Waterfowl hunting plentiful across West

Harry Morse/California Department of Fish and Game Norm Sauger of Nevada City, Calif., shows off his take on state land in the Butte Sink area in Northern California.

States offer bounty of locations to shoot game birds

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

During the late fall and winter months, the West offers some of the best waterfowl hunting in the world.

Virtually anywhere there's water and wide-open spaces, ducks and geese flock in big numbers, offering marksmen a shot at a prosperous day in the heart of nature's beauty.

In particular, the Butte Sink and Colusa Basin areas in Northern California, the Klamath Basin at the Oregon-California state line, the Columbia River Basin and Puget Sound region in Washington and along the Snake River in Idaho are prime hunting spots, experts say.

"We still have in the West the longest season and the highest bag limits in the United States on the Pacific Flyway," said Worth Mathewson, a hunter and retired outdoors writer in Amity, Ore.

"Some states have a 60-day season and a four-bird limit, but we have a 109-day season and a seven-bird limit, which people in other states can't believe," he said.

Here's a rundown of just some of the West's best hunting spots.

Butte Sink and Colusa

The Butte Sink and Colusa Basin areas in California's central Sacramento Valley boast some of the highest concentrations of waterfowl in the world, and the area has been a favorite for celebrities such as football's George Siefert, baseball's Dusty Baker and actor Robert Stack.

"Some of the highest-dollar duck clubs in the state, if not the West, are out in the Butte Sink," said Greg Mensik, a deputy refuge manager for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. "They have good habitat."

The refuge complex consists of more than 35,000 acres of wetlands and uplands and more than 30,000 acres of conservation easements. They serve as resting and feeding areas for nearly half of the migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

One of the most popular public hunting spots there is the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, which recently expanded its hunting area and adding assigned pools along with free-roam hunting, Mensik said.

Information: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, www.fws.gov/sacramentovalleyrefuges

Klamath Basin

Hunting on both the California and Oregon sides "can be just fantastic," said Fritz Reid, director of Pacific Flyway conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited in Rancho Cordova, Calif.

The area is best known for white-fronted geese, but it's also possible to get Canada geese, snow geese and ducks, Reid said.

Many hunting opportunities for waterfowl as well as ring-necked pheasant and other wildlife are found on the vast Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

The complex's six refuges support 433 species of migratory wildlife with diverse habitat, including freshwater marshes, grassy meadows, sagebrush and juniper grasslands, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The better waterfowling is typically found on the California side, which includes the Tule Lake and Clear Lake national wildlife refuges, Mathewson said.

Information: Klamath Basin National Wildlife Basin Complex, www.fws.gov/klamathbasinrefuges .

Columbia Basin

The Columbia Basin in Washington is "a classic" hunting ground, Reid said, with mallards perhaps the best known bird in the area.

"There are a number of guides that run out of Moses Lake and other places that specialize in Canada geese and mallards," Reid said.

Lots of ducks -- especially mallards -- have been drawn to the area over the years by the vast corn fields and by warm water from the nuclear plant in Hanford, Wash., Mathewson said.

"They still winter a lot of ducks up there," he said.

Public lands include the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge near Royal City, Wash., which allows waterfowl hunting in specified areas, and the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge, along the Columbia River west of the Tri-Cities.

Information: www.fws.gov/refuges

Puget Sound

For those interested in coastal hunting, the Puget Sound region of Washington offers some unique opportunities to harvest not only pintails, wigeons, green wing teal and mallards but also sea ducks such as scaup and canvasbacks, Reid said.

"There are several guides up in the northern area there that can help if you're not accustomed when you're in deep water in boats," Reid said. "I advise guys to sign up with a guide."

More than a half-million dabbling ducks winter on Puget Sound, with many gathering along the northwestern coast in Samish, Padilla and Skagit bays, according to the outdoors website www.texashuntfish.com .

Some hunters believe ducks were diverted from wintering in other places, including Oregon's Willamette Valley, by a barley-for-ducks program in the Skagit Valley, Mathewson said.

Information: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, http://wdfw.wa.gov

Snake River

Just about anywhere along the Snake River in Idaho -- even including close to Boise -- can yield "phenomenal Canada goose and mallard hunting," Reid said.

The area includes the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge near Rupert, where ducks, geese, pheasants and other species can be hunted in two designated areas.

No guiding or outfitting for waterfowl is permitted in Idaho, so hunters have to fend for themselves, advises the outdoors website www.idfishnhunt.com . Perhaps the best hunting in the state is on the Fort Hall Reservation near American Falls, but licenses there cost around $475, according to the website.

Waterfowl hunting in northern Idaho is at its peak in October and November, while south central and southwestern Idaho hunting is best in late November, December and early January, according to Idaho Fish and Game.

Strong populations of Canada geese provide early hunting, while migrating geese come later, according to the agency.

Information: Idaho Fish and Game, http://fishandgame.idaho.gov

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