Welcome to the Duck Lore Breakdown, an article series that will correspond to each episode of Duck Lore. In these articles, we’re going a layer deeper than the show, and we’ll go through the weather and hunt conditions, the target species and their environment, as well as episode-specific gear that was used and the technology of some of that gear.
Duck Lore Season 1 Episode 5: Eastern Washington
The Target Species On our trip to Eastern Washington, our target species were largely puddle ducks, the mainstays of the Pacific Flyway. These include wigeon, pintails, green-winged teal, and, of course, mallards. While these ducks are common in all the flyways, wigeon and pintails are especially prolific in the Pacific.
These ducks usually eat seeds in shallow wetlands and agricultural fields. This area has the right combination of big reservoirs, rivers, wetlands, and agriculture to attract them by the thousands.
The dry side of Washington State is also known for big populations of geese that roost on the big rivers and eat in irrigated cornfields nearby. Our friend Trevor Austin of Pacific Calls made sure to plan on hunting some honkers as well as quackers. The geese in this area cover a broad range of subspecies, including cackling geese, snows, and lesser and giant Canadas.
The Status of the Migration On this hunt, we missed the migration completely. Our first day there, we found lots of birds and heard lots of shooting, but these flocks all but moved out over the next two days. On top of the birds seemingly leaving, the weather got warm and stale, and we continued to see fewer and fewer birds throughout our trip. The weather was atypical for Veteran’s Day; in most years, the first major winter storm of the season hits close to November 11, a somber and yet memorable migration day for many waterfowl and waterfowlers.
Weather Conditions Wind: Light and Variable Sunny High Temp: 55 Low Temp: 30
Sean’s Hunt Notes Today, Jason Phelps and I headed out on the reservoir where we’d scouted the previous morning. When we were here yesterday, we heard hundreds of shots if not a thousand and watched ducks fly around the marsh constantly. By sitting and watching we found a group of mallards and wigeon nestled between some islands far from any hunters. We picked that area for the first morning. We expected today’s hunt to be quick and easy, given what we’d witnessed.
Instead, today’s hunt proved to be much different than yesterday’s scout. We only saw a handful of mallards all morning, compared to the thousands we saw yesterday. We pieced together a good hunt from some wigeon, teal, and pintails, and almost ended with our limit of seven birds apiece. But we never even decoyed a mallard after hunting most of the day and leaving ourselves no time to scout the afternoon flight.
Weather Conditions Wind: NE @ 0-5 mph Cloudy and Light Rain High Temp: 50 Low Temp: 33
Sean’s Hunt Notes Conditions started off just how we’d hoped. It was wet, cool, and a good breeze was blowing when we loaded up the truck. It was one of those mornings that had us wondering if the rain would turn to snow. As we backed the boat into the water, I thought about how this was the little front we needed to get the birds back on the move—if they were even still here. But we never made it far enough to find out. The boat motor cut out on us during our run across the lake and never started back up again. We spent close to two hours paddling back to the boat ramp with a Weatherby shotgun and a marsh seat. Needless to say, no hunting happened today.
**Weather Conditions ** Wind: S @ 3-9 mph Sunny and Frosty High Temp: 50 Low Temp: 30
Sean’s Hunt Notes After our boat engine failure, I called up Trevor from Pacific Calls. First, I was looking for advice on a boat mechanic. When it turned out that there was no chance of our boat getting fixed in the next day or two, the conversation turned to goose hunting. We used our afternoon to scout geese with Trevor instead. The scout was pointless. The birds didn’t fly at all, so our hunt this morning was based on Trevor’s previous scouting.
Avid goose hunters often end up chasing birds in heavily pressured areas, and that’s exactly what we did. We looked for feathers to find the best spot and hid in layout blinds on the edge of a “corn circle,” a field irrigated by a center pivot. We used a few hundred stuffers, which are real geese mounted for hunting instead of wall art. We did our best to make a natural hide and natural spread.
For the most part, it didn’t work. The frost was heavy, the wind nonexistent, the farmer was working the field, and the geese were stale. Our hunt suffocated under a pile of things that were out of our control. We even moved fields at noon, trying to key in on exactly what these geese wanted. But, thanks to Trevor’s expert calling, one flock gave us nine passes before finally settling into the decoys. We didn’t do our full part as hunters, but we each shot one. It wasn’t exactly a lights-out hunt, but the few successes we did have were hard earned.
The Gear Breakdown
First Lite Built-in Wading Belts I like to have extra length in my jacket or parka to create good back and tailbone coverage. I hunt in layout blinds in cornfields a lot, and a cold breeze down the back is all too common without full-body insulation. But this extra length becomes a problem when wading in deep water.
The way to fix that is to build a heck of a wader belt into the jacket. The new First Lite waterproof waterfowl jackets have a heavy-duty buckled wading belt that serves two functions. First, it keeps the jacket down tight around the waist when you tuck it into your waders, when you’re hunting in a layout blind, or when you just want maximum coverage. Second, it allows you to tighten the jacket up around your chest when you’re wading in deep water.
When we first started talking about this feature, I didn’t think I’d use it as much as I did. I’m not a tall guy by any means, a duck feather shy of 5-foot-10, and I end up over my head retrieving ducks far too often. Starting in Nebraska, I used this wader belt up around my chest for the rest of the season.
Pacific Calls Nick Johnson Signature Series and 206 Lesser Goose Call Trevor Austin used two short-reed goose calls on our hunt. The 206 is a high-pitched call meant for lesser Canada geese, and the Nick Johnson Signature Series is a one-piece call tuned to sound more like a giant Canada or a traditional honker call. In Eastern Washington, you have everything from little peeping cacklers to 13-pound giants, so you need a variety of goose calls tuned for different uses.
Phelps Game Calls PD-1 Single Reed Duck Call I used the Phelps Single Reed on our first day of duck hunting. There was practically no wind and the ducks were flying pretty low, so this quiet- to mid-volume instument was perfect for this hunt.
Weatherby Tungsten Element Don’t get me wrong, I love a beautiful shotgun. But, day in and day out, a shotgun is a tool, a tool that gets a lot of use. While I never intended for my shotgun to become a boat paddle, I didn’t feel guilty doing it. This shotgun was made to shoot true and survive the elements, two important factors when I choose a firearm.
FHF Chest Rig or Bino Harness This hunt was the perfect evidence of why you need a sturdy, reachable organization pouch. We walked on foot to scout ducks and we stood in standing water for our hunt. Storing gear on your chest was a necessity, and these two pieces made that happen.
Can-Am Defender We used the Can-Am Defender on this goose hunt for two reasons: One, we had to cross irrigation tracks with ease. Two, we had to rip over piles of stubble. UTVs are crucial for on-field hunts because you’ll never worry about getting in and out of the field like you would with a pickup. We didn’t run into rain and moisture problems, but we just as easily could have.
Tanglefree Dead Zone Layout Blind There are a lot of good layout blinds on the market, but this might be my favorite. They’re incredibly easy to set up, and you can even pack them up without removing the stubble. There are lower-profile blinds on the market, but I think the stubble falls out of them too easily.
A Working Boat Sadly, I didn’t have one of these.