Strong start followed by lull in December
So far, 2017 has been a better all-around year for waterfowl hunters around Colusa County when compared with last year, including on public lands, where hunters have harvested 23 percent more total birds than they had at this point last season.
The Colusa, Delevan, and Sacramento National Wildlife refuges, combined, have harvested a combined total of 29,453 waterfowl through the tenth week of the season, up from 23,956 in the year prior. The duck harvest on the three refuges is up to 25,671 this year, compared with 22,288 last year. So far, 3,782 geese have been taken at the refuges this season, up from 1,668. The cumulative number of hunters throughout the three refuges is nearly identical to last year, which means the bird-to-hunter averages are higher than last year, too.
Steve Emmons, the refuge manager at Delevan and Sacramento, said that the number of birds surveyed on those refuges have been pretty similar to last year, particularly at Sacramento.
“On Delevan, the numbers are probably a little higher than they were last year, for both ducks and geese,” Emmons said. “On Sac, it’s fairly similar to the same time as last year. Compared to the two years of the drought years, those years in particular saw a shift overall of ducks and geese over to the east side of Sacramento River, because there was more rice over there during the drought. This year, we’re seeing some of that. Particularly in the fly off, ducks are heading east, and over to other side of Sacramento River.”
The big story so far this season has been a big up-tick in the goose harvest, which has helped to buoy the total harvest numbers on area refuges, especially at Sacramento and Delevan.
While the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge has seen comparable numbers of ducks harvested, more than twice as many geese have been taken this season. Delevan’s duck harvest is up about 15 percent from last year, while the goose harvest is up 137 percent, from 646 at this point last season to 1,534 this year.
“I would say (the number of geese spotted in surveys of Delevan and Sac) are probably a little higher,” Emmons said. “We did definitely notice them coming in a couple weeks earlier than normal. But it’s been fairly similar, maybe a little but higher… I think early in the season when they first arrived, we saw large numbers of white-fronted geese. We haven’t reached the kind of numbers that are on breeding grounds for snow geese, but the population is up in this area. Generally, once the snow geese arrive, they act as bullies and push some of the white-fronts off. We do still have white-fronts, but not in the numbers that we had at the beginning of the year.”
Colusa, which typically doesn’t shoot as many geese, has seen the greatest proportional increase in goose harvest – four times that of last year – up from 86 to 430 this season.
“The snow geese came in hot and heavy early this year,” said Sebastian Medina Jr., who hunts on private land near Princeton and in the Sutter Basin, near Robbins. “Their population seemed like it was mid-December numbers in the opening weekend.”
Medina added that he thought duck numbers were comparable to recent years, but noted that the season had hit a bit of a standstill recently in Princeton due to a lack of winter weather.
“We’re sort of just waiting for a new push of birds to come down. We’ve gotten quite a bit of north wind for three weeks now. People have had some good goose hunts, but there’s not as many ducks out and about,” Medina said.
Brett Gomes, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Game Warden in Colusa County, agreed that good hunting in the area has been tied to the weather, which recently hasn’t been very conducive to duck hunting.
“I’ll be honest: the duck numbers don’t look good. The closed zones are just starting to get fed out, and that’s why the refuge has been shooting pretty good. I predict it will only get better as the season goes on,” Gomes said, adding that the goose hunting had been good on both Colusa and Delevan recently.
While the refuge harvest numbers are not always an accurate indicator of the overall duck harvest, many private land waterfowl hunters like Medina have seen a similar trend – especially those with spots near the refuges.
“It’s been hit and miss so far,” said Casey Stafford, manager of Outdoor Adventures, the exclusive guide service of the Colusa Indian Community. “We had good Mallard numbers early. Right now, we’re having to wade through pintails to get to anything else. The key right now is being next to the Delevan, Sacramento or Colusa refuges. I think there’s plenty of birds around. Delevan and Colusa are holding a lot of birds, but they’re just sitting. That’s the problem – these birds are stale. If we get a change in weather, that will stir them up and people will realize they are here.”■