Saunders, so we're sitting pretty good right now. One thing I have noticed is a decrease in the amount of field corn. There seems to be more buckwheat this year, and that's going to concentrate the birds a bit more, especially later in the season. Just north of Sacramento, California, Gene Carter, an Avery pro-staffer, is also sitting pretty in terms of water — relatively so, that is.
They're just now getting the rice off the (private) ground I hunt, he said, so it will be 10 days, give or take, before that ground's ready to hunt. A lot of the clubs, though, should be 100 percent as far as water's concerned.
Likewise for Travis Lyle, another Avery/Banded man from Fernley, Nevada.
Some (public) areas are still messed up due to the floods from a couple years ago, he said, but overall, our water looks pretty good for this time of year. Levels, at least right now, look OK.
As an aside for southwestern Washington, weather forecasts from Portland, Oregon, say we'll be unseasonably warm and sunny for at least another week (Oct. 23) or beyond, with water deficits continuing to build into the first part of November. The wet, I'm certain, is imminent. It's just a matter of when.
No surprise, but throughout the Pacific Flyway, it's the usual suspects as the gates open or prepare to open. For Saunders, his clients tallied wigeon, teal, pintails and mallards during their Oct. 13 and 14 first round. To the south, Carter told a similar story.
Pintails and shovelers, he said. Not many wigeon yet. But thousands of specklebellies. They're already trading from one area to another, so we should have pretty good hunting for our opener (Oct. 20).
To the east, it's a shoveler show for Lyle and his group, who opened their season Oct. 6.
In 2017, he said, it was gadwall and wigeon. This year, though, we've returned to normal. Four guys killed 28 birds on opening day, all but two of which were shovelers.
Lyle said they had a good bunch of cinnamon teal in the area, along with the usual local honkers.
Personal Hunting Report
Our opener in Washington (Oct. 13) dawned crystal clear, with temperatures near the 40-degree mark. A friend — a novice fowler — and I sat over a goose spread toward the coast until 12:30 p.m., during which time we saw two high flights of lessers from the north, a couple of singles and about six ducks, not including the two flocks of common mergansers that overflew us. A tad disappointing, but not totally unexpected given the weather, and the fact Washington's duck and modern rifle deer seasons share the same day. Add the Washington Huskies versus Oregon Ducks football game, and it's no wonder it was quiet. Four days in, I'm hearing mixed reviews about the opener. A father and his two boys, all new waterfowlers, tagged seven specks, three squeakers (cacklers) and a mixed bag of ducks Saturday. A limit here, three birds there, but really nothing out of the ordinary or earth-shattering.
Boat Ramp Chatter/Upcoming Patterns/Hotspots
It's early. Folks are eager to get back into the marsh, but it's early. Washington's weather needs to turn, which it will, but meanwhile, my wife and I are still putting up tomatoes, apples, grapes and a knockout crop of potatoes. Deer season continues through Oct. 31, closes and then comes back in for four days in mid-November, so there's plenty to do. What concerns me (a bit) has been the lack of big geese in my area. No explanation there. Also, the specks and sandhill cranes I'd usually hear throughout September never showed. Apparently, the specks made it to central California, but I don't know how they got there without me hearing or seeing them. On the east side of the state, Saunders agreed.
Two of our properties overlook portions of two refuges, he said while screaming at the television during the Packers/49ers Monday night football game, and I just haven't seen a lot of birds. I don't see them on the refuge. But it hasn't been cold enough either. They're coming.
Click here for more Realtree waterfowl hunting content. And check us out on Facebook.