From the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:
Wildlife Areas and National Wildlife Refuges are vital to the conservation of waterfowl and native marsh dwellers. (CDFW)
Junior hunters and their mentors lined up like flocks of ducks at 5 a.m. at the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area check station waiting to sign in and go hunting on Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days Feb. 1 and 2. Only hunters 15 years of age and under accompanied by a non-hunting, mentoring adult can hunt waterfowl on these dates.
By 6:30 a.m. they were scattered across the marshlands of Gray Lodge Wildlife Area ready to hunt. They averaged a little over four ducks each by day’s end.
Cory Macintyre took his 10-year-old son, Alex, and 12-year-old daughter, Kate, to Gray Lodge. The Macintyres recently took up hunting and are learning the skills of duck hunting on public lands. Alex shot a Gadwall duck banded in northeast Oregon in 2007. While Gadwall ducks are very common at Gray Lodge, harvesting a banded one is rare.
“This is our first full season of duck hunting and it is a blast but there is a lot to learn,” Cory Macintyre said. “I just hope there is water here next year so I can bring the kids. They are excited and we have a lot invested in shotguns, waders, camo clothes, decoys and shells.”
A successful hunt depends on habitat and in the case of wetlands that means water. Water was significantly limited this year and all irrigation deliveries to Gray Lodge ended in late December. As drought conditions took hold and no rain fell for longer than 50 days, wildlife managers had to make tough decisions on when and where to put water to maintain wetlands for wildlife.
Gray Lodge Wildlife Area’s 9,182 acres provide feeding and roosting habitat for hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese throughout the migratory season, and nesting habitat for resident ducks during the spring and summer. With 95 percent of California’s historic wetland and riparian areas lost, Gray Lodge is vital to waterfowl and provides habitat to a vast array of native California species, both plant and animal.
“It was a real challenge this year to utilize our limited water resources,” said Andy Atkinson, CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist. “Our efforts resulted in providing critical habitat for more than one million ducks and geese that stayed on and in the vicinity of the area for the vast majority of the season and resulted in excellent hunting and waterfowl viewing opportunities.”
Safety standards are of paramount consideration when establishing the number of young hunters accompanied by their mentors that can hunt on a wildlife area. Wildlife managers try to give mentored hunters more room to hunt by increasing the ratio of huntable acres per hunter. This spreads the mentored hunters out more, reduces competition and increases the likelihood of success.
Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days provide a unique opportunity for mentored hunts for young hunters. Statewide an estimated 20,000 out of 68,000 California waterfowl hunters purchased passes to state-operated hunting programs on wildlife areas and federal refuges in 2012.