The statewide waterfowl season opens next Wednesday. The hardcore duck hunters out there are looking forward to spending opening morning in their favorite blind using calls and decoys, jump-shooting along small ponds or creeks, or pass-shooting as the birds fly within range. All three methods are sporting and a challenge. I hope you have some success.
Three public waterfowl hunting areas exist in the valley. Arguably the favorite is the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. Eastside access is off the frontage road along the Glenn Highway just south of the Parks Highway intersection. Access to the western end is off Fairview Loop and Hayfield Road. The second very popular site is the Goose Bay State Game Refuge, located at the end of Knik-Goose Bay Road on Pt. MacKenzie.
The third is the Susitna Flats State Game Refuge, which includes the entire lower Little Susitna and (Big) Susitna Rivers on Pt. MacKenzie. The main road access to this refuge is through the Little Susitna Public Use Facility, also known as Burma Landing.
Many hunters access the southern end of Susitna Flats Refuge by crossing Cook Inlet from Anchorage and hunting the mudflats between the Susitna and Little Susitna Rivers. While you can easily drive to both the Hay Flats and Goose Bay and walk in and hunt, you will need a boat or airplane to access the hunting areas in Susitna Flats. If you want good maps showing road access, boundaries, and the topographic features of these areas, look for both the Big Lake and Pt. MacKenzie, and Matanuska Valley Road and Recreation maps published by Todd Communications. The borough also has a good line-drawing road map.
If you have access to a boat or canoe, hunting along the many rivers and small lakes in the Valley could also provide opportunity to harvest some waterfowl.
I’ve hunted all three public areas: the Hay Flats, Goose Bay, and Susitna Flats, with limited success. Over the years, I’ve used a couple of different 12-gauge semi-auto shotguns and both a double barrel and semi-auto 10 gauge, shooting steel shot. Someday, I’ll get a chance at geese somewhere, which explains the 10 gauge.
I usually go when the numbers of hunters are fewest – that means skipping opening day and weekends. Why do I avoid perhaps the single best hunting day (opening morning) of the season? First, I’m not a fan of crowds. Second, I believe in following the rules. There’s always some jerk that can’t wait for legal shooting times and starts blasting away before he can even clearly see the duck he’s shooting at. And there are the few who think their shotguns have a range of miles instead of yards and start “sky-busting” at any duck they see.
Don’t misunderstand me; probably 99.9% of the folks who hunt waterfowl are ethical, law-abiding, and responsible hunters. They bought the required state hunting licenses and federal and state duck stamps, whose proceeds benefit the acquisition of wetlands and the study and management of the waterfowl populations. They have invested time, money, and effort in owning and training retrieving dogs to recover dead and crippled birds.
They use the non-lead shotgun shells mandated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service which oversees the health of the waterfowl populations nationwide. They practiced with their shotguns to assure personal proficiency in avoiding crippling shots and wounded birds. They learned to identify the different species of waterfowl encountered. They also learned the difference in coloration between the males and females within a species to allow a more selective harvest of birds. And they learned the regulations.
The few who won’t wait for legal times, persist in taking shots at birds well out of shotgun range, and ignore the concept of a bag limit are not hunters. They are greedy criminals attempting to steal a wildlife resource from the citizens of the state, both those who legally hunt and those who prefer to simply watch.
If you encounter one of these criminals, get a good physical description of the person and a license number of their vehicle. When you reach a phone, call the nearest Fish and Wildlife Protection office or Alaska Fish and Wildlife Safeguard at 1-800-478-3377 and report what you witnessed.
Waterfowl hunting has a magical quality uniquely its own – something you need to experience to fully appreciate. If you decide to try hunting ducks, learn and follow the rules. You will appreciate the experience more and everyone around you will have a better outing because of your efforts.