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Hunting highlights – December 2023
Monthly recreation opportunities by region

Late Season Waterfowl

Late season tips that may get more visitors to your hunting blind set-up

By Kelly Riordan/WDFW

Winter is here and with cold fronts pushing through the Pacific Northwest, flocks of fowl will follow (that’s lots of F’s). As the waterfowl season progresses, hunting can be a mix of extraordinary to downright dismal. Let’s explore a few late season topics that may get a few ducks or geese to visit your hunting blind setup.

First, the legalities.

Make sure that you have the appropriate license for waterfowl. A small game license and State Migratory Bird Permit, paired with the Federal Duck Stamp is required. If hunting for sea duck species the Migratory Bird Authorization with the appropriate Harvest Report Card is also required. Additionally, if hunting where the Southwest Canada Goose identification test is required, the SW Canada Goose Harvest Report Card is needed to hunt. Consult the 2023-24 Washington Game Bird & Small Game Regulations for all the details. 

Location will be important.

Factors like migratory patterns, food sources, and hunting pressure will affect where waterfowl congregate. This is the perfect opportunity to utilize the WDFW Private Lands hunting access program. Keep in mind that Western and Eastern Washington hold different property habitats. For example, on the westside, waterfowl may be more prevalent around saltwater marshy areas and bays, while eastside birds may group up along the Columbia River or in open agricultural fields.

Staying dry and warm is imperative.

Gear is key as weather may be downright miserable. Investing in waders is a great idea and layering underneath will keep hunters in the field longer. Today, there are a lot of lightweight kayaks that can easily be setup for waterfowl hunting. Spray paint and aftermarket camo netting effectively break up the form and allow you to blend into just about any habitat. They also serve several functions, including mobility, comfort, staying dry and warm, and duck retrieval for those hunting without dogs. To keep gear organized and protected from the elements, dry bags are a good idea and don’t forget to pack hand warmers.

This hunter blends in well with the low profile of winter cattails. (Chase Gunnell/WDFW)

A lightweight camouflaged kayak offers a low-profile hunting blind and stealthy mobility to retrieve your ducks. (Chase Gunnell/WDFW)

Decoys and calling may determine late season success.

There are two thoughts on decoys this time of year. Many ducks and geese have already witnessed tons of decoys and set ups so you may find that using fewer decoys do the trick to pull in birds. This is great for first time waterfowl hunters as they may not have acquired dozens of decoys. Ducks especially, can get wary of elaborate decoy set ups and may “flare” away and avoid your spread. Yet, seeing only a few (4-12) decoys may entice them to join the small flock.

On the other hand, try putting out every decoy available (100+) and make passing birds comfortable to land. It is no secret that if a migrating duck or goose sees a massive grouping of birds, they may feel it is a good time to join the crowd. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd, right? Additionally, adding in a “jerk rig” to the set up is a good idea and gives motion to decoys. Motorized and/or electric waterfowl decoys are not legal in most cases in Washington, so the only way to get some movement is to use wind powered or pull-string decoys.

Calling away on a favorite duck or goose call is fun and does work much of the time. However, waterfowl have been listening to every manner of human powered call since October and even the most realistic sounding quack, honk, or whistle may be a red flag. Little to no calling may be the best idea during late season. Be patient with circling birds as they most likely have been educated on calling.

Take advantage of Washington’s fantastic diversity of waterfowl. Hunters have, for most seasons, until the end of January to harvest ducks and geese. For more helpful information, check out the WDFW website and YouTube pages. To sign up for a hunter education class, click here.

A “less is more” approach to decoy spreads can turn ducks into your setup. (Kelly Riordan/WDFW)

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