An Opening Day 2017 Hunt at McNary in Washington

Sunrise from Blind 6 at McNary National Wildlife Refuge.
Sunrise from Blind 6 at McNary National Wildlife Refuge.

Opening Day for the 2017-2018 season yields a ton of fun, plenty of ducks, and our first McNary geese.

Location: McNary Wildlife Refuge, Fee Hunt Unit, Blind 6

Conditions: Partly cloudy, low 40s in the morning, high 50s by midday, 8-10 mph wind  from the south

Birds Taken: 16 for 3 hunters (4 mallard hens; 3 mallard drakes, including one in first-year plumage; 3 pintails; 1 gadwall, 5 ring necks)

After an offseason filled with family activities we finally got back to waterfowl hunting season in Washington, October 14, 2017. Tim drew the fourth pick at McNary National Wildlife Refuge for opening day this season. That pick turned out to be worth the first choice of blinds, as picks 1-3 didn’t show. We knew from our previous experiences that Blind 6 would be our first choice, followed by Blind 1, then Blind 13.

We missed our outings at McNary and were all glad to be back. We had skipped traveling there during the 2016-2017 season, opting to buy a hunting lease for geese in the Eugene, Oregon, area. Although hunting geese was a blast, especially late season, the action that can be had at McNary on good days is too addicting for a duck hunter.

Changes at McNary

By the looks of things some of the blinds at the Slough had undergone some significant changes. At Blind 6, much of the taller bulrush had been scraped away and some fill material added to the point on which it sits. The last time we hunted it, about a third of the blind was under water, so it was a pleasant surprise to find the blind relatively high and dry! The blind also was brushed up nicely, thanks to the efforts of local hunters and the local chapter of the Washington Waterfowl Association). The downside is that there is not nearly as much vegetation around the blind. It used to sit among an expanse of 6-foot bulrush. Now it sticks out and there’s fewer places nearby to stand and not be seen. It looks like there were similar attempts at adding material to blinds throughout the slough. Next time we go I’ll be interested to see what other blinds look like.

Action Packed

We hunting Blind 6 a couple of times before and it’s definitely a fun blind. It sits on a point and is surrounded by water. It also seems be to an intersection of sorts on the slough at McNary. Birds fly in from the north, south, and west, often criss-crossing all around the blind. There were times during this hunt when I was just looking in awe at the sky, surrounded by ducks scattering off the refuge.

We were treated to an amazing sunrise at legal shooting time and then the fun began. We were all rusty with the guns, missing on several birds right off the bat. As it got lighter and our sight got better we started to down birds. I fittingly knocked down a ring neck as my first bird. Over the next few hours, plenty of birds gave us plenty of looks and we began to get our share.

What We Learned

On this day we got better opportunities crouching outside of the blind. We could see birds approaching from behind the blind, which many did, and we took some great passing shots at low birds that skirted the decoys and flew over the point. About half were taken on passing shots, with the others on final approach. My suggestion is to take a marsh stool with you to McNary just in case, as you can hunt outside of the blind, provided you stay within 100 feet of the blind stake.

The Highlight of the Day

Near midday a flight of about 20 honkers flew over us too high. I called them as they flew northeast and they turned, only to dump into the water a half-mile away. There were no hunters where they landed and they started to pull in a lot of other ducks to their location, slowing our action. About a half-hour later another, a smaller group of 8 birds flew over us, also too high and we thought they certainly were going to join the others. I called at them anyway and to our shock they turned and headed straight for us. A few well-timed honks kept them coming right towards us. My heart was pounding as I watched these big honkers land right in front of our spread of teal, about 20 yards in front us. None of us shot on their approach. I think we were all pretty skeptical they would keep coming. So when they landed we all just sat there, wondering what had just happened. “On three,” I whispered. “One, two, three!” We popped up out of the weeds and the honkers flushed, presenting perfect belly shots. We each downed one, amazed at our luck.

On several occasions in my hunting experience I’ve called geese in close without any decoys in the field or in the water. I think they get curious and when they hear a call and don’t see a goose it can bring them in closer. So the lesson is to bring your goose call, even on a duck hunt, and see if you can lure some curious geese.

Final Advice

A dog or a small boat is a must at McNary. The water and mud here gets too deep for retrievals any farther than 15-20 yards from the blinds. If you don’t have either you will lose a lot of birds. We’re fortunate that Scott bought a kayak and we’ve used it to retrieve our birds and others that have been blown into our vicinity at McNary. Good hunting!

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