Oregon supports diverse waterfowl populations, from sea ducks in coastal saltwater to puddle ducks in the alkali basins of southeast Oregon. You might think you need lots of gear (decoys, boats, a trained dog) to hunt ducks and geese here, but you don’t. All of these things are nice but not necessary. All you really need is a hunting license/tag, shotgun, shells and some basic identification skills.
To hunt waterfowl, a person needs a valid hunting license, free Harvest Information Program (pdf) (HIP) validation, resident waterfowl validation (if 14 years and older), and federal waterfowl stamp (if 16 years and older). A sea duck permit is needed to hunt Harlequin, scoter, long-tailed and eider ducks. A Northwest Oregon Goose Permit, obtained after passing a special identification test showing you can distinguish between certain types of geese, is required to hunt geese in the northwest portion of Oregon during the regular fall season. (The regulation is intended to keep hunters from shooting dusky Canada geese, a sensitive population that winters in northwest Oregon.) See the Oregon Game Bird Regulations for details.
Check the current Oregon Game Bird Regulations for details but generally fall duck and goose seasons open on the same day in October and run through middle to late January, with some closed days in between. An additional short, Canada goose-only season occurs in September in most areas.
Generally, waterfowl hunting is best when weather conditions are poor. Wind and rain will force birds to move off standing water to seek shelter and to fly lower, making your shot easier.
Check out ODFW’s Hunting Access Map online to find out where you can go waterfowl hunting. Several state wildlife areas and federal refuges were created to provide habitat for waterfowl and these usually allow hunting. Some private lands are also open to public hunting access, thanks to special ODFW programs. You can also try knocking on doors of landowners where you see ducks or geese and asking for permission to hunt. Remember you are responsible for knowing boundaries and regulations for your hunting area and you must get permission to hunt on private lands. Most wildlife areas and refuges require that hunters possess only federally-approved, nontoxic shot and obtain daily hunting permits.
There are three general ways to hunt waterfowl— hunting over decoys, jump-shooting, and pass-shooting.
Jump-shooting is sneaking within shotgun range of feeding or resting waterfowl. The birds are than flushed (e.g. they start flying up) and the hunter selects one as a target. This technique can be very productive when visiting a number of small ponds or by walking along a small meandering stream or irrigation canal.
When pass shooting, hunters try to position themselves in areas where ducks or geese are flying over as they go to and from feeding and resting areas. This can be a good technique under some circumstances, such as very windy days when birds are forced to fly low. On fair weather days, most birds fly too high and are out of shotgun range, making this technique less desirable than jump-shooting or hunting over decoys.
Hunting over decoys is the classic way to hunt waterfowl. Hunters place decoys in a spot likely to be used by waterfowl, hide near the decoys, and try to entice passing birds to within shotgun range (by using calls, for example). Don’t think you need lots of decoys and an elaborate blind to hide in to use this method. Many waterfowl hunters, particularly on smaller water bodies, use as few as six decoys, hide in nearby available vegetation, and may not attempt to call the birds at all. Set up with the wind at your back, this way the birds will approach the decoys in front of you.
Hunting over decoys has its advantages. As the birds are “working” the decoys (circling them to determine if it is safe to land) hunters can identify what type of species the bird is. Also, birds will often try to land with the decoys, which brings them well within shotgun range.
See “Decoying Waterfowl” section for tips on how to set decoys.
Hunters usually wear drab or camouflage clothing because waterfowl have excellent eyesight. Hip boots and chest waders, though not necessary, are ideal for retrieving birds that have fallen in water. Retrieving dogs can also be beneficial for locating and retrieving ducks which fall in water or heavy vegetation. Use any shotgun you like; 12 and 20 gauge are the most popular. Realize your gun will be exposed to mud, water and other elements. Also, state and federal law mandates that non-toxic shot be used for all waterfowl hunting. Steel is the most popular and least expensive of the non-toxic shot available for hunting.
Remember wildlife laws require that you leave one wing or the head of the bird attached during transport. Leave one of these on it until you get your bird home.
- Pluck feathers on lower breast and abdomen
- Cut through the belly skin at base of breast.
- Bend bird backwards and remove all entrails.
- Pluck feathers or remove feathery cape.
- Dry bird and keep it cool until you get it home; then refrigerate until cooking.
Proper decoy placement is essential for hunting success. In general, decoys should be no farther than 40 yards away from the blind. This will help you to judge distance and make good shots on approaching birds. Decoys should be distributed to allow one or two landing zones close to the blind. Remember, if it is windy birds always will land coming into the wind. This ia a crucial consideration when setting out decoy spreads and locating your blind. Following are some examples of decoy placements for water and field sets. Whether you have 6 decoys or 6 dozen, the basics of setting decoys remains the same. You want to have the wind at your back and the decoys in front, with an open area where you anticipate the birds will try to land.
When hunting on large ponds, or rivers with currents, be sure your decoy lines are not worn, are securely tied and have weights attached that are heavy enough to hold the decoy. When duck hunting, many species will respond well to mallard decoys. However, having groups of decoys of other species in your spread can improve your success.
Always know the location of your fellow hunters, including your dog, and follow these safety precautions when hunting:
- Keep your firearm’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
- Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
- Be sure of your target and what is in front of it and beyond it.
- Wear blaze orange.