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Hunters will put their duck and goose calling skills to the test Saturday morning at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.
Chad Carlson of Island City has hunted geese for about 16 years. He is shown here with geese he took with the help of two decoys. - Submitted photo
And possibly their foot speed.
Duck and goose hunting seasons open Saturday in much of Eastern Oregon including Union and Wallowa counties. The season officially begins at sunrise, 6:37 a.m. This time, however, is not the focus of many people who hunt waterfowl at the popular Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.
Their target is 4 a.m.
Hunters can enter the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area starting at 4 a.m. 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 choice spot at 4 a.m.
“There are always people there sleeping in their trucks (on opening day),’’ said Dave Larson, manager of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.
This is because of a gentleman’s agreement. It allows those coming earliest to the parking lot to choose, in order of arrival, their hunting locations. The gentlemen’s agreement is usually but not always honored when 4 a.m. strikes.
“Sometimes it is a foot race (to good hunting sites),’’ Larson said.
All duck and goose hunters, even those arriving late, have a lot to look forward to this weekend at Ladd Marsh.
The outlook for duck and goose seasons is good and much superior to a year ago when Ladd Marsh was so dry it deserved a name change.
“Things are considerably better than last year, which was extremely disappointing,’’ Larson said.
A year ago just 20 percent of Ladd Marsh’s wetlands had water on the opening day of duck season because of extended drought conditions. Ladd Marsh had only about 1,000 ducks, a fourth of what it usually has in early fall.
This autumn Ladd Marsh is flush with water following a cool, wet and extended spring. Waterfowl numbers at Ladd Marsh are up substantially. Larson is projecting solid duck and goose seasons even though the number of waterfowl migrating in the Pacific Flyway, which runs from Canada to about Mexico, is down from a year ago. The number may be off from a year ago but it is still above the annual average for the past 10 years, Larson said.
On Saturday, like on all opening days, hunters can expect to find that young ducks and geese will be less wary since they have never been shot at. This does not mean young birds will be much more vulnerable though, said Chad Carlson of Island City, who has hunted ducks and geese for about 16 years.
“Flocks (of ducks and geese) are often led by two adults,’’ Carlson said, explaining that the older birds are wary when they are coming down to land on a body of water, which protects the more naive yearlings.
Carlson marvels at how adept ducks and geese are at learning where they are safe from hunters. They know, for example, that during hunting season Hot Lake is safe. The birds are not leery when coming to roost there at night. Carlson, when scouting, sometimes follows ducks and geese from Hot Lake in the morning to find out where they go during the day.
Hunters will be greeted by sunny but relatively cool weather this weekend. It is the kind of weather Carlson prefers for hunting, though not all sportsmen agree. Some are convinced that waterfowl hunting is best when it is raining, snowing and windy.
“I think that is an old wives tale,’’ Carlson said.
He believes one can be just as successful hunting in pleasant conditions.
“I really enjoy hunting under clear, sunny skies,’’ said Carlson, who has had some of his most successful days hunting in such conditions.
He does not see how things such as wind help hunters since it often causes birds to move out of an an area.
Hunting will be better this weekend for everyone at Ladd Marsh if people refrain from “sky busting,’’ Carlson said.
Sky busters, who appear every year at Ladd Marsh, are hunters who fire at birds at distances of up to sometimes 50 yards. Sometimes sky busters scare away flocks that are about to land near blinds hunters had been calling them to.
Goose hunting season in the Eastern Oregon Zone runs from Saturday to Oct. 26 and from Nov. 8 to Jan. 25. - Photo/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
“They ruin it for people trying to do it the right way,’’ Carlson said.Hunting the right way is what gives Carlson his biggest thrill. He said the most satisfying part of waterfowl hunting is calling a bird in and making it go exactly where you want it to. This is more exciting than actually taking a duck or a goose, Carlson said.
Waiting in a blind with friends for ducks and geese to fly in is another enjoyable aspect of waterfowl hunting.
“We tell jokes and toss used shot gun shells at each other. There is a lot of camaraderie in a blind.’’
Waterfowl hunting is a more social experience than deer or elk hunting, Carlson said. He explained that people talking in a blind will not scare ducks and geese away if they quiet down once they see birds coming in.
Hunters will have plenty of company this weekend at Ladd Marsh. Between 75 and 100 people usually hunt at Ladd during the opening weekend of duck season, Larson said. This is the first year in some time that duck and goose season are opening at the same time in Northeast Oregon. Goose season usually opens about a week later.
The Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area will be open for hunting on Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays and state-observed holidays during duck and goose seasons.
Duck hunting season in Zone 2 of Eastern Oregon, which Union and Wallowa counties are a part of, runs from Saturday through Nov. 30 and from Dec. 3 to Jan. 25, 2009.
Goose hunting season in the Eastern Oregon Zone runs from Saturday to Oct. 26 and from Nov. 8 to Jan. 25, 2009.
Hunters are urged to check the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2008-09 Game Bird Regulations booklet for more information.