There were no real surprises on the opening of the 1988 duck hunt. As expected, water was down, hunter counts were down, duck numbers were down, and as a result success was down. The weather, though, was good. Early signs, too, indicate that a few more geese went home this year.
In summing up the first day of the hunt, the only way would be to simply say it went just as expected.Duck numbers are down continent-wide, so it was expected that there would be fewer to shoot this hunt. Also, it was known that the receding lake level had left miles of open, muddy shoreline that would limit areas and areas where hunters could hide. It was also recognized that with all the negatives, fewer hunters would have positive outlooks and that more would stay home and listen to football games.
All true. Game officials did feel that the persistent hunters did have some luck on Saturday. Early shooting was slow, but afternoon winds improved success by moving resting birds off the Great Salt Lake. The majority of the birds in Utah now are, in fact, way out in the open waters.
It is also true that goose numbers are up this year and that with the joint opening of duck and geese this year, more hunters got geese Saturday. Some of the best goose hunting was around the northern tip of the Great Salt Lake.
Early indications are that overall hunting pressure was down. Although, Val Bachman, supervisor of the Ogden Bay Refuge, reports that hunter counts there were "surprisingly almost exactly what they were last year, almost down to the car."
Still, hunter counts are nowhere near what they were before the floods. Bachman said he expects about 1,100 hunters to use the Ogden Bay marsh this weekend.
"Back before all of our problems, it wasn't unusual to have over 4,000 hunters here on opening weekend. We're off about 60 percent or more."
Oddly enough, national waterfowl experts report that the duck population along the Pacific Flyway is also off about 60 percent this year.
On the southern sections of the lake where most of the private clubs are situated, hunting was reported slow and hunting pressure down slightly, said Brent Hutchings, Utah Division of Wildlife Resource waterfowl biologist.
He said that by mid-afternoon he'd only checked three limits, "which is very unusual."
Hunting was only slightly better around Salt Creek and Public Shooting Grounds. Marshes in these areas were not effected by the flooding salt waters. Also, game officials reported earlier in the week that the heaviest concentration of ducks and geese were in the northern areas.
Several hunters in the area, however, reported very poor hunting. It was, said one hunter, "a matter of luck . . . being in the right place at the right time."
Most of the ducks harvested Saturday afternoon were of the smaller green-wing teal.
Bachman said he checked several geese by mid-afternoon. Large flights of geese were seen early Saturday, before the noon opening.
"Many hunters said they were going to come out early Sunday and try for a goose. They saw enough geese to get excited about the hunt. That's the one good point of this hunt," he said.
Many hunters checked reported being pleased about the lowering of the lake and the return of some dry land to the marsh.