October 11, 2001 11:00 pm
BATTERY-POWERED WINGS: Mike Brock of La Grande examines one of the battery-powered electronic waterfowl decoys he uses at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
BATTERY-POWERED WINGS: Mike Brock of La Grande examines one of the battery-powered electronic waterfowl decoys he uses at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

Northeast Oregon duck and goose hunters will need patience more than hip waders this fall.

Waterfowl hunting opportunities in many areas are limited because of drought conditions. The lack of water is dousing the early season hopes of duck and goose hunters in the region.

It will be bleak locally until we get some rain, said David Bronson of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bronson works at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, a primary waterfowl hunting site for the Union, Wallowa and Baker area.

In 24 years I have never seen it this dry, Bronson said.

About 90 percent of the Ladd Marsh area which normally has water in October is now dry.

When rain comes and ducks and geese start returning in large numbers they will find a smorgasbord of food at Ladd Marsh. This is because the drought has allowed many plants to grow more extensively. These are plants that need dry ground to grow.

Once rains start there is a good chance that a strong number of ducks and geese will return to Ladd Marsh. This is because the number of waterfowl using the Pacific Flyway is solid despite a recent decline.

The number is down this year but it is still above the 10-year average, said Dave Larson, manager of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.

Biologists do not know how many ducks and geese to expect because the migratory patterns of waterfowl have been altered by the drought which has extended into Canada.

Because of dry conditions many ducks and geese did not summer in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan as they normally do.

We suspect they went to the Northwest Territories and Alaska, Larson said.

Dry conditions in Northeast Oregon mean that hunters may be more densely crowded around bodies of water at places like Ladd Marsh. As a result hunters need to be extra cautious, Bronson said.

Hunters are reminded that they should fire only into the air and never at birds in the water.


Eastern Oregon again has split duck and goose hunting seasons.

The first duck hunting season started on Oct. 6 and concludes Wednesday. The second season starts Oct. 20 and runs through Jan. 20.

Eastern Oregons first goose hunting season starts on Saturday and ends on Wednesday. The second segment begins on Oct. 20 and runs through Jan. 20. Union County hunters need to remember that the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area is open for hunting only on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Ladd Marsh is always closed from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Hunters should check the ODFWs hunting regulation synopsis for more detailed information.


Union, Baker and Wallowa county waterfowl hunters have a number of areas to choose from outside of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.

In Wallowa County there are a number of opportunities for hunters to bag ducks and geese on private land.

Hunters will have their best chances for success on cattle feed lots and grain fields that have just been seeded or harvested, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Pat Matthews of Enterprise.

Nobody can hunt private land without permission.

Matthews noted that waterfowl tend to use a variety of different fields.

You need to figure out where the birds are going and then get permission to hunt on that land, Matthews said.

In the Baker County area waterfowl hunters have the best chance for success on the Snake River from Huntington to Oxbow, said Todd Marr of the ODFW. This stretch includes the Oxbow and Brownlee reservoirs.

There is good water depth for waterfowl at these sites.

People in Baker County can also hunt at Phillips Reservoir and in the Powder River area. Both, however, have low water levels and poor supplies of food for ducks and geese. Marr said that many birds at Phillips Reservoir and on the Powder River will soon begin moving away from these areas to fields where food is more abundant.


A new type of waterfowl is making its presence felt at many ponds in Northeast Oregon.

It is one that will never be listed in bird identification guides.

The new waterfowl are robotic duck decoys. The decoys have wings that continually are moving. Many imitate birds approaching water.

The use of motorized decoys has increased dramatically throughout the United States over the past two years.

Duck hunters who hunt with them include Mike Brock of La Grande. Brock started using motorized decoys last year and found them effective.

They work but I dont know if they are the miracle decoy that people say they are, Brock said.

The motorized decoys are particularly effective when the wind is blowing, Brock said. He explained that ducks fly lower when there is wind and get a better look at the decoys.

Brock has noticed that ducks often dont hesitate before flying into an area with motorized decoys. They are more likely to hesitate when flying into standard decoys.

Motion duck decoys are becoming a controversial issue because of their effectiveness. In Washington, for example, battery powered electronic waterfowl decoys were banned throughout the state in August by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.