Washington's upland game bird and waterfowl hunting season opened last weekend with bag limits of birds for hunters in some parts of the state but much slower action in other areas.
The best bird hunting, as usual, was in the Columbia Basin, where hunting pressure was moderate to heavy. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Northcentral Region Wildlife Program Manager Mark Quinn reported that among some 373 waterfowl hunters checked, the Potholes Wildlife Area averaged 3.14 ducks per hunter, compared to last year's 2.6 duck average, and Desert Wildlife Area waterfowl hunters averaged 2.5 ducks per hunter, compared to last year's 2.1 average.
Columbia Basin pheasant hunters also did well where there was good habitat, Quinn said, especially near the Adams-Grant county line where there is much WDFW upland habitat restoration and hunter access effort.
Quail and chukar hunting was particularly good in Douglas and Chelan counties. A reported record pre-season quail count on Bridgeport Bar was confirmed by a lot of happy hunters, Quinn said.
In eastern Washington, a WDFW boat patrol on the Snake River showed light hunting pressure and harvest. Field checks in Walla Walla, Columbia and Garfield counties also showed few hunters, according to WDFW Wildlife Biologist Pat Fowler, although there was more action around Central Ferry on the north Garfield county line. Checks in Lincoln, Whitman, and Spokane counties showed average upland game bird hunting pressure, with only fair success due to dry, warm conditions. Bird hunters were few and far between further north where WDFW staff expected to find more muzzleloader deer/elk hunters, whose season also opened on the weekend. But they, too, were few in number, according to WDFW Wildlife Biologist Dana Base; among six hunters checked by Base in the Threeforks Game Management Unit of Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, however, three had whitetailed deer.
In the south-central part of the state, WDFW Wildlife Program Manager Lee Stream reported poor pheasant hunting; 77 hunters were checked with just 23 pheasants, an average of about one-third bird per hunter. Chukar and quail hunting reportedly was fairly good, although Stream had no specific numbers. Waterfowl hunters did well, Stream said; 15 were checked with 58 ducks, for an average of almost four birds per hunter.
WDFW's Skagit Wildlife Area Manager John Garrett reported excellent local waterfowl hunting, with many limits of ducks checked. Overall, however, waterfowl hunting was slow due to warm, sunny weather throughout the North Puget Sound Region, said WDFW Wildlife Biologist Ruth Milner. Pheasant hunting was popular on the Snoqualmie Wildlife Area's release site which opened Sept. 30, with hunters well-informed and supportive of the new non-toxic shot requirement there.
WDFW's Region 6 (Olympic Peninsula/South Sound) Wildlife Program Manager Jack Smith reported that the opening of pheasant hunting at the Dungeness Recreation Area release site saw about 50 hunters each day of the weekend, averaging the "normal" one bird apiece. Dungeness is the only one of the region's pheasant release sites that opened Oct. 7, rather than Sept. 30. Four sites now require non-toxic shot, Smith noted, and hunter compliance with the new rule has been excellent. There were few waterfowl hunting checks on Saturday, Smith said, when warm and sunny weather didn't bode well for bagging birds. Ducks are abundant, however, especially in the South Puget Sound lowlands, Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor areas.
Waterfowl hunters in the Grays Bay and Cathlamet areas of the lower Columbia River averaged almost 2.5 ducks each in the opener. Fred Dobler, WDFW's wildlife program manager in the Region 5 (Southwest Washington), reported that 18 hunters were checked at Grays Bay with 44 ducks, mostly pintails, mallards, and wigeon. Pintails are so numerous in that area, he said, that hunters need to be cautious about identifying ducks before shooting; only one of the seven-duck daily bag limit can be a pintail. Vancouver lowlands waterfowl hunting was slow. Regional pheasant release sites saw average pressure and harvest.
Upland game bird and waterfowl hunting seasons continue through the year or beyond in most parts of Washington. Details about hunter access, pheasant release sites, and specific rules can be obtained at WDFW regional offices or through WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/waterfowl.
Compliance with new non-toxic shot requirements on 10 state pheasant release sites and wildlife areas was high. Volunteers with groups such as Pheasants Forever helped WDFW distribute steel shot shells and information at non-toxic shot sites on youth hunt and pheasant opening days. Federal Cartridge, Bismuth Cartridge Co. and Kent Cartridge America also donated shot shells for pheasant and other upland hunters to use on the new areas.