This is a multi-part series about the 2016 Washington hunting prospects.
Fish and Wildlife biologists put forth their best predictions or prospects for the upcoming hunting season. These are presented here with comments and notes from Garnet and Dennis.
Note: Remember, these only prospects and the information presented here is not all of the information available.
District 5: Grant and Adams counties
Grant County was Washington’s top pheasant producing county in 2015. Hunters bagged 6,862 birds in Grant County and 1,470 in Adams County for a total harvest of 8,332 pheasants.
Harvest decreased compared to the previous five-year average, down 26 percent for Adams County and 25 percent for Grant County, but hunter participation declined compared to the previous five-year average as well, down 19 percent for Adams County and 17 percent for Grant County.
The largest wild populations of pheasants on Fish and Wildlife lands in District 5 are likely to be found within the Desert Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex between Potholes Reservoir and the town of George.
Mixed bags of wild and released birds are also likely to be had in the Lower Crab Creek, Gloyd Seeps, Quincy, Buckshot, Warden and Dry Falls units.
For wild birds, dense thickets of Russian olive and cattail associated with Frenchman and Winchester Wasteways and ponds are likely to hold pheasants. Hunters will increase their odds greatly with a well-trained dog to both flush and retrieve the birds in dense cover. Pheasants are strong runners, so moving quickly and quietly can improve the odds of getting a close shot.
January and March precipitation levels were close to twice historic averages, although April through June levels were well below average. Wet conditions improve invertebrate productivity, which are a critical dietary component of young pheasant chicks.
Hunters can expect similar numbers of wild pheasants as was observed during the 2015 season. Most hunters who invest considerable effort and cover a lot of ground will cross paths with a few wild birds. Hunters can increase their chances for a productive hunt by selecting non-toxic shot and diversifying the bag with waterfowl.
The eastern Washington regular pheasant season begins Oct. 22 and continues through Jan. 16. A youth season is scheduled for Sept. 17 and 18. A five day hunt for hunters 65 years and older and hunters with disabilities is scheduled for Sept 19 through 23.
Grant County is consistently Washington’s top duck producing county and 2015 was no different. Last year, hunters harvested 74,263 ducks in Grant County. Adams County hunters added 14,005 ducks for a district total of 88,268. This represents a 14 percent and a 23 percent increase in harvest for Grant and Adams counties, respectively. Both counties are above the five-year average.
Grant County was Washington’s top goose producing county in 2015 as well. Last year, hunters harvested 17,984 geese in Grant County. Adams County hunters added 2,863 geese for a district total of 20,847. This represents a 22 percent increase for Grant County and a 14 percent increase for Adams County, which makes both above the five-year average.
Migration, which peaks in November, will bring the best waterfowl hunting in the basin, as large numbers of mallards, wigeon, gadwalls, teal, scaup, redheads, and canvasbacks arrive from northern breeding grounds.
Until this time, hunters must rely on locally produced birds and early season migrants, such as American wigeon and green-winged teal. December typically provides the peak of mallards, ringnecks, and canvasbacks, while other dabbling and diving species continue their journey south.
Goose hunting will typically improve in November, when early season migrant Canada geese begin to scatter from their initial staging area at Stratford Lake to alfalfa or grain fields within feeding distance from Moses Lake and the Columbia River.
Scouting is often the key to successful waterfowl hunting. Ample opportunity exists for public waterfowl hunts, but hunters should first identify where birds are feeding and roosting. Feeding flights for ducks typically occur very early in the morning and late in the evening, lasting for an hour or so.
There is always good opportunity to harvest waterfowl during opening weekend in the Columbia Basin. A harvest rate of slightly above three ducks per person is common from year to year for the first weekend of the general waterfowl season.
Mallard, teal, American wigeon, and gadwall are among the species most commonly encountered. Also, wood ducks can be found in fair numbers concentrating in stands of flooded Russian olive trees in the early season. Late in the season, when snow is on the ground and conditions are harsh, ducks are likely to feed more during the day while the snow is soft or will seek out fields grazed by cattle, so they can access the snow-buried corn kernels.
Knowing when and where ducks are feeding and which direction they depart will help hunters determine the best locations to intercept the duck traffic with a spread of decoys.
Setting up a decoy spread on a pond between the feeding and roosting sites will generally result in some good shooting, particularly when conditions are favorable, with wind, snow or fog.
One of the more popular waterfowl hunting areas is Potholes Reservoir. The abundance of small sand dune islands, where hunters find cover, makes this an attractive area to many hunters. Most hunters use the northern portion of the reservoir, where they find shallower water and numerous islands.
Hunting pressure and competition for the best locations on Potholes Reservoir is high. Hunters new to the reservoir should be aware that potholes reservoir water levels do increase dramatically through the hunting season.
Next week: 2016 hunting prospects continued.