Bluebill Bliss in the Pacific Northwest

By Paul Wait, Editor/Publisher

A funny thing happened during the 2017 Delta Waterfowl Decoy Hunt, an event during which a trio of hunters spent five days attempting to kill wigeon on the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon. OK, so maybe it wasn’t as funny as it was fortunate. Either way, we weren’t complaining.

What was it?

Bluebills. Solo scaup. Pairs. Small flocks. Jetting squadrons of 75. Greaters, mostly. With an occasional pod of lessers zipping in for a visit.

We glassed hundreds of them from the river banks while scouting for wigeon. Then, we drove through rafts of bluebills, sending tornados of the diving ducks skyward on the way to our wigeon hunting spots.

Finally, we just gave in and started selectively shooting drake bluebills.

The Columbia River is a massive waterway, originating in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, flowing down through eastern Washington and then bending west to form the border between Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The river flows for more than 1,200 miles, so it makes sense that bluebills and other diving ducks would be attracted to migrate along its corridor of diverse waterfowl habitat.

Hunting the Columbia requires big-water gear. A seaworthy duck boat is a must, and strong anchoring systems for both the boat and decoys are necessary, too. The river’s flow is controlled by dams in eastern Washington, so water depth changes often as power generation stations release and collect water. As you near the Pacific Ocean, tidal fluctuations can rapidly expose navigation hazards, while also having a huge influence on duck movements. Lowering tides expose food, and ducks often move to feeding areas.

At 105 days, the Pacific Flyway has the longest duck seasons of the four flyways. However, scaup are restricted to 86 days with a daily limit of three. Scaup season opens Nov. 3 and runs through Jan. 27, 2019, in Washington and on the Oregon waters of the Columbia, providing plenty of opportunity.

Our decoy hunt occurred during the last week of November. We experienced steady scaup gunning in eastern Washington, and found rafts of 10,000 or more ’bills in the Oregon waters of the Columbia. The spectacle of so many greater scaup surely was worth the trip, and having the chance to shoot a few was a real diver hunter’s treat.

Being bombarded daily by bluebills more than fulfilled our hunting desires. But as a welcome bonus, the decoys pulled in wigeon, ring-necked ducks, canvasbacks and white-winged scoters, too.