Float-Hunting for Ducks
By Gary Lewis
When leaves turn to gold and skeins of waterfowl are on the wing, it's time to take your shotgun and camouflage out of the closet. Waterfowl season is here and there's no better place to slow down and focus on the hunt than on a river. If you don't have a dog or the patience to watch decoys but still want to hunt, try float-hunting for ducks in a canoe or drift boat.
Stream levels are down this year in many parts of the state. To float rivers like the Owyhee and the John Day, you may have to wait until after the first fall rains. In eastern Oregon, you can also drift for ducks in the Deschutes and on parts of the Crooked River.
West of the mountains, the Pudding, Clackamas, Willamette and Yamhill Rivers offer good hunting for waterfowl. Many lakes also provide good float-hunting opportunities.
It's not as simple as just finding a body of water with ducks on it. Jump-shooting requires the ability to move in close enough for a shot. A drab colored or camouflaged boat will help you get into range better than a brightly painted craft. Draw straws to determine the first shooter. Then trade places after an hour or so.
Select a body of water with plenty of cover for the birds to hide. Preferably one with back-eddies or small inlets, where the birds can rest away from wind and current. Move quietly and wait until they flush. Keep in mind, there may be other hunters on the water. If those ducks you're watching aren't moving, it might be because they're decoys.
In Zone 1 (western Oregon and the Columbia Gorge) you can hunt Oregon ducks this season from October 15 until October 30, and from November 2 through January 29. In Zone 2 (central and eastern Oregon) the season runs from October 8 through December 6 and December 9 through January 22. The limit is 7 per day and 14 in possession. Note that there are special regulations for hunting canvasbacks. Check the Oregon Game Bird Regulations for details.
To hunt ducks you need a State waterfowl stamp, an HIP (Oregon's Harvest Information Program) validation and a Federal duck stamp. If you plan to hunt close to a residential area, contact the nearest office of the Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out if there are any no-shooting zones that may apply.
In a canoe on a river, there's a sense of freedom, of life at a slower pace, moving with the speed of the water. It's something about climbing in the boat at dawn and loading a shotgun while your breath turns to fog in icy air.
Listen to the water running off the paddle. Adventure waits around the next bend. It's about the solitude found on the river and a sudden rush of wings against an autumn sky.