U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- Lots of ducks, geese and swans will wing their way through Utah this fall. But, with Great Salt Lake near a record low, how long will they stay?
Utah’s general waterfowl hunt opens Oct. 1. As the season nears, Blair Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, has news — most of it positive — to share with hunters.
He also has two tips that might put more birds in your bag this season.
Alberta produces most of the ducks that migrate through Utah. The amount of water available to nesting ducks on the Canadian prairies was down 20 percent this past spring, but that amount was still above average.
“Pintail numbers across North America were down slightly this past spring,” Stringham says, “while the number of wigeons was up. The total number of ducks — across North America — was 48.3 million. That’s down slightly from a record high of 49.5 million birds estimated in spring 2015.”
In Utah, breeding and nesting conditions were a little drier this past spring, but ducks still had good success.
“Gadwall numbers were up while mallard, cinnamon teal and redhead numbers were down slightly,” he says. “Cinnamon teal have been doing really well for a couple of years, though, so plenty of teal should be available during the early part of the season. And, even though the number of redheads produced locally was down a bit, the number of redheads — across the continent — was up eight percent this past spring. Plenty of redheads should be available too.”
Stringham says a hail storm that moved through wetlands along the eastern shore of Great Salt Lake in April — a week after many Canada goose goslings were born — killed many of the newly hatched birds. Despite the loss, Stringham says hunters will see plenty of Canada geese.
“Geese are doing extremely well in Utah,” he says. “Lots of Canada geese will be available this fall.”
If you’re one of the 2,000 lucky hunters who drew a permit to hunt tundra swans in Utah, he has good news for you too: thousands swans will migrate through the state this fall.
Stringham says the state’s waterfowl management areas and its three federal bird refuges might be waterfowl “magnets” this season. The reason is two-fold: conditions on most of the WMAs and refuges range from improving to excellent. Outside of those areas, conditions are extremely dry. “I think a lot of the farm ponds and seasonal wetlands across Utah will be dry this year,” he says.
On Great Salt Lake, vital wetlands between the lake and the WMA and refuge boundaries are also dry.
“There just isn’t a lot of food out there for the birds,” Stringham says. “The birds will be relying heavily on the WMAs and refuges for food.”
That reliance should lead to good hunting on those areas. But it also might cause newly arrived birds to leave Utah early.
“The lack of water, on wetlands between the WMAs and the lake, doesn’t leave birds with many places to go, to escape hunting pressure,” he says. “After being shot at enough times, the birds might decide to leave.”
You can see the current conditions — for the state WMAs and Utah’s three federal refuges — online.
Given the current conditions, what are the keys to taking ducks in Utah this season? Stringham, an avid waterfowl hunter, has two tips:
Tip 1 — Scout
A “need to feed” might result in more birds flying into the WMAs and refuges during the day this fall.
“When habitat conditions outside the WMAs are better,” Stringham says, “the birds tend to spend most of the day in those areas. They’ll often stay there until just after shooting hours. Then, huge waves of birds fly into the WMAs and refuges to spend the night.”
Because the outlying areas won’t have much food this season, Stringham thinks the birds might change their habits. “Instead of huge waves of birds flying in after shooting hours,” he says, “you might notice more birds moving around during the day.”
To learn the birds’ flight patterns, and to see the areas they’re using, Stringham encourages you to get into the field and scout.
“It’s important to watch what the birds are doing,” he says. “You’ll start to notice patterns, both in the time of day birds are flying and the areas they’re using. Once you learn those, you’ll know where to be.”
Tip 2 — Weather reports
Even though ducks might not stay in the state as long this year, you can still have fantastic hunting if you’re in the marsh when new birds arrive. These birds, most of which have not been shot at since arriving in Utah, gravitate to the freshwater marshes where most of the hunters are.
“Storm fronts push birds out of the state,” Stringham says, “but they also bring birds in, so trying to be in the marsh as a storm front approaches is a great idea.
“And, even if storm fronts aren’t pushing birds in,” he says, “birds still migrate in and stop in the marshes throughout the season.”
Stringham provides some additional tips:
Tip 3 — Use decoys
Hunting over duck decoys is one of the best ways to bring birds in for a good shot. And remember that a duck call usually isn’t needed. “If you set your decoys about 20 to 30 yards from you,” he says, “and then hide well, plenty of birds will come into your spread, whether you use a call or not.”
Tip 4 — Make sure the birds can’t see you
Make sure you blend into your surroundings. And try not to move as birds work your decoys or fly overhead. “If you wear camouflage and don’t move much,” he says, “the birds won’t even know you’re there.”
Tip 5 — Bring waders and mosquito repellent
Invest in a good pair of chest waders. “Don’t rely on hip boots to keep you dry,” Stringham says. “Wear chest waders instead. With chest waders on, you can also retrieve birds that fall into water that’s over your waist.”
Using insect repellent is also important. “There are lots of mosquitoes in the marsh right now,” he says. “Make sure you use plenty of mosquito spray.”
Tip 6 — Get your HIP number and a duck stamp
Before you head into the marsh on Oct. 1, make sure you have a Migratory Game Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) number for this season. It only takes about 10 minutes to register in the program, but you must have a hunting license to register.
You can obtain your HIP number at www.uthip.com or by calling 1-877-882-4744.
In addition to your license and HIP number, if you’re 16 years of age or older, you must buy a federal duck stamp. You can get a duck stamp at your local post office. You can also obtain a stamp by calling 1-800-782-6724.
Tip 7— Waterfowl Slam
If you’d like to add some fun and challenge to your hunt, consider earning some colorful leg bands in the state’s Waterfowl Slam. You can learn more about the slam online.
To learn more about hunting waterfowl in Utah, see the 2016–2017 Utah Waterfowl Guidebook.
If you have questions about hunting waterfowl in Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR’s Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.
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