September 13, 2023
From living a subsistence lifestyle in Alaska’s high Arctic, traveling down the coast to the Pacific Northwest, through California and into Mexico’s Baja, I’ve enjoyed some fine waterfowl hunting adventures over the decades. While there are many places on my bucket list yet to explore, here’s a look at some of my most memorable hunts within the Pacific Flyway.
Cold Bay, Alaska
Few experiences match the joy of hunting birds as they stage before a big migration. Duck season in Alaska opens September 1, and Cold Bay — with Izembek Lagoon to the north — is the place to be to witness the big push south. Here, decoying Pacific black brant, Taverner’s geese, cacklers, and a mix of puddle ducks, is the allure. Pintails thrive here by the thousands, and in September wigeon and green-winged teal hunting can be tops.
Early season hunting locales in Izembek Lagoon are reached by boat, and your blind is simply the tall grass lining the shoreline. Toss out a few lines of decoys, adjust them with the moving tide, call a little bit to get the attention of distant birds, and be ready. Keep an eye out for brown bears traveling the shoreline in search of seafood.
In late October and early November, sea ducks begin moving into Cold Bay. Common eider are the big draw, with harlequin and long-tailed ducks bombing into the decoys as you bob in the bay in a layout boat. Scoters can also be had, here.
Brant numbers continue to build on Izembek Lagoon all fall. Tens of thousands of brant now winter here, rather than migrating south. Wigeon, mallards and teal pile-up, too. One morning I took a limit of green-winged teal, including three Eurasians. If you draw an emperor goose tag, Cold Bay is where you want to be.
There’s only one guide I’d hunt with in Cold Bay and Izembek Lagoon, Jeff Wasley of Four Flyways Outfitters. Wasley also guides for prized king eiders on remote Saint Paul Island, and I’ve done this hunt with him. This is all big water with major weather and Wasley is tops for safety and waterfowl hunting knowledge. I’d hunt with him anytime, anywhere.
I grew up hunting the public lands of Oregon and it’s still one of the stronghold’s for do-it-yourself waterfowlers. Summer Lake Wildlife Area was the state’s first wildlife area, established in 1944. It gets a lot of pressure early in the season but if you’re willing to walk or hop on a mountain bike or paddle a low-profile water craft, your odds of killing birds, rises. Later in the season, before freeze-up in late November, the duck and goose hunting can be very good. The Sauvie Island and Fern Ridge wildlife areas offer lottery hunting options that can be good for puddle ducks.
The Columbia River is big and offers good hunting to experienced boaters and kayakers. Islands and leeward inlets are great for plopping decoys. Watch the wind and monitor weather on this river.
On the coast, Tillamook Bay, rivers and lakes along the central coast near Florence, and the Coquille River Valley, offer good public land opportunities. Again, pay attention to storms and know the tides if hunting in the bays and flats.
The northern California coast near Eureka, holds some good brant hunting options. Knowing the tides and having a boat are key to hunting the eel grass bays. I last hunted it with guide, John Corbett (707-496-4699). We shot brant in the morning, set out crab pots then went fishing for halibut. We caught halibut, pulled limits of Dungeness crabs, and did it again the next day, all in the same bay.
I also hunted Aleutian cacklers with Corbett late in the season. This is a private land affair and Corbett has the connections. Virtually every Aleutian goose stages here before the big liftoff to their nesting grounds in Alaska. It’s a depredation hunt and decoying a flock of 5,000 birds is common.
Great Salt Lake
One of my favorite waterfowling destination is the Great Salt Lake, thanks to the variety of species it offers. If you draw a tag, the swan hunting here is tops. Scouting where swans are working and setting up floating decoys from a duck boat is the best approach.
You can also hunt from a duck boat for numerous species of puddle ducks and divers. If serious about divers, take a layout boat into open bays where the divers congregate, toss out a big spread of visible diver decoys and be ready.
The best green-winged teal hunting I’ve ever had was out on the lake in brackish water where birds fed and in freshwater inlets where birds drank. But you need big toys for this one, starting with an air boat, no less than 10 dozen decoys consisting of floaters, silhouettes and motorized wing decoys along with coffins to hunt from in the shallow water and mud. The level of the lake has dropped so much in recent years, an airboat is the only way to access the teal grounds. There are many designated boat ramps to access hunting areas. Learn more through Utah’s Waterfowl Guidebook.
My obsession with brant began in the 1970s when I hunted them while growing up in Oregon. The passion grew deeper when I moved to Alaska’s Arctic and hunted them coming off their nesting grounds on the North Slope in early September.
Recently, I hunted these little geese in Baja, Mexico, in famed San Quintin Bay. If looking for a late season, relaxing, fun hunt with great food, this is it. Brant hunting in San Quintin Bay isn’t a wide-open free-for-all like many people say. It’s very closely regulated and one outfitter controls the hunting in the whole area, Arturo Malo of Baja Hunting.
Brant hunting here is only for a short window on designated days. From November through February, brant hunting takes place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and hunting is finished by noon.
Fly into San Diego where a driver from the outfitter will meet your group and take you directly to a hotel on the bay you’ll be hunting in San Quintin, 170 miles south of the U.S. border. You can also rent a car and drive it. Hunting is booked out two years in advance, so plan ahead.
Hunting brant on falling tides as beds of eel grass become exposed is simple. The action can be fast-paced and the only other shooting you’ll hear on the bay is from your party. Each night we had our brant cooked for us at a local restaurant and it was incredible.
There are many other great places to hunt ducks and geese in the Pacific Flyway, but these are the ones I’m fond of and keep going back to. Plan ahead, do your homework and you might be surprised at what hunting stories you come away with.