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Dig out the deeks and limber up those duck calls – the desert zone waterfowl hunting takes flight on Oct. 23 and closes on Jan. 31, but the best hunting may still be in the high country.
A lot of waterfowl hunters have already been taking advantage of the mountain zone waterfowl opportunities. Now the season has shifted to the lower elevations as well.
Randy Babb, an Arizona Game and Fish biologist and veteran duck hunter, said waterfowl reproduction estimates for this year are good in North America, with most species showing an increase in numbers. Summer surveys this year indicated nesting was generally up.
“A common problem we experience in Arizona, despite nesting success, is warm winter weather. Often warm winters in the western states will ‘short-stop’ much of the migrating waterfowl before they make it to the southern U.S. So while states north of us (Utah, Nevada, etc.) enjoy fantastic hunting, we experience sporadic shooting at best,” Babb pointed out.
On the other hand, he said, if warm weather keeps Arizona’s high country waters open, many ducks and geese will spend the winter there rather than migrating to lower elevations.
“Simply put, many migrating waterfowl species go no farther south than they have to. If we have a warm winter, our state’s high elevations will likely offer the best hunting,” Babb said.
The early part of the season offers the best opportunities for some of the early migrants like cinnamon and blue-wing teal. November is usually when waterfowl hunting in the desert areas really picks up.
”At this time free water at northern latitudes typically becomes scarce, forcing birds southward to seek feeding and resting areas. Mornings after big winter storms and severe cold snaps are often an excellent time to check desert stock ponds for ducks,” Babb said.
Decoys will prove useful on central Arizona lakes, rivers, and ponds. “If you are decoying, you’ll want to start early. Have your decoys set and your blind built before legal shooting time comes. Once again, a little scouting will be a big help in finding a productive shooting spot,” Babb said.
Ducks tend to congregate in backwaters, slow runs on rivers, and sheltered areas on lakes such as coves and the mouths of rivers and creeks.
“With some scouting you will discover that though there may be several spots that seem to look good and are used by ducks, there is one or a few spots that they prefer. Set out your decoys and build your blind while it is still dark so you will be situated at legal shooting time,” he advises.
Typically the best shooting is in the first couple of hours of the day, so it is important to be ready by legal shooting time. “On a typical duck hunt, shooting is usually over by 10 or 11 a.m. Geese generally fly a little later than ducks, but you’ll still want to be prepared by first light,” Babb said.
Ducks will tend to move more in inclement weather, so shooting often lasts longer on these days. “Ducks have excellent eyesight and color vision, so keep this in mind when hunting them. Camouflage is recommended. It is also very important to remain motionless while birds are working the decoys or coming in,” said the veteran waterfowler.
To retrieve downed birds from stock tanks, try using a fishing rod rigged with a topwater plug. Cast over dead birds and reel them in. The same rig fitted with a diving plug will retrieve decoys in deep water by snagging the anchor line. Remember, only non-toxic or steel shot may be used for ducks and geese.