Forecast calls for plenty of snow in the air

  • Wayne Kruse / Outdoor Writer
  • Saturday, October 7, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Snow is in the forecast this fall and winter for Snohomish/Skagit county waterfowl hunters, and they couldn’t be happier. Flights of Wrangell Island snow geese have already started arriving on the Skagit delta, Port Susan, and Skagit Bay from a population Russian biologists say is the strongest in recent years.

Don Krage, waterfowl management chief for the state Fish and Wildlife Department, said the word from Siberia is that the spring snow goose hatch was an excellent one, that goslings survived well, and that roughly 70,000 juvenile birds should join an adult population of about 90,000 for the flight south. The majority of those snows winter in northwest Washington and on the Fraser River delta in southeastern British Columbia.

While snows are the brightest spot for local gunners in the autumn hunting picture, ducks and Canada geese are only a half-step behind. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forecasts are for duck production in B.C. and the Northwest Territories to be down 17 percent from last year. That would still provide a migratory flight well above 10-year averages, but locally it’s likely to be even smaller a downturn than the predicted 17 percent. Federal biologists say nesting was much more successful in Alaska and the Yukon – areas which provide many of the birds for the Pacific Flyway.

Matt Monda, state waterfowl biologist in Ephrata, said local duck and Canada goose production in the Columbia Basin is also down slightly, because of a lack of rainfall over the winter and spring. But again, a production drop of 8 to 10 percent is relative. Last year’s hatch was a record one, so a minor drop this spring still provides a bunch of birds.

Wally Hoch of Ducks Inn Guide Service in Ephrata ( said the special two-day youth waterfowl hunt last weekend provided very good success in the Basin on mallards and pintails. The birds have been feeding in harvested wheat fields, Hoch says, but will switch to corn stubble as the harvest progresses.

As usual, Hoch says, local birds will provide a good shoot for a couple of weeks, then there will be a lull until northern ducks start to show with the advent of freeze-up in Canada. That usually happens by mid-November, he says.

All the ducks and geese in North America, however, won’t provide good hunting unless the weather cooperates. A lack of wind and cold the past two winters, particularly last year, resulted in lousy hunting for the most part, and waterfowlers are hoping the La Nina cycle produces great, that is to say, poor, weather this fall.

“We had reports of ducks still in Alberta well into January last year,” said Krage. “That’s really unusual.”

A liberal bag limit of seven ducks statewide includes only one pintail and only two hen mallards. Non-toxic shot must be used on all segments of the Lake Terrell, Skagit, and Snoqualmie wildlife areas.

A mild winter and plenty of insects and other forage, coupled with brood counts of up to nine young per nest in some areas, mean another good year for quail, statewide. Try the brushy draws and river and creek bottoms of Eastern Washington for this underutilized species.

Summer surveys in the Basin show an increase in pheasant broods of about 7 percent over last year but, since 1999 was a down year, that doesn’t translate into a lot more birds.

“There are fair numbers of pheasant out there,” says upland bird manager Tom Keegan. “Not great, but better than last year.”

The number of chicks observed per survey day went from 4.4 in 1999 to 6.9 this summer, not close to the 21 per day seen in 1998, or the 60-plus young birds routinely seen in the 1950s and 60s.

For several years now, natural ringneck pheasant production east of the Cascades has been supplemented with pen-raised birds and that will again be the case. In southeast Washington, generally considered the state’s best pheasant hunting, 3,400 farmed roosters will be released over the next seven weeks, in three to four releases, at John Henley and Central Ferry Habitat Management units on the Snake in Whitman County; Willow Bar and Rice Bar HMUs on the Snake in Garfield County; Hartsock GMU in Columbia County; Pintler Creek and Chief Timothy HMUs in Asotin County; and Mill Creek, Wallula, Two Rivers, and Hollebeke HMUs in Walla Walla County.

Closer to home, where the Warden/Othello/Moses Lake triangle is the center of at least fairly productive pheasant hunting in the north-central Basin, some 4,000 roosters will be released in three or four deliveries over the next seven weeks at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County; Chelan Butte and Swakane sites in Chelan County; Banks Lake, Steamboat Rock, Gloyd Seeps, Quincy, Winchester Lake, Buckshot Ranch, and White Bluffs Lake in Grant County; and Linda Lake in Adams County.

In south-central Washington, just under 4,000 roosters will be released in four deliveries over the next seven weeks at the Sunnyside Wildlife Area in Yakima County; the Wenas/L.T. Murray and Colockum wildlife areas, Kittitas County; the Big Flat and Ringold sites in Franklin County, and the Hill Road release site in Klickitat County.

Some of the best pheasant hunting in the Yakima area is on irrigated farmland in the Yakama Indian Reservation. Contact tribal authorities about hunting reservation land at 509-865-5121, Ext. 666.

Mule deer populations are coming back from a series of cold winters and/or summer wildfires in the northern portion of the eastslope Cascades, and hunting in the Okanogan, the Sinlahekin, the Methow and other top spots should be improved. Whitetail are everywhere in the northeast corner of the state, and spreading, and should offer the best hunting in Washington. Biologists in Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties have been noting ratios of 100 fawns to every 100 does in some spots, which is incredible reproduction.

Western Washington’s best blacktail hunting will again be found in the southwest and on the Olympic Peninsula, according to WDFW biologists. For the rifle season which opens Oct. 14, regional manager Jack Smith recommends several areas on the east side of the Olympics, including Capitol Peak, Minot Peak, and the Fall River unit (GMUs 663, 660, and 672).

North-Sound hunters will probably find the occasional public blacktail behind all those locked corporate and DNR gates, but only if they have twenty-something legs or horses. Older hunters and the physically disadvantaged will have to look elsewhere.

“Most private timberlands allow only walk-in access,” says WDFW game program manager Dave Ware.

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