Dry Side Ducks
By Gary Lewis
From the outlet of Little Lava Lake, 4,739 feet above sea level, the Deschutes River gets its start. Over the next 252 miles, the river drops 4,579 feet to meet the mighty Columbia.
In its upper reaches, it's a placid stream that winds its way through the pines, gathering its power from the Little Deschutes, Fall River. Downstream, it gains momentum as it collects water from Whychus Creek, Crooked River, the Metolius, Willow Creek, Trout Creek and hundreds of smaller streams.
In the high desert, the Deschutes is an important stopover for waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway's southern migration. From the headwaters to the mouth, a hunter may find ducks anywhere between the banks of the Deschutes River.
On the upper river, a canoe might be the best choice. Ducks can find calm water below the points and around structure. Pay close attention to the shady banks where ducks feed close to shore among the roots of the pine trees. Hug the inside turns as long as possible. They won't see you until you're almost on them.
Below Wickiup Reservoir, the Tenino ramp provides access to several miles down to Pringle Falls. Between Tetherow boat ramp and Sunriver, there are nice bends and productive backwaters, but there are also houses along the river and it is best to keep the gun below the gunnels while in residential environs. From the last house below Sunriver, there is good duck hunting down to the boat ramp above Benham Falls.
Mallards, mergansers, teal and Canada geese make good use of the lower Deschutes, as well. On this section, a drift boat provides the best stability, while a framed raft is more forgiving. From the ramp at Warm Springs down to the lower reservation boundary below White Horse rapids, the west bank of the river is Indian land and is off-limits.
Downstream from Maupin, drive the east bank of the river to put-ins below Sherar's Falls. From Mack's Canyon to Moody, the river is remote, with no additional boat ramps.
The waterfowl migration coincides with steelhead season. Carry a fishing rod. All boating in this section requires a boater's pass which is available at www.boaterpass.com and local tackle shops. If you're new to the lower Deschutes, float it with someone who knows the rapids before you tackle it on your own.
Remember there is room for only one loaded gun on a boat or canoe. The person in the pilot's seat is responsible for steering and keeping balance. Wear a lifejacket and bring waterproof matches or a lighter to start a fire in case someone goes for an unplanned swim. Watch for underwater snags and be careful climbing in and out of the boat.