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Lots of migrating waterfowl

Duck, goose and swan hunt starts Oct. 5

Plenty of ducks, geese and swans will be available to hunters in Utah this fall. But how long will the birds stay?

A pintail duck migrating through Utah.

Pintail ducks are highly prized among many Utah hunters. Thousands of pintails will migrate through Utah this fall.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

That's something hunters are wondering about as the start of Utah's general waterfowl hunt approaches Oct. 5.

Blair Stringham says this past spring was a good one for waterfowl in the western United States and Canada. That includes waterfowl in Utah.

"In addition to the birds that will migrate through the state," says Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, "plenty of birds were produced locally."

Stringham is concerned, though, that once shooting starts on the marshes, the birds won't have enough places to go to escape the hunting pressure. Having places to escape hunting pressure is important for the birds and for hunters.

When birds have a place to go to escape hunting pressure, they'll remain on those areas for most of the day before flying back into the marshes to feed. When the birds fly back into the marshes, hunters can have some great hunting.

Stringham says being in the right place at the right time is the key to having a successful hunt this fall. "If you're in the marsh at the start of the season," he says, "locally produced birds and early migrants should provide some great hunting."

Once hunting pressure pushes these birds out of Utah, being in the marsh when larger flocks of migrating birds arrive will be the key to success.

"If you're in the marsh when these new groups arrive," he says, "you should have good hunting. The birds probably won't stay long before heading south, though."

Ducks, geese and swans are doing well

Stringham says all duck species, with the exception of scaup, are doing as well or better than they were at this time last year. And so are Canada geese and tundra swans.

"Water conditions were really good last spring in western Alberta, Alaska and Montana, which is where most of the ducks that migrate through Utah come from," he says. "Even though Utah was extremely dry this past spring, enough water was available for ducks to nest and raise their young. Tons of cinnamon teal were raised locally. Plenty of gadwalls, mallards and redheads were raised locally too."

Hunting conditions

Water conditions will improve as the season progresses. Right now, though, almost all of Utah's public hunting areas have at least some areas that are dry. Stringham provides the following highlights:

  • The major ponds on most of the state waterfowl management areas (WMAs), and on the federal Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, have water in them and should attract good numbers of birds during the season. "These areas have some of the best waterfowl habitat in the state right now," Stringham says. "They should draw plenty of birds."

    Stringham says hunting could be especially good at Desert Lake, a WMA southeast of Elmo in east-central Utah.

    "Eastern Utah has received tons of rain lately," he says. "Before the rain, the ponds at Desert Lake were completely dry, with vegetation growing on the bottom of them. Now that the ponds have water in them, the flooded vegetation should attract birds like a magnet."

    You can learn more about water conditions at the state WMAs online.

    Before the Oct. 5 opener, specific water-condition information for each of the WMAs should be available.

  • Notice: The three federal refuges in Utah — Bear River, Fish Springs and Ouray — are closed to hunting until the federal government shutdown is resolved.

  • If your hunting plans include trips to the Farmington Bay WMA or the Ogden Bay WMA, Stringham provides important information about work at both areas this fall:

    • Unit 1 at the Farmington Bay WMA west of Farmington might not have much water in it when the season opens Oct. 5.

      Stringham says work is being done to rebuild some islands on the unit. A new dike is also being built on the southeast side of the unit. The dike will allow biologists to flood the area with water, creating a brand new hunting area at the WMA.

      "To do the work," Stringham says, "personnel had to shut off the supply of water that was coming into the unit. We're hoping to complete the work, and refill the unit with water, before the general hunt opens on Oct. 5. But the unit still might not be completely full."

    • Even bigger changes await those visiting the Ogden Bay WMA west of Hooper. Work that will help the WMA handle flood waters more effectively will start at the beginning of October.

      "We encourage hunters to visit our waterfowl Facebook page to stay updated about changes at the WMA," Stringham says. "Conditions will change throughout the season."

      The Facebook page is available at www.facebook.com/UtahWMAs.

      In 2011, the Weber River rose high enough that WMA personnel decided to breach a dike at the WMA to help alleviate flooding farther up the river. Stringham says the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently provided the DWR with funding for new water control structures and other modifications that will allow flood waters to be handled more efficiently in the future.

      "Once the work is done," he says, "waterfowl and hunters will benefit too. We'll be able to control water better and spread the water better across the entire marsh."

  • Three areas just outside of the state's WMAs—Farmington Bay, Ogden Bay and the Willard Spur—are mostly dry right now. These three areas on Great Salt Lake are important areas for waterfowl. Birds use the areas to escape hunting pressure before returning to the marshes to feed.

More information

To learn more about hunting waterfowl in Utah, see the 2013–2014 Utah Waterfowl Guidebook.

If you have questions about hunting waterfowl in Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.

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