As the 2008/09 waterfowl season begins to wind down here in Oregon, I know that my days afield are limited. Not just because the season will close soon, but more so due to the current weather and landscape conditions.
The Klamath basin has gotten hammered with close to 2' of snow and sub zero temps over the past several weeks. Fully covering the Klamath River with a solid sheet of thick ice and what little grain there was in the fields with snow. These are the most difficult conditions to draw in birds that I have experienced. Had I one or the other to work with, (open water or standing grain) it would not pose near the challenge or difficulty which is now before me. It's like inviting your friends to dinner and not having any food or water for them. Just a well dressed table with all the accouterments of what is to come, yet never does. It doesn't take but a few invites and you end up with only yourself at a well dressed table. Those late season Canada Geese are savvy and have seen a lot of decoy sets and heard a lot of calling, the good and bad of both. Not having neither food or water to offer leaves me with sparse optimism to lure in the big boys from the north. In stark contrast to the western valleys of Oregon and Northern California. Those remain prime hunting areas til the last day of the season. Offering both food and plenty of open water for lots of late season duck and goose hunting.
Let me digress for just a moment. I have shared many photos with you all that are from the pages of my "Waterfowl Gunning Log". While it's fun to look back with my hunting friends at the success we've had, the journal serves also as a guide for what has worked in tough conditions and those wild ideas that we just crossed off the list. Maintaining a journal is an excellent way to see trends in species, numbers of waterfowl, weather and habitat. Also I can recollect as to what type of decoys I used, how many and in what configuration. So now is the time I find myself turning the pages and reading my notes from years past, hoping to find some antidote for the current situation. So far no luck, yet I do have another idea to try and I'll let you know what the results are after my efforts. In the past I have used black plastic (visqueen) over ice to give the illusion of open water on the Klamath River. I have also tried a green tarp in the field over snow in hopes that Geese would consider stopping by. Both of those attempts were unsuccessful yet I continue to persevere.
Here in Oregon, specifically the Klamath Basin where I waterfowl hunt the duck portion of the season is typically fairly short. This is due to several factors primarily drought and water restrictions during the breeding season. This has had a big impact on production of local birds and thus lowering the number of ducks using the area which I hunt. It takes generations of ducks to insure historical migratory routes. Once that chain has been broken by drought, lack of food, or nesting habitat it takes many many years to regain that portion of the migration if ever. This is the situation I am faced with where I hunt. Though the number of ducks I've harvested this season may seem like a lot to some of you, considering the number of days and hours I have spent hunting it is an average take thus far. Noting that most of the ducks came in the early portion of the season and dropped off markedly when temps began dropping below freezing around Thanksgiving. I was fortunate to get a daily limit of 7 ducks, 3 times which equated to almost half of my season total. Those were local birds and I was tickled to have such success as it doesn't happen very often anymore. Lest I not mention the days this season when I came home empty handed, of which there were several. Many years ago in the mid 80's we had good late season duck populations in the Klamath Basin, yet due to loss of habitat, water and food we no longer have such. We have lost most of the historical migrating diver population. And as far I can see we are no where even close to regaining those numbers and I am not sure we ever will.
These are observations made from years of hunting and keeping a journal of such. I still continue to be optimistic that eventually the late season diver hunts will once again return. I remember having the choice of hunting divers or hunting geese on the same day. Which one would I start my morning with and just how much plucking did I want to do? Now days it is not an option. I put in as many duck days as I can early season after my big game hunting is over, because I know soon after freezing temps arrive the ducks will be gone. Then I am left with very challenging conditions for primarilary geese only. If this were a numbers game I lose before I even get started. For every 4 or 5 days I spend in my layout blind goose hunting, I am lucky if I get a single goose. Clearly it is not the reason I hunt and put forth all the effort I do. It is for that one brief moment in time when a window of opportunity swings my way. When those distant geese finally come and circle my spread of 4 dozen G and H shells that I've been laying in for 3 plus days and decide to drop in. Just for a few minutes I forget about all the work I've done and the cold leaves my body as adrenaline surges through my veins. Their calls echoing in my head as they stretch their landing gears reaching for the ground. My heart beats faster with every vocal they make as I wait for that perfect moment to shoulder my gun in an effort to knock one down. I try not to move and give myself away, yet I don't want to miss my chance either, it's a fine line. You've put your time in and paid your dues. Now is your opportunity, perhaps the last one of the year. Make it count, stay calm, you know what to do, you've waited this long just a minute more. The next pass they make you're ready and as they stretch their feet and necks looking to spot their landing, you unleash both barrels and 2 tumble to the ground. You reload just in case you have a cripple or maybe a third got hit and needs to be chased down. You clumsily extract yourself from your ground blind and run down any cripples. You are elated with your success and rightly so. A long sigh follows and the hours and days you've put in finally pay off.
I can remember back in the early 1970's when the town of Tulelake in northern California was the mecca of waterfowl hunting. This was the place to be, bar none. There were guides and outfitters, yet they didn't call themselves the latter. There were hotels, motels and restaurants that catered to the hunters and a duck processing plant as well. Those days are long gone and I am sad to say the once booming town of Tulelake is now, all but a ghost town. Their high school mascot is still the Honker, and they still make the best horseradish this side of the Missouri.
So, these are the present day circumstances of a well documented flyway. Perhaps I will not see the flocks of one thousand Pintails circling the fields of Lowlands as they did in the 70's and early 80's. Nor the large influx of migrating Diving ducks come December and January. The habitat and historical migratory routes have drastically changed over the course of my lifetime. Modest returns for the efforts put forth these days. No doubt raising the appreciation factor for ones successes. Hunting is about opportunity and to be a successful hunter/huntress, one has to put in the time. So as long as the season is open, then I know I at least have a chance of harvesting a goose. Perhaps if we get a big thaw, then I may even see the opportunity for a few more ducks. At the very least I will enjoy seeing whatever it is that unveils itself to me, along with learning something about my quarry and their environment.
Women's Hunting Journal Integrity For The Hunt