Snow Geese soar over the Skagit Valley with Mount Baker in the background. (Mike Benbow photo)

Snow Geese soar over the Skagit Valley with Mount Baker in the background. (Mike Benbow photo)

‘Robust’ numbers expected as waterfowl season opens Saturday

WDWF says it was a good breeding year for ducks and geese in Canada and Alaska.

By Mike Benbow / Special to The Herald

Fred Moll of Marysville used to be an avid hunter of ducks and geese.

In fact, he cites his love of the outdoors for getting him interested in what became his lifelong career — teaching. “I figured if I was a teacher, no company would be able to move me to Pennsylvania and I could stay in the Northwest and hunt and fish,” he said.

Now retired, Moll is a little less avid about spending all day outdoors, finding the hunting decoys a little heavier to drag around these days. But he’ll be there when waterfowl hunting season opens Saturday.

“It’s easy hunting in October,” he said. “It’s still warm in October.”

Easy or not, he’s excited about waterfowl hunting this year because it will be the first year that he’ll have a chance to hunt with both his son and his 10-year-old grandson. “I want to see my grandson start to hunt,” Moll said. “It’s a big deal.”

Hunting season is a right of passage with many Washington young people. And this year’s waterfowl season looks like it could be a productive year for many hunters.

In it’s waterfowl forecast, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said essentially that it was a good breeding year for ducks and geese in Canada and Alaska, meaning there should be good numbers heading south to Washington state to spend the winter.

The biggest question is when will they get here.

“The weather outlook for the coming fall and winter is for warmer and drier than normal conditions early in the season,” according to the state’s hunting forecast. “Typically, we see a slow start to the hunting season. During mild winters, ducks tend to stay in more northerly areas of British Columbia. However, as colder fronts move in and conditions become colder and wetter, hunters can expect increasing numbers of waterfowl to arrive.”

Very good numbers are expected for snow geese, which make a long flight from Wrangel Island in the Russian arctic to winter in the Fraser, Skagit, Stillaguamish and Snohomish river valleys.

“Reports from Wrangel Island, where lesser snow geese breed, indicate high numbers of chicks hatched and survived to fledging,” according to the report. “Therefore, we are expecting robust numbers of geese coming into Washington.”

The snow geese population has grown steadily in recent years. The birds used to focus on the Skagit River Delta, grubbing in the estuary for water plants with tasty tubers. Their numbers started spilling out south of Stanwood along the Stillaguamish River estuary. As the flock continued to grow, geese also started eating more farm crops, like corn and seed potatoes.

Now, the geese regularly fly to farm fields in Arlington, Snohomish and Monroe.

“Snow geese are expanding in Snohomish County and it is likely that at least 5,000 to 10,000 birds will spend some time in the Snohomish River system,” the state noted in its hunting forecast.

That’s in addition to the thousands of birds that center on Fir Island south of Stanwood.

While there should be geese and ducks for hunters this year, finding safe, legal spots to hunt for them is always a challenge.

It may be stating the obvious, but you can’t hunt on private property without permission.

And it helps to scout out hunting areas before the season begins to see if you’re facing any new problems or conditions. Public hunting is allowed on part of Spencer Island and on a couple spots on Ebey Island along the Snohomish River. Leque Island between Stanwood and Camano Island will allow some waterfowl hunting this year, but the dikes in the area are being breached and that project is underway, so parking areas have changed.

New hunters should consider some hunter safety classes and pairing up with an experienced hunter to learn safe techniques and good hunting spots.

The U.S. Coast Guard offers a good pamphlet of tips on waterfowl hunting that is available online at www.uscgboating.org/assets/1/Publications/wade_brochure.pdf.

And it’s also important to get a copy of the WDFW’s rules and regulations for waterfowl hunting. For example, waterfowl hunting season is open for some days of the month and closed for others, so you need to check the full schedule.

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