January 5, 1998
Idaho duck hunters waited faithfully to see the record northern flights but it was not to be.
The Great Idaho Duck Hunt That Wasnít
by Ed Mitchell
It reminded me of the Peanuts kids waiting for the Great Pumpkin, believing with all their innocent little hearts. We all knew something wonderful should happen before the end of the season, so we went and waded and watched the skies. And the flights failed to show, mostly. Actually, for a few days in a few places, duck hunters were impressed with the numbers they saw.
Too little faith was not the problem, the weather was. It worked just like the El Nino predictions said it would: lots of storms and moisture across the southern part of the West, warm and dry for the northern states. The flocks had no reason to leave Canada until more than half the season was gone and when they did take wing, many flew over and around us.
Quite a number actually did filter down the Snake River. At Lake Lowell, for instance, one December count showed about 50,000 more ducks than on the same date last year. But they were not doing duck hunters much good by going out from the refuge well before light, feeding briefly, and returning to the water by sunup. Thatís how they act in mild weather and thatís the weather we had.
For most of the season, it was hard to tell how many birds were in the area because the small waters stayed open, scattering ducks far more than we would normally expect. Many of the favorite hunting spots on the river were no good anyway because the water was too high and swift to hold a decoy spread or safely wade, and the fast water discouraged ducks from using the river as much as usual.
From a hunterís point of view, none of this is the way things are supposed to work.
Now, letís just hope the prairies receive good water again, the puddle ducks prosper (goodness knows we didnít reduce their numbers much), and El Nino goes back to sleep next fall.