When it comes to hunting waterfowl refuges in the U.S., the state of California is usually not mentioned along with the famous places in Arkansas or Louisiana.
Photo by Bill Mays.
Why is that the case?
The main reason is because most of the mainstream waterfowl media has always had great hunting up and down the Southern and Central flyways. They don’t have to travel clear across the country to explore the fantastic opportunities in California.
It’s their loss.
In this article, California Game & Fish will cover three of the hotspots in Northern California — Klamath Basin and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges, as well as Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. These public lands would stand up against any public waterfowl area in the U.S.
The Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Complex is a sprawling collection of federal hunting fields, marshes and open waters that straddles the California-Oregon state lines and covers 192,000 acres.
Refuges on the California side — Lower Klamath, Tule Lake and Clear Lake — are open two weeks earlier than the rest of the state.
Hunters must put in for a lottery draw the first two days of the season. After opening weekend, the Klamath Basin is open to waterfowl hunting seven days a week. Hunters can purchase a season pass for $25. Shooting hours end at 1 p.m.
If you have a young hunter with a Junior Hunting license, the Klamath Basin will give him or her a hunt of a lifetime. Junior Hunters accompanied by an adult are usually able to hunt two weeks before the opener.
Throughout the season, there will be four youth hunts and, new this year, one ladies’ hunt. For more information, check the hunting regulations or call the refuge at (550) 667-2231, or check out www.fws.gov/ klamathbasinrefuges.
Lower Klamath Refuge was our country’s first waterfowl refuge. It was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. The 46,900-acre refuge is also one of the most productive.
In the 2008-09 waterfowl season, hunters harvested 1,589 ducks and 138 geese in the marsh units and 473 geese and 439 ducks in the field units.
Water has been a big concern at the refuge for the past few years. But Dave Mauser, Klamath’s lead biologist, said this year looks promising.
“The goose hatch in the Klamath Basin was very strong,” said Mauser, adding that the mallard hatch looked good, too.
Hunters will see a few changes this year.
- Unit 8 is now a seasonal marsh, which will allow the smart weed and goose foot to grow.
- Unit 6A was changed to a permanent marsh to choke out some of the undesirable plant life. It also made for a great brood pond this year.
- Unit 7B will be a grain field and open.
- Unit 11B will be closed this season.
If you plan on hunting the marsh units, you should have a boat. Some of the hunt units have deep irrigation ditches that border the field. However, there are some marsh units where hunters can walk in.
I’ve been hunting the Klamath Basin for more than 40 years, and I like to hunt Lower Klamath on storm days and the Tule Lake marsh on bluebird days. Ducks and geese like to move into Lower Klamath on storm days to get out of the wind. Then they fly to the Tule Lake marsh for the shade.
There is always more food on the Lower Klamath Refuge than the Tule Lake Refuge, so there is always a larger concentration of birds on Lower Klamath.
Another reason many hunters prefer Lower Klamath over Tule Lake Refuge is because there is more and safer hunter access.
Tule Lake Refuge
Tule Lake Refuge was established in 1928 and encompasses 39,116 acres of mostly open water and croplands. There are 17,000 acres leased to farmers who raise potatoes and grain. Farmers are required to leave a percentage of crops in the field for waterfowl.
There are 10,557 acres of open water, 3,128 acres of marsh and 8,415 acres of uplands.
New this year on the Tule Lake side of the Klamath Basin, Sump 1B was changed to a seasonal marsh. This will help smartweed and goose foot growth. You will also be able to walk the wetland areas this season.
I love to shoot mallards, and the Tule Lake Marsh is the place to go. The marsh is only accessible by boat.
There are sinkholes, quicksand and silt, so it’s best not to leave the boat. Be sure and have a good retrieving dog. If for some reason you must leave the boat, be sure and take a push pole to feel the bottom for these hazards. Stay near your hunting partner so he or she could reach you with a pole or rope in case you go down.
The Tule Lake Marsh is a lottery draw for opening weekend. After opening weekend, it’s open seven days a week with a $25 season pass. The pass covers both Lower Klamath and Tule Lake refuges.
Sump 1B is another area on the Tule Lake Refuge and has been a very productive area to hunt. This unit, Frey’s Island, and the spaced blinds are selected by a lottery for opening weekend. Then hunters must enter into the lottery every day at the check-in station on County Line Road two hours before shooting time. No permits are issued for these areas after 6 a.m.
The spaced-blind units are designated dry harvested grain or potato fields. They are drawn for opening weekend and go into a lottery each day of the waterfowl season. After the opening weekend draw, hunters must enter the lottery held at the check-in station on County Line Road. These units have a T-post driven in the field and hunters must stay within 200 feet of the T-post.
There is a new change this year. All hunters will be able to drive their vehicles into the dry fields of the spaced blinds. This will help not only disabled hunters, but also make it a lot easier for all the hunters when setting up their decoys.
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