Special hunts offer opportunities at Klamath refuges

Ducks Unlimited ranks Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the top five public waterfowl hunting hot spots on the Pacific Flyway for the 2017–2018 season. The refuge hunt areas include fields with blinds, two large marsh units accessible by boat, free-roam areas in harvested grain fields and smaller marsh units. Here, Akimi King (right) raises her shotgun under the watchful eye of guide Phil Brown, during a ladies hunt on the refuge recently. Credit: Susan Sawyer/USFWS

By Susan Sawyer
November 21, 2017

Macy Thompson is rosy-cheeked and small for her age, which she proudly declares is 10 years old. Freckles frame her brilliant smile as she scans the sky above the wheat field at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 25 miles southeast of Klamath Falls, Oregon,  where a few dozen goose decoys stand like sentries in the field. In the distance the back and forth calls of a flock of Canada geese grow louder as they approach in ‘V’ formation, lured to the field below by their painted plastic counterparts.

Macy hefts her shotgun to her shoulder, clicks the safety off, and waits for the signal from her dad, Corey Thompson. “Take ‘em,” he urges, as Macy aims and pulls the trigger.

Macy Thompson, 10, shows off geese she harvested at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge during a special youth waterfowl hunt in September. Credit: Stacy Freitas/USFWS

At Tule Lake in northeastern California and Lower Klamath refuge, which straddles the California-Oregon border, special hunting access is provided to young people like Macy, women and disabled veterans to experience their first duck and goose hunts in some of the best migratory waterfowl habitat in the country.

According to Ducks Unlimited, Tule Lake ranks in the top five public waterfowl hunting hot spots on the Pacific Flyway for the 2017–2018 season. The refuge hunt areas consist of fields with blinds, two large marsh units accessible by boat, free-roam areas in harvested grain fields and smaller marsh units.

By designating special opportunities, refuge manager Greg Austin hopes to attract new hunters to the sport of waterfowling.

Hunting occurs daily during the general season but ends at 1 p.m. Austin extended hunt hours on certain days in October and November for special access to the refuge after the regular end time.

“This helps create a more positive, less competitive experience for the new hunter, and hopefully they’ll want to hunt again,” said Austin, of the additional hours.

To attract new waterfowl hunters, local groups work with the refuge to host or sponsor free events and special hunt days, and in some cases provide volunteers to go out with a first-time hunter.

Cal-Ore Wetlands and Waterfowl Council, a small Klamath Basin non-profit group, hosted a pre-season youth waterfowl event with the Klamath Falls Chapter of Ducks Unlimited in September for a record 130 registrants, including Macy Thompson. Local businesses donated raffle items and meals for the free event. Three additional youth days were held in October and November.

So far, more than  160 youth have experienced a waterfowl hunt on one of the refuges.

Even though Macy used to accompany her dad on his hunts, this was the first year she was eligible to hunt on her own. She successfully harvested two geese, which she struggled to hold for a photo.

“It felt like I ran five times around the gym, my heart was beating so hard!” Macy said of her experience. “I can’t wait to go out again.”

Volunteers are key to providing a safe, meaningful waterfowl hunt experience for disabled veterans. Here, CWA volunteer Bill Holmes (standing) guides his boat full of decoys and dog for army veteran Ryan Labar on an afternoon hunt at Lower Klamath refuge. Credit: James Hamilton/USFWS

Many long-time hunters and guides in the area say that an afternoon hunt often provides better shooting than mornings. “Ducks and geese aren’t used to hunters being in the grain fields then,” said Phil Brown, owner of Wild Times Guides in Tulelake, California. “The birds want to eat and rest after dodging shots all morning. It makes for some good close shooting which builds confidence in first-time hunters, plus you don’t have to get up at 3 a.m. when it’s freezing and dark out.”

First-time duck hunter Akimi King of Klamath Falls, Oregon is a wildlife biologist and married mother of two grown children. When King learned of the women’s hunt day, she contacted refuge hunt Coordinator Stacy Freitas, who connected King with Brown as her guide. King bagged a limit of seven birds within two hours, dropping a widgeon with her first shot, to the surprise of her and Brown. Hunters at the far end of the flooded field later said they could hear Kings’ excited whoops and hollers across the wetland, 400 yards away.

“I borrowed lightweight fishing waders which were too big, and my son’s shotgun which I only shot the night before in the ditch behind my house,” King said. “I couldn’t hit anything and almost cancelled the hunt. Thanks to Phil and his dog Jake, I had an absolutely amazing time.”

Hunting occurs daily during the general season but ends at 1 p.m. The final youth special hunt day is November 25. For more information on this and other refuge hunt programs, contact Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex hunt coordinator Stacy Freitas at (530) 667-8308 or visit KBNWRC special hunts.Credit: Susan Sawyer/USFWS

The most recent special hunt day was for a small group of disabled veterans hosted by California Waterfowl Association veterans hunt program. This was the fourth year for the event, with veterans from California’s Bay Area and Reno, Nevada. Veterans only need to provide transportation to the refuge since local businesses sponsor lodging, meals, gear, a refuge access pass, volunteers with boats, decoys, dogs and expert duck calling for the hunters.

Ric Peterson, CWA Secretary said most of the vets would most likely not have done this hunt on their own. “We want to provide a safe, positive, small group experience for the vets. This is one way CWA can give back and honor our veterans,” Peterson said.

“I wasn’t able to serve in the military, so this is something I can do to show my appreciation for what these guys sacrificed in service to their country,” said Bill Holmes, a third-year hunt volunteer.

Bronson Anderson, 44, retired U.S. Army infantry scout, duck hunted as a kid with his dad. Years later after his military service ended, Anderson learned of the CWA sponsored hunt and applied. “Words can’t explain how I felt when I was accepted for the hunt,” said Anderson with a huge grin. “I’ve always loved the outdoors, and to have this chance to return to a sport I shared with my dad was pretty cool.” Anderson said he looks forward to hunting with his own son now.

Keeping traditions alive in the Klamath wetlands is what it’s all about. “The refuge is proud to provide these opportunities to diverse groups of non-traditional hunters,” said Freitas of the special refuge hunts she coordinates. “What better place to experience waterfowl hunting than on the nations’ first waterfowl refuge.”

 

The final youth special hunt day is November 25. For more information on this and other refuge hunt programs, contact Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex hunt coordinator Stacy Freitas at (530) 667-8308 or visit KBNWRC special hunts.

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Susan Sawyer

About the writer...

Susan Sawyer is the Klamath Basin public affairs officer covering Yreka, Klamath Falls and the Klamath Basin refuges. She grew up with a family who instilled a deep appreciation of the outdoors.

When finished unpacking a multitude of boxes from her move to a new home, she will return to her off-duty interests: bird hunting, traveling, classic rock and blues, and spoiling her animals.