Waterfowl seasons open Saturday, Oct. 17, and hunters will find conditions about average for this time of year, as well as decent numbers of ducks and geese to target.
Local public refuges and wildlife areas will be open for hunting, although the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge will be managed a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also because of the pandemic, the national spring duck surveys were not conducted this year, so managers do not have fresh data on duck and goose populations.
Hunter success will, as usual, be determined by the weather. If good storms develop, hunters should find success, and good numbers of northern waterfowl.
However, if it is dry and warm, success rates will suffer.
Shillapoo and Vancouver Lake wildlife areas
Hunters will find average water levels and conditions on the local state-run wildlife areas, according to WDFW’s Daren Hauswald, the manager for the Shillapoo and Vancouver Lake wildlife areas.
“This spring it was kind of dry, so we did not drain our main ponds,” Hauswald said. “We usually drain them to allow vegetation to grow and produce food for our birds in winter. The decision not to draw a couple of them down turned out to be a good decision.”
Those ponds now have good water in them, and coupled with the heavy rains experienced recently, hunters should find the usual options for an opening day hunt.
“Duck numbers are a little less than average,” Hauswald said. “A few weeks ago, there were more ducks than I’ve ever seen, but for whatever reason they moved on.”
With the recent storms that assessment may change before opening day, but Hauswald does not expect any dramatic change in duck numbers ahead of the season.
He did say that goose numbers were pretty good, with the smaller cackling breed of Canada goose beginning to show in good-size flocks.
At the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge hunters will find some changes to the way the hunts are conducted as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
Juliette Fernandez, the Project Leader for the refuge complex, explains that those changes will be to the check-in operations in order to protect refuge staff and the public from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Hunting at the refuge is restricted to blinds that are assigned through a reservation and lottery system.
“Hunters will be meeting in the same location, but we had to make some adjustments,” Fernandez said. “This hunt is important to the community, and we worked hard to be able to provide a hunt this year.”
Among the changes made is a requirement for exact change when purchasing daily and yearly recreation passes, although hunters can use checks and money orders.
Hunters with reservations will still be able to meet at the check station one hour and 45 minutes ahead of shooting hours, but hunters without reservations hoping to get any unclaimed blinds will have to wait until 10 a.m. to try for those slots. These changes are designed to reduce crowding at the check-in station. They are also explained in detail on the refuge system’s website.
There will be no filling of empty blinds as hunters exit early this year. Instead those blinds will be allowed to rest until the next hunt day to allow for viral degradation.
After checking in, hunters will be expected to return to their cars and await a notice, delivered via AM radio, that they can go in to hunt.
The refuge office is closed to the public, so purchases for passes, duck stamps, and other items can be made at the check-in station.
The annual Veteran’s Day Hunt, sponsored by the Washington Waterfowl Association and Fallen Outdoors, a veteran’s advocacy group, was cancelled for this year. The event included a banquet and other activities that all the groups involved felt were just too dangerous during the ongoing pandemic. Hopefully, the event can take place again next year.
For more information concerning the hunt changes, check the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge website.
To get to the Check-in Station, follow the signs from Hillhurst Rd. in Ridgefield to the River “S” Unit. After crossing over the Lake River, follow the driving tour route straight west to the Check-in shed.
Hunters are looking forward to the season, after a year that saw a total closure of Washington State’s fishing and hunting last spring.
“I’m pretty excited about our prospects this coming season,” said Bob Taylor, the secretary of the Washington Waterfowl Association. “Cacklers are already arriving at Shillapoo and Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge and there’s a fairly large number of Westerns as well. While I’m not seeing a lot of ducks, their numbers are increasing and with the change in the weather we’re having, I think more will be on the way.”
In western Washington the duck season is open Oct. 17-25 and Oct. 28-Jan. 1, except that scaup is closed from Oct. 17-Nov. 6. The daily limit is seven ducks, not to include more than two mallard hens, one pintail, two scaup, two redheads, and two canvass backs.
Southwest Washington is in the inland Goose Management Unit 2, with special restrictions in order to protect the Dusky Canada Goose, which are closed to hunting. While the dark goose season does start on Oct. 17, hunters should check the regulations for specific dates, hunting hours, and restrictions.
Southwest Washington weekly Fishing Report and Forecast: For an accurate and thorough southwest Washington fishing report and forecast by Terry Otto, go to Bob Rees’ ‘The Guides Forecast” at www.theguidesforecast.com.