It was a nice day . . . sunny, warm, hardly a breeze blowing in off the lake. Gardeners and football fans loved it, while waterfowl hunters snarled, offered a few suggestions where the day might go, then sat back and waited.
Good days are no help to waterfowl hunters, especially not now that duck numbers are down and much of Utah's once-prime duck habitat resembles a war zone.As a result, Utah's waterfowl hunting opener was nothing to remember. In fact, many hunters would sooner forget. Overall, numbers of hunters afield and ducks killed over Saturday and Sunday, typically the best two days of the season, were down.
For hunting to improve, the weather would have to take a turn for the worse. Winds would have to blow hard and a cloud cover drop down, not only here in Utah but further to the north. Then, northern ducks would start to move through the state and ducks already here would begin to move about.
Hunters out on opening weekend knew shooting wasn't going to be fast. Ranks, now, have been reduced to only the most ardent of hunters, which for game officials and law officers means fewer problems.
Hunting, for example, on opening afternoon started only minutes before the appointed hour - noon. Back when duck hunting was better, and hunters numbered over 50,000 instead of the 20,000 out Saturday, it wasn't uncommon for the first shots to be heard 30 to 45 minutes early. One officer remembers when the whole marsh came alive an hour and a half before official opening. "Officers that year emptied their ticket books," he recalled.
Also, officers reported several instances this year where hunters stopped shooting and checked with game officers when they were unsure of a duck's origin. With strict limit allotments, now, hunters can't afford to be unsure. Five years ago the unwritten rule was to shoot first and hope you beat the other guy to the duck, and then worry about limits or species.
Looking at managed marshes, which usually prove typical of hunting in other areas, overall pressure was down slightly - 1,952 to 1,965 in 1987 - and success was down even more - .87 of a duck to 1.37 in 1987.
At public shooting grounds, officers checked 689 hunters over the weekend compared to 572 last year, and figure the average was about .8 duck per hunter. Most of the ducks checked were mallards, green-wing teal and widgeon.
At Salt Creek, 397 were checked compared to 414 last year, with the average about .79 duck per hunter. Most of the ducks were green-wing, mallards and gadwall.
At Locomotive Springs, 378 hunters were checked compared to 399 last year, with overall success about .7 bird per hunter. Mallards was the No. 1 duck shot there.
At Ogden Bay, 378 were checked compared to 399 last year, with the average .66 bird per hunt. Most of the ducks checked were pintail and green-wing.
At Clear Lake, 270 hunters were checked compared to 319 last year. Hunting was better with the average 1.7 birds per hunter. Most of the ducks were mallards and pintail.
At Browns Park, 13 hunter were checked compared to 54 last year. A drought and low water hurt hunting there. Success was .77 bird per hunt.
At Desert Lake only 43 hunters were checked compared to 105 last year. Hunting, however, was some of the best with the average over two days being 2.23 ducks. Most of the ducks checked were mallard and widgeon.
As expected, the bright spot in hunters' eyes was the goose hunt. It was expected to be good, and considering the day, it was. All of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources checking areas reported checking hunters with geese.
The best hunting on Saturday, with the noon start, seemed to be shooting over decoys. On Sunday, when hunters could get out early, some of the best hunting was reported by hunters working the fields.
From now until the end of the season, hunting is expected to be spotty. If the weather takes a turn and gets windy and cloudy, hunters can expect to see more birds flying. Until then, hunters are going to have to be persistent and make each shot count.
The duck hunt will end Dec. 4. Swan and goose hunting will remain open until Jan. 1.