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Dry conditions will greet opening day duck hunters at Ladd Marsh

Duck hunting season opens at 6:35 a.m. Saturday. Observer file photo
Duck hunting season opens at 6:35 a.m. Saturday. Observer file photo
A coffee and donut vendor could earn a tidy profit Saturday between 1 and 4 a.m. in the parking area of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area headquarters.

So might anyone selling duck calls and decoys.

The Ladd Marsh parking lot will be percolating as hunters await the opening of duck season Saturday.

The season opens at 6:35 a.m., but hunters’ real target time is 4 a.m.

Hunters can enter the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area starting at 4 in the morning to claim hunting sites and set up blinds and decoys. Sportsmen often arrive in the parking lot of the Ladd Marsh headquarters at 1 a.m. or earlier of opening day to improve their chance of claiming a spot 2 1/2 hours later.

A gentleman’s agreement is the reason. It allows those coming earliest to the parking lot to choose, in order of arrival, hunting locations. The gentleman’s agreement is usually but not always honored when 4 a.m. strikes.

“It can be a foot race,’’ said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Dave Larson, manager of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.

Any foot races this year will be to the relatively few Ladd Marsh sites where there is water. Ladd Marsh is exceptionally dry, which means duck hunting prospects are down.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is remedying the situation by filling dry ponds with water.

“We are filling them as fast as we can,’’ Larson said.

He anticipates conditions improving significantly in the next two weeks as the weather cools, allowing ponds to fill up more quickly because the evaporation rate will slow.

Maps are being prepared by the ODFW showing hunters where there is water on Ladd Marsh. They will be available in map boxes at Ladd Marsh.

On the plus side of the ledger, conditions are better at Ladd Marsh than they were two years ago when only 20 percent of Ladd Marsh’s wetlands had water on opening day.

Hunters can expect an increasing number of ducks to come to Ladd Marsh as water conditions improve. A major reason is that this a good year for wetland plants at Ladd Marsh. Wetland annuals that waterfowl feast on including duck potatoes and alisma are thriving.

“Once the wetlands fill with water, birds will respond very favorably to the food conditions,’’ Larson said.

Hunters should expect exceptionally crowded conditions this weekend at Ladd Marsh since pheasant season also opens Saturday. This is the first time in years that duck and pheasant seasons in Northeast Oregon will start on the same day. Hunters are being urged to be extra cautious and courteous because of the anticipated crowded conditions.

The prospects for pheasant season are good, Larson said. He credits this to a strong nesting season made possible by good May and June weather.

Pheasants and ducks will be less wary of hunters Saturday morning than they will be for the remainder of the season, since they have not been shot at this year with exception of youth hunts.

Few hunters fire at birds before shooting hours start at Ladd Marsh. However, duck hunters have been known to sneak on to Ladd Marsh before it opens at 4 a.m. the first day of the season. These hunters are usually found and cited by the Oregon State Police, said David Bronson of the ODFW.

The Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area will be open on Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays and state-observed holidays during game bird seasons.

Hunters are urged to check the ODFW’s 2009-10 Game Bird Regulations booklet for more information.

Information in the booklet includes a game bird shooting hours table. Game bird shooting hours in Eastern Oregon from Saturday through Oct. 16 will be 6:35 a.m. to 6:11 p.m. except for the portion of the region in the Mountain Time Zone.

Shooting hours in the Mountain Time Zone from Saturday through Oct. 16 are 7:35 a.m. to 7:11 p.m.


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