Waterfowl Hunt Might Be the Best in Years


When you wade or boat into some of Utah’s waterfowl management areas on Oct. 1, the best water and wetland conditions you’ve seen in years will be waiting for you.

Many of the state’s waterfowl management areas — even the isolated ones, such as Clear Lake and Desert Lake — have plenty of water in them. And the two main exceptions — Ogden Bay west of Hooper and Salt Creek northwest of Corinne — will have more water in them as the season progresses.

Abundant water means plenty of food for the birds and plenty of places to hunt.

Utah’s general waterfowl hunt starts Oct. 1. You can learn more in the 2011 – 2012 Utah Waterfowl Guidebook. The free guidebook is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks. You can learn more about conditions at the WMAs at https://go.usa.gov/8C3.

Ingredients are in place

Justin Dolling, migratory game bird and upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says even the Willard Spur — a large and important freshwater area just west of Willard Bay Reservoir — had water on it all through the summer. “All of the ingredients are in place,” he says. “This could be one of the best waterfowl seasons we’ve seen in Utah in years.”

Dolling says other factors, including the weather, will play a major role in the success hunters find this season. “But all of the ingredients are there,” he says.

Dolling provides the following preview for the upcoming hunt:


The ducks that migrate through Utah each fall come from three areas — Alaska, Alberta and western Montana. (Western Montana is part of the prairie pothole region of the United States.) Dolling says nesting conditions in Alberta and Alaska were good this past spring, and plenty of ducks should migrate through the state from those areas this fall.

On the prairie pothole region of the United States, conditions were even better — the number of ponds available for nesting ducks was up 100 percent from the long-term (1974 – 2010) average. Ducks on the western edge of the prairie pothole region migrate through Utah.

In addition to ducks that migrate through the state, many of the mallards, gadwalls, redheads and cinnamon teal you’ll see — especially during the first week or two of the hunt — were raised right
here in Utah.

Dolling says the amount of water the state received this past spring might have affected the nesting success of mallards, which tend to nest early in the nesting season. But he says gadwalls, redheads and cinnamon teal, which nest later in the season, did really well. Don’t be surprised, he says, if you see some young gadwalls that can’t fly when the season opens Oct. 1. “Don’t shoot at these birds until they grow their flight feathers,” he says.

Pintails are one of the ducks that migrate through Utah. While the number of pintails in North America is still below the population objective, Dolling says the number of adult pintail that bred last spring was up 26 percent from 2010.

Canada geese and tundra swans

Overall, Canada geese in the western United States and Canada are doing well. But Dolling says the number of Canada geese that DWR biologists saw nesting in Utah this past spring, and the number of goslings they raised, was down 50 percent from spring 2010.

Dolling says one reason for the decline might be that nests were flooded after the geese laid their eggs. Another possible reason is that some of geese simply nested in different areas this spring because so many nesting areas were available to them. “Its difficult to get an accurate count when geese are spread over an area that’s larger than we normally survey,” he says.

All of the tundra swans that migrate through Utah each fall are raised in Alaska. Dolling says surveys conducted by biologists in Alaska this past spring indicate tundra swans are doing really well. “Plenty of swans should migrate through Utah this fall,” he says.

Wetland conditions

Wetland conditions are excellent at most of the state’s WMAs. There are two major exceptions, though:

  • Last spring, portions of the Weber River upstream from the Ogden Bay WMA flooded. To try to help the situation, DWR personnel breached some dikes at the WMA. Breaching the dikes allowed water from the river to move through the area faster. Breaching the dikes, and some additional flooding damage that occurred, made it difficult for managers to control water at the WMA this summer.

“The dikes have been repaired,” Dolling says, “but we haven’t been able to fill some of the impoundments with water yet.”

Val Bachman, manager of the Ogden Bay WMA, says water conditions are good on Unit 3, fair on Unit 2 and poor on Unit 1. He also says the Pintail Flats area west of units 1 and 2 will be fairly dry until managers can fill units 1 and 2 with water.

“As the season progresses,” Dolling says, “the water conditions at Ogden Bay will get better and better.”

  • The wet summer also delayed a project at the Salt Creek WMA. In conjunction with Ducks Unlimited, managers at Salt Creek have been moving and removing sediment from the main pond at the WMA this summer. The project will allow the managers to better manage the water at the WMA. It will also provide more nesting and loafing areas for ducks and geese on the main pond.

The pond has been dry most of the summer, but water should start trickling in before Oct. 1. “On the opener,” Dolling says, “the pond may be low. But water conditions will improve as fall moves along.”

More water at Great Salt Lake

Last fall, the water level at Great Salt Lake dropped to its second lowest point since the state started keeping records in the early 1960s.

Since last fall, though, the water level has climbed four feet.

Dolling says the higher water level has brought water into shoreline areas that were high and dry at this time last year, providing hunters with additional places to hunt.

The higher water level also means the lake itself covers more square miles. And that means ducks and geese will have more places to escape hunting pressure in the marshes. Those same birds will make flights back into the marshes to feed, giving hunters a chance to take them. “Having a place they can go to escape the hunting pressure should keep the birds in Utah longer this fall,” Dolling says.

Water level at Utah Lake

If you enjoy hunting the marshes at Utah Lake, Dolling says you’ll have plenty of places to hunt this fall. “The water level is a lot higher than it was a year ago,” he says. “The south shore portions of the lake around Goshen Bay — including Benjamin Slough and Powell Slough — are in much better shape this year.”

Federal refuges

Dolling says you should also find good conditions at the three federal refuges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages in Utah. For example, near Corinne, Dolling says the Bear River is flowing at between 800 and 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) right now.  “A lot of times,” he says, “the flows near Corinne are below 100 cfs.”

The higher flow means the river should provide plenty of water to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge this fall. “I think hunters will enjoy some good hunting at the refuge this fall,” he says.

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