Birds, there are thousands of them, yet I received mixed reports from several hunters about the opener. My clients did well, we spent the best part of shooting hours training a new dog, and steadying a new hunter, but still easily managed a limit before noon.
Most of the other reports I recieved were discourging, which got me wondering what was so different about our experience and theirs...afterall the birds were there?
After careful consideration, I think there are 2 major factors that have played into the upper klamath waterfowl scene for the past couple of years.
The Lower Klamath Refuge is closed due to no water.
There's a ton of water in the upper klamath.
I know, that's a dichotomy that doesn't seem like it should exist, but with the water management in today's klamath basin it exist. Even after an above average snow pack, the Feds have held back the water that fills the the irrigation diches that feed the lower refuge as they try to protect a endangered fish. There is so little water in the lower basin that the refuge shut down waterfowl hunting for the second year in a row. If your not from the basin you probably wouldn't understand the impact that this closer has. There is a huge waterfowling culture that's dying in the lower basin. Clubs, and little duck hunting towns that are drying up because of a closed season. The lower refuge was visited by 80% of all waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway and now sits mostly dry.
So what's that got to do with the Upper Klamath?
It puts way more birds on the lanscape
It concentrates the Hunters to the upper basin.
To be honest forcing the birds to stay in the upper basin has done nothing but help our hunting, but I'm not sure for how long. The late season food quality of the upper basin pails in compare with the Ag rich lower basin. It's still quality habitat, and will always hold a good amount of birds, but without the rich lowerbasin and the Ag community that looks out after the birds...will the migration of the pacific flyway change? Will birds generationally change their migration route. Will the Klamath Basin loose its Legendary status as one of the top waterfowl producers of the North American continent? Time will tell, but if something doesn't change soon, we will definitely be testing that question.
It's hard to give up the waterfowl lifestyle and rather than hanging up their waders lower refuge hunters are now using the upper basin. I don't blame them one bit, but it puts more pressure on the upper basin than I have ever seen. This has changed the birds. What use to be a short run to kill a limit of ducks has turned into longer and longer runs. The birds have adapted, they fly over some of the stuff the would feed and roost in just a couple of years ago. Also, with the holding back of water, the birds have choices over several different roost, and arent nearly as concentrated...if you hunt the upper basin you'll have to get creative. Hit the stuff that no one else is hitting. You'll also find that the holes you can reach with small layouts and such won't hold as many birds as they are over pressured. We are finding you have to cross more and more open water to find the "out of the way" feeds.
The last thing that most people missed this opener was the weather. Remember, on warm, sun filled days Basin ducks tend to roost and feed on open water, as it's a much safer place to take a nap than in the marsh.
The klamath open water holds miles of areas where even puddle ducks can feed.
Durning the warm weather ducks don't need as many calories and tend to sunbathe in big rafts on open water.
Most of the Hunters that I heard poor reports from were Hunters setting up in the marsh. From my experience is the ducks stay away from the marsh and its Cyotes, Eagles, and Hunters unless they need it during those High Eind and High Caloric storm fronts. On the warm bluebird days I set up just outside of rafted birds, looking for areas where they grab a snack or two during the day. Most of these places are at points close to openwater, or breaks in the lanscape. To find these areas you have to scout, and scout often as the birds change with the feed and weather.
In conclusion the upper klamath is hunting well when you take all of the different varriables into account and adapt to them, and we really need to speak up and demand that the Feds recognize what they are doing to the pacific fly by limiting water to the ditch. If something isn't done soon, I'm afraid the basin will slowly degrade out of its Legendary status, and no one should want that!