A dry start to northern California duck hunting turned some public lands into hotbeds for hunters at the tail-end of the season.
The drought in the Sacramento Valley this year has hindered migratory birds who regularly use the area as place of refuge on their journey south.
Dan Frisk, manager of the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge, explained the state is using the limited amount of water it had early in the season to provide suitable habitats to migratory birds.
Wet conditions farther north in Canada and the northern U.S. made excellent breeding grounds for these birds, and resulted in a larger-than-normal migration into dryer parts of California. Many of the flooded rice fields provided food for these waterfowl, who like to feed on the leftover rice and insects in these regions.
As of early December, three out of four public areas in the wildlife complex, used for California duck hunting, were open for use. The Sutter area was re-opened on December 31 once it became filled with the flood waters from the north.
Garrett Spann, the visitor services specialist and hunt program coordinator for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge complex, spoke of the birds’ change in behavior. Spann told reporters, “We’re definitely better off than we thought we would be. Having enough food because of all the rain and flooding has opened up areas we didn’t envision we would have,” for bird habitats.
The early season drought has also affected California duck hunting in the way of waiting lists. As a result, hunters are using one of three ways to get into the field. The best way is to register online 17 days before the desired date. Also, hunters can wait for no shows and enter a lottery called “second-entrance,” and possibly get picked to hunt the following day. The third option involves signing up for “free range” area hunts, where one hunter is allowed per 15 acres of habitat.
Lack of water early in the season caused more hunters to seek out public lands and abandon private property ventures. Spann feels this change in significant.
“You see guys who haven’t hunted the refuges in 20 years,” he said.