Dry summer likely means less areas to hunt waterfowl
Look carefully at the word waterfowl and it is easy to understand just how important the wet stuff is for migrating ducks and geese.
Utah's waterfowl hunting season opens Oct. 5, and water will be the key to success before it wraps up in early 2014.
Hunters who find water likely will find birds. Those who find areas where water has been available all the summer may fare even better.
"A lot of the traditional holding areas around the Great Salt Lake have been pretty dry for a good part of the summer," said Blair Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). "It means less areas for the birds to go and it might mean that migrating birds might move through quicker than they do on wet years."
Recent rains and water management have filled some ponds on popular hunting marshes, but even those areas may be overlooked by ducks and geese.
"Long-term weed growth is important for waterfowl, particularly migrating waterfowl," Stringham said. "Recently flooded areas won't hold the same number of birds as those that had water all summer."
Officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge west of Brigham City say water conditions are improving as the season opener approaches, but conditions still are variable.
"Although the water across many units in the refuge is still low, we are seeing a lot of birds in the units where there is water," Bear River Refuge wildlife enforcement officer Greg Mullin said.
Hunters will notice mostly dry conditions on the north leg of the auto tour loop at the refuge due to construction of a new water control structure.
Improvements also likely will impact hunters at the popular Farmington Bay and Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management areas.
Unit 1 at Farmington Bay may have low water on the opener due to work to rebuild islands on the unit and a new dike being built on the southeast side of the unit. Once completed, the new dike will allow managers to flood the area and create a new hunting area.
Work is schedule to begin in early October to help control floor waters at Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area. Stringham said waterfowl hunters may want to check into the DWR's Waterfowl page on Facebook for updates on conditions and reports on the waterfowl management areas.
Water conditions are not much of an issue in the popular hunting areas of southern Utah. Places like Desert Lake Wildlife Management Area near Elmo were dry, but the heavy recent rains in southern Utah have filled the ponds there and at other locations.
"The monsoon rainstorms of the last month or two have been quite favorable," Stringham said. "Seasonal wetlands have an incredible amount of water."
State and federal biologists agree that the local Utah production of ducks and geese was at least as good as last year, and Ducks Unlimited reports that breeding on the Pacific Flyway included an estimated 4.5 million ducks. That is similar to last year's numbers.
Stringham said hunters need to be aware of a couple of changes in the bag limits and the goose season.
The possession limit in Utah has increased to three times the daily bag limit. The scaup limit dropped from seven birds to three, and shooting scaups will be illegal after Dec. 29.
The daily bag limit on wood ducks also dropped from seven birds to two.
There are also now three goose areas with three different dates. The northern goose area runs Oct. 5 to Jan. 18, 2014. The General Goose Area will be open Oct. 5 to 17 and Oct. 26 to Jan. 26, 2014. The Urban Goose Area including Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Washington counties will run Oct. 5 to 17 and Oct. 26 to Jan. 26, 2014.
"The new Urban zone is mostly along the Wasatch Front counties. The 2 1/2 week break allows us to go deeper into the year," Stringham said.