It’s October along the Pacific Flyway and recent cooler weather is a harbinger of the fast approaching fall and winter seasons. If you’re a waterfowl hunter that means one thing: hunting season is here.
Twenty-eight National Wildlife Refuges (23 in California and southern Oregon, 5 in Nevada) managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region are open for hunting. General information and requirements for hunting on refuges is available at: http://www.fws.gov/cno/hunting/hunting.html.
Results from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual spring waterfowl breeding population survey show California’s estimated duck population in 2013 is 15 percent lower than 2012 and 23 percent below the long-term average.
Although duck numbers have dropped, the goose population is in great shape, so much so that goose hunting regulations have increased the daily bag limit to 10 in most regions of California and a late-season goose hunt was added in California’s Northeastern zone and in Nevada.
Due to the government shutdown, national wildlife refuges were closed from October 1 until October 17. As a result, many refuges experienced a delayed opening for their hunts. However, refuge staff worked hard to have their wetlands ready for hunters as soon as the shutdown ended and furloughed employees were able to return to work.
It’s always a good idea to check with your refuge before planning your hunt day. The refuge’s website is a good place to start.
Here are a few things to note regarding waterfowl hunting at national wildlife refuges in the Pacific Southwest Region:
- Colusa National Wildlife Refuge: The Refuge plans to expand its hunting area. Colusa is one of 26 national wildlife refuges across the country proposing to expand hunting opportunities, according to a recent Federal Register Notice. The Refuge plans to open an additional 80 acres of fallow fields to waterfowl and upland bird hunting. Contact the Sacramento NWR Complex for specific information on the upcoming hunt season. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Sacramento/Hunting.html
- Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge: Waterfowl hunting opened on October 19. There were no delays from the government shutdown. More than 10,000 of the Refuge’s 30,000 acres are open to waterfowl hunting. The Refuge is not collecting a hunting fee and is not placing a limit on the number of people allowed to hunt. Due to federal budget cuts, the Refuge is eliminating the collection of harvest data and will not have portable toilets available in hunt areas. Last year, Middle Bair Island was breached, allowing tidal flows into historic sloughs in Middle Bair and providing hunters better access into the Island during high tides. As part of this restoration, flow constrictors in Corkscrew Slough and Smith Slough were installed, so hunters boating in these sloughs should use caution when going through these areas. For more information on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR hunt program, please call Melisa Amato at (510) 792-0222 (ext. 124). http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Don_Edwards_San_Francisco_Bay/hunting.html
- Kern National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Kern and Pixley refuges): Waterfowl hunting was originally scheduled to open on October 5. Due to the government shutdown, the season opener was delayed until October 19. Hunting at the Kern Refuge Complex occurs on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Since the refuges have a split-season, hunting will resume November 2. Because of drought conditions, there is less water at the refuges compared with past years, resulting in less habitat to hunt. http://www.fws.gov/kern/
- Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges): Waterfowl hunting was originally scheduled to open on October 5. Due to the government shutdown, the season opener was delayed until October 17. According to an October 22 survey, waterfowl numbers at Tule Lake are around normal, however, Lower Klamath Lake numbers are down to approximately half of what is considered normal for this time of year. The big botulism outbreak that occurred in the summer is over. Due to the lack of water, it seems that many early season birds like pintails may have bypassed Klamath for other points south. Also, the lack of water during the summer at Lower Klamath has resulted in less habitat and food for diving ducks, such as canvas backs. The refuges are getting water now, but the number of units that typically have water is slightly down this year. http://www.fws.gov/klamathbasinrefuges/
- Modoc National Wildlife Refuge: Waterfowl hunting was originally scheduled to open on October 5. Due to the government shutdown, the season opener was delayed until October 19. The Refuge is flooding their wetlands similar to past years. Modoc is experiencing dry conditions, but 80 percent or more of the Refuge is estimated to be flooded for the season. Also, snow goose season opens November 1, which is later than past years. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Modoc/visit/hunting.html
- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Colusa, Delevan, Sacramento, Sacramento River and Sutter NWR): Waterfowl hunting opened on October 19. Refuge staff returned from furlough status October 17 and worked hard to ensure there were no delays from the government shutdown. Currently, Sacramento, Delevan and Colusa refuges are open for hunting; however, Sutter Refuge expects to open for hunting once flooding takes place, which should happen by November 16. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Sacramento/Hunting.html
- San Luis National Wildlife Refuge: Waterfowl hunting opened on October 19. Refuge staff returned from furlough October 17 and worked hard to minimize impacts of the government shutdown to its hunting program. The Refuge experienced more hunter participation on opening day than last year. The Refuge is flooding their wetlands as usual. San Luis offers free-roam, assigned zone, assigned blind, and boat access-only hunting opportunities in their hunt program. As in past years, some hunt units have been disked for habitat maintenance and to increase food production. These units are extra soft and hunters should take care when traveling within these units. Maps at the refuge are available with location information of disked units. Hunters are advised to be careful driving in to hunt areas. There are a few road construction projects underway that will result in new turn lanes to improve access to hunter areas. http://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147497289
- Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge: Waterfowl hunting was originally scheduled to open on October 12. The government shutdown, however, delayed the season opener to October 17. The Refuge is experiencing a general lack of water. As a result, only two hunt units will have water during the upcoming waterfowl hunting season: Tule Lakes and West Marsh (Millens Pond/Willow Lake). There is no air-boating this year. A late snow goose season is scheduled for February 22 – March 10, 2014. http://www.fws.gov/stillwater/hunting/hunt.html
- Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge: The 2013-2014 waterfowl hunting season at Stone Lakes has been reduced by 30 percent. To minimize the impact on hunters and provide quality hunting opportunities, the core of the season will remain unaffected. Instead, Stone Lakes NWR will open waterfowl hunting on November 16. Because of the delayed opening, the government shutdown did not affect the hunt season at Stone Lakes NWR. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Stone_Lakes/visit/visitor_activities/waterfowl_hunting.html
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2013 Status of Waterfowl Video:
Logo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services