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Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Hunt reports coming into WON from afield

Late season waterfowling tips
With less than a month to go in the waterfowl season for this portion of the Pacific flyway, traditionally the last few hunts of the season offer up pretty good gunning for a mix of big puddle ducks, fast-flying teal and heavily feathered diving ducks. Geese also have pretty much maxed out their population numbers by the end of December and seem to move around looking for new spots to feed and loaf.

Likely, with the full moon this past week, the bulk of the ducks and geese that have been stacking up in the Columbia Basin and other prime migratory paths of dabblers and divers will have been heading south by below freezing temps and competition for available food sources. I would hate to think these birds will stack up again in the Sacramento Valley, which could mean an even later arrival at refuges and clubs farther south. Ducks and some geese that end up at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge will not continue any farther south, but rather, they will mill around the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley until it’s time to start heading up north starting around the end of January.

christmastreemallardCHRISTMAS TREE MALLARD — Northern shovelers (spoonbills) are in full feather plumage now that winter has arrived. Over decades of late-season hunting this puddle duck, waterfowlers have enjoyed great shoveler hunting over decoys. These ducks are not only colorful, they decoy well during the waning weeks of waterfowl season. This photo was shot late in January in Prado Basin. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Now would be a good time to step up to heavier shot and 3-inch shells. Most all waterfowl will be fully plumed out with a thick layer of down, especially those big diving ducks and Canada geese. Steel, tungsten and Bismuth shot can penetrate most feathers on well placed shots, but those shooting at long distances or behind a bird are more likely to see a few feathers in the air as the bird glides off as a cripple.

Ducks have pretty much paired up by now, especially mallards, gadwall, widgeon, sprig and spoonies and they will decoy in pairs, which often offers up pretty darn good gunning. Green-winged teal and most all divers will still be showing up on refuges and club ponds in small flocks of between 4 and 8 birds. Also, during the last few weeks of the season is when all three species of teal will be winging into decoy spreads. Traditionally, teal will be moving north out of Mexico and that’s when a teal grand slam is most likely on the block.

This hunting editor had a chance to talk with wildlife biologist Dr. John Crammer about what pintail do during courting.

“Sprig are some of the last puddle ducks to pair up and it’s not at all uncommon to see a single hen being escorted by 3 to 5 bull sprig. Also, of interest biologically, pintail do not talk much during this period, so it really doesn’t do much good to use a whistle to get the attention of a circling flock of sprig. A mature adult bull sprig will have very bright white breast feathers and its pin will often measure 3 to 5 inches in length. It’s not hard to miss a sprig in flight due to how they circle a pond and appear to just glide through,” says Crammer.

Pintail showed up in pretty good numbers at Wister a week ago and continue to reward anglers at the refuge and those clubs around Niland with limit shooting. Often, sprig will mix in with a flock of spoonies and it’s fun to try and pick them off as they circle a set of decoys.

Up north, the Kern National Wildlife Refuge had a great mid-December shoot this past week for a mix of birds. It was a busy refuge on Wednesday with 115 shooters in blinds and they harvested 500 ducks for a very high 4.3-bird average. Top ducks shot were the green-winged teal with 144 bagged to go along with 129 gadwall!

Spinning wing, spinners, pulse and Mojos style decoys are now legal and they can add life to a decoy spread especially on a blue-bird day. Teal will often decoy well in a lively looking set of dekes and an attempt to land without even making a full circle. Referred to as dive-bombing, teal offer up an excellent shot opportunity as they wing in low and fast over a small decoy spread and that goes for all three species of teal.

Hopefully, with a little stormier weather, waterfowl hunters will see more big diving ducks show up on harvest reports. Big divers…i.e. cans, redheads and bluebills are often the last to show up in this southern section of the flyway, but once arrived they can stick around and they make for great gunning and can top any game strap of harvested ducks. When gunning for divers it’s mostly pass shooting, especially on ponded water, as these large species of ducks like open and deeper water. Moving up to #2 shot would not be a bad idea when targeting divers over open water and a spread of decoys. Lake Barrett, in San Diego County, offers up some pretty good gunning for diving ducks hunted from shoreline blinds.

I also just got a report from two waterfowl hunting areas in Mexico. The Rio Hardy area is holding good numbers of puddle ducks and offering pretty decent hunting for those who know how to hunt this river system and adjoining estuaries. Farther south, in the mainland Mexican state of Sinaloa, duck numbers are way up and hunting has been very good for big puddle ducks, a few divers and black Brant. Outfitter Bobby Balderrama, owner/operator of the Sinalo Pato Duck and Dove Club reported to WON that this season could be one of the best in decades. A mega farming Mecca, lots of fresh water and giant estuaries make for a good waterfowl combination. Mexico will hunt ducks through mid-March 2019.

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