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S-R Hunting Outlook 2020: Plentiful migratory birds en route; good local duck hatch

Alan Liere, in the blind, watches his yellow Labrador Jill as she completes a retrieve on a widgeon. Jill’s looking back at another duck that needs to be retrieved.  (George Twigg/courtesy)
Alan Liere, in the blind, watches his yellow Labrador Jill as she completes a retrieve on a widgeon. Jill’s looking back at another duck that needs to be retrieved. (George Twigg/courtesy)
By Alan Liere For The Spokesman-Review

Washington offers a wide variety of waterfowl hunting options, ranging from deep saltwater areas to dry land agricultural fields. The many types of habitat in the state support opportunities for waterfowl ranging from mallards, Canada geese and snow geese, to sea ducks and brant.

Washington plays a significant role in the migratory bird pathway known as the Pacific Flyway, and typically ranks second among the 12 western states in waterfowl abundance, hunter numbers and harvest.


The Washington waterfowl general hunting season begins Oct. 17 with just a few early and late exceptions. Duck hunters will have a limit of seven birds, only one of which may be a pintail and only two of which may be a hen mallard, scaup, canvasback or redhead.

The season runs through Oct. 25, closes for a few days and reopens Oct. 28, continuing through the end of January 2021. Scaup do not open until Nov. 7. On the east side of the state, a youth-only hunting day for geese only is Sept. 26 (Canadas and whitefronts), and on Oct. 3, a one-day duck and goose hunt. Feb. 6 will be a one-day hunt for youth, veterans and active military.

General season goose hunting in Eastern Washington will begin in Goose Management Area 4 on the same days as ducks and will be allowed on Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays and special holidays and every day Jan. 25-31.

In Area 5, the general season goose season will run every day from Oct. 17-Nov. 2 and Nov. 7-Jan. 31. The limit for geese will be four Canadas, six white and 10 whitefronts (specklebellies) daily.

A full description of Washington game bird seasons and bag limits can be found on the WDFW website (


Big numbers of white-fronted and white geese in Eastern Washington are a fairly recent phenomena, and good numbers were taken last year near Moses Lake and the Tri-Cities. Most goose hunters will agree that whitefronts are the best eating of all geese.

Farmers in central Alberta say they haven’t seen so much standing water or so many ducks in many years. When cold weather chases them out, hunting ramps up in Eastern Washington.

Given the limited number of local nesting ducks in Spokane, Lincoln and Whitman counties, good waterfowl hunting is dependent upon these migrants, but there has been a good local hatch and early season hunting should be good. Long Lake (Lake Spokane) can be good when the small ponds freeze. Rock and Sprague lakes don’t attract many ducks, but can hold a lot of geese.

There are numerous options available to duck and goose hunters on public land in Eastern Washington. WDFW wildlife areas are good places to start, as are other state lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

Waterfowl hunting opportunities are also available on several National Wildlife Refuges and properties managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Check out WDFW’s Hunt Regulation web map for details.

In late September, migrating birds will boost numbers in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Walla Walla counties and numbers will continue to increase until they peak in late October and early November. In general, concentrations are in the wetlands and rivers around McNary National Wildlife Refuge and the Columbia and Snake River valleys.

Grant County is Eastern Washington’s top duck producer, averaging just under 70,000 birds harvested annually. Yakima County is a distant second at 30,000. Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir and the creeks and wasteways connecting them have always been the best in the state for ducks. Grant County is also the state’s top goose-hunting spot, with an average annual harvest of more than 17,000 birds. Franklin County is second with 7,300.

The upper Pend Oreille River, from Newport downstream to Usk, probably offers the best general waterfowl hunting opportunity within Northeast Washington. Outside of the east shoreline, alongside the Kalispell Indian Reservation, most of the river itself is open for hunting, along with a number of islands.

There are also Pend Oreille Public Utility District lands, as well as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge land (the Cusick Unit) open to public hunting. During peak migration periods in December a lot of redheads and goldeneyes show up. Canada geese are also numerous.

Lake Roosevelt up to the 1,310-foot elevation contour is mostly federally owned and managed by the National Park Service. Much of the lake shore also borders the Colville and Spokane Indian Reservations, however, and in these areas the tribes manage the shoreline and where you can legally hunt waterfowl is complicated. Call the National Park Service in Kettle Falls at (509) 738-6266 for clarification. Canada geese can occur in high numbers during peak migration.

Okanogan County offers modest waterfowl hunting opportunities. The largest concentrations of birds occur at the mouth of the Okanogan River and on the Columbia River. The main stem of the Okanogan and Upper Similkameen rivers and the larger lakes and potholes in the Okanogan watershed are good secondary sites.

Good public river access is found at the Washburn Island Unit of the Wells Wildlife Area, the Driscoll-Eyhott Island Unit of the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, and the Similkameen-Chopaka Unit of the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area.

Most waterfowl harvest in Chelan County is focused along the Columbia River and dictated by local weather patterns. The Columbia River is also the primary site for waterfowl hunting in Douglas County. A popular and productive place for waterfowl hunting is the Bridgeport Bar Unit, where ducks form large rafts on the Brewster pool.

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