Duck Lore Breakdown: Episode 5, Eastern Washington

Welcome to Duck Lore Breakdown, a series of articles that will correspond to each episode of Duck Lore. In these articles, we’ll go deeper than the show, going over the weather and hunting conditions, the target species and their environment, as well as the 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 Wigeons, Pintails, Green-winged Teals, and of course Mallards. While these ducks are common on all migratory routes, wigeons and ducks are especially prolific in the Pacific.

These ducks often eat seeds in shallow wetlands and agricultural fields. This area has the right mix of large reservoirs, rivers, wetlands, and agriculture to attract them by the thousands.

The dry side of Washington state is also known for large populations of geese that roost in the large rivers and eat in the nearby irrigated cornfields. Our friend Trevor Austin from Pacific Calls made sure to plan the hunt for some honks and babblers. Geese in this area cover a wide range of subspecies, including crowing, snow, and lesser and giant Canadas.

The state of migration
On this hunt, we missed the migration entirely. Our first day there we found a lot of birds and heard a lot of gunshots, but these flocks almost moved on for the next two days. In addition to the birds seeming to leave, the weather turned hot and stuffy, and we continued to see fewer and fewer birds during our trip. The weather was atypical for Veterans Day; In most years, the first major winter storm of the season hits around November 11, a gloomy but memorable migration day for many waterfowl and waterfowl.

weather conditions
Wind: Light and variable Sunny High temperature: 55 Low temperature: 30

Sean’s Hunting Notes
Today Jason Phelps and I headed out to the reservoir where we had scouted the morning before. When we were here yesterday we heard hundreds of shots, if not a thousand, and saw ducks flying around the swamp constantly. Sitting down to observe we found a group of mallards and wigeons nestled between some islands far from any hunter. We chose that area for the first morning. We expected today’s hunt to be quick and easy, given what we had witnessed.

Instead, today’s hunt turned out to be very different from yesterday’s scout. We only saw a handful of mallard ducks all morning, compared to the thousands we saw yesterday. We put together a good hunt for some wigeons, teals, and ducktails, and were almost done with our limit of seven birds each. But we didn’t even catch a mallard after hunting most of the day and leaving no time to explore the afternoon flight.

weather conditions
Wind: NE @ 0-5 mph Overcast and light rain High Temp: 50 Low Temp: 33

Sean’s Hunting Notes
Conditions started just as we expected. It was damp, cool and a good breeze was blowing when we loaded the truck. It was one of those mornings that made us wonder if the rain would turn to snow. As we lowered the boat into the water, I thought about how this was the little front we needed to get the birds moving again, if they were still here. But we never got far enough to find out. The boat’s engine died during our run around the lake and never came back on. We spent close to two hours paddling back to the boat ramp with a Weatherby shotgun and a swamp seat. Needless to say, there was no hunting today.

**Weather Conditions** Wind: S @ 3-9 mph Sunny and Frosty High Temp: 50 Low Temp: 30

Sean’s Hunting Notes
After our boat engine failed, I called Trevor at Pacific Calls. First, he was seeking advice on a ship mechanic. When it turned out that there was no chance of our boat being fixed in a day or two, the conversation turned to goose hunting. We use our afternoon to explore geese with Trevor. The scout made no sense. The birds didn’t fly at all, so our hunt this morning was based on Trevor’s earlier scouting.

Avid goose hunters often end up chasing birds in high-pressure areas, and that’s exactly what we did. We searched for feathers to find the best spot and hid in blinds arranged at the edge of a “corn circle,” a field irrigated by a center pivot. We used a few hundred infills, which are real geese mounted to hunt instead of wall art. We tried our best to make natural skin and natural extension.

For the most part, it didn’t work. The frost was heavy, the wind was nonexistent, the farmer was working in the field, and the geese were stale. Our hunt was suffocated under a lot of things that were out of our control. We even moved the fields at noon, trying to identify exactly what these geese wanted. But, thanks to Trevor’s expert calling, a flock gave us nine passes before finally settling on the lures. 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-won.

Integrated First Lite wading belts
I like to have extra length in my jacket or parka to create good coverage on my back and tailbone. I hunt a lot in blinds set up in cornfields, and a cold breeze on the back is very common without full body insulation. But this extra length becomes a problem when wading through deep water.

The way to fix that is to build a big wader belt into the jacket. The new First Lite Waterproof Waterfowl Jackets have a heavy-duty buckled wading belt that does two things. First of all, it keeps the jacket snug around your waist when you tuck it into your boots, when you’re hunting blind, or when you just want maximum coverage. Second, it allows you to fit the jacket around your chest when you’re in deep water.

When we started talking about this feature, I didn’t think I would use it as much as I did. I’m not a tall guy by any means, a 5 foot 10 duck feather shy, and I end up over my head retrieving ducks far too often. Starting in Nebraska, I wore this wader belt 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 cane goose calls on our hunt. The 206 is a high-pitched song intended for lesser Canada geese, and the Nick Johnson Signature Series is a one-piece song tuned to sound more like a giant Canada song or a traditional horn song. In eastern Washington, you have everything from tiny squawks to 13-pound behemoths, 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 virtually no wind and the ducks were flying fairly low, so this medium to quiet volume instrument 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 used a lot. While I never intended for my shotgun to become a boat paddle, I didn’t feel guilty about doing so. This shotgun was made to shoot accurately and survive the elements, two important factors when choosing a firearm.

FHF chest rig or Bino harness
This search was perfect evidence of why you need a sturdy and affordable organization bag. We walked on foot to look for ducks and stood in standing water for our hunt. Storing gear in 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 needed to cross irrigation lines easily. Two, we had to break up lots of stubble. UTVs are crucial for backcountry hunts because you never worry about getting in and out of the field like you would with a pickup truck. We had no problems with rain and humidity, but we could have had them just as easily.

Tangle-free dead zone design
There are many well-designed blinds on the market, but this might be my favorite. They are incredibly easy to set up and you can even pack them without removing your beard. There are lower profile shades on the market but I find the beard falls off too easily on them.

a work boat
Unfortunately I didn’t have one of these.