Welcome to the opener of the 2019 duck season here is Southwest Washington. I had a chance to go out for early goose with some success but this was the real deal and we were not disappointed.
Taking our chances for the opener
After a beautiful but unsatisfactory hunt at Lake Vancouver during the 2018 opener we decided we would take our chances on standby for a blind at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. It can be hard to justify getting up at 3:45 a.m. with no guarantee that you will get a blind, but we decided if we missed out we would grab a good breakfast and a short nap and try to get in for the 10 a.m. draw for the afternoon hunt.
Second to last standby
The decision to try standby worked out for us as we ended up with the second-to-last pick of blinds. The two remaining blinds, 4 and 15, both present challenges. Blind 4 had been reworked several years back and has been consistently at or near the bottom of blind production but it had started to pick up according to the stats from the end of the truncated 2018-2019 season. (Check out the 2018-2019 Short Harvest Summary from the NWR staff or my compilation of 2018 Ridgefield Blinds ending at week 8.) Blind 15 is a pit in the middle of a field. We had brought some full body goose decoys but really wanted the duck experience so we went with 4.
A pleasant surprise
I wasn’t expecting much. Blind 4 had been one of my favorites before it was moved several years ago due to complaints from people in houses on the hills overlooking the refuge. It used to be a pit with a 360-degree view and a good amount of water on nearly all sides. It was transformed into a covered pit on a small pond facing West, directing shots in the opposite direction of the houses. The last time I had seen it, it was basically just a mud pit with a grassed up blind next to it.
It has evolved into a comfortable covered pit blind on a small, shallow, and hunter-friendly pond rimmed with cattails and other brush and looks pretty inviting to ducks looking for a quick rest or hideout from the bigger water on the interior of the refuge. It was pretty well brushed up for us, but it could have used a little more. Come prepared to add some grass and other flora to the blind. I’ve updated my review of Ridgefield Blind 4, if you want to learn more.
The blind sits on the east side of this small pond. Given this was a calm day with only a slight breeze out of the north, we decided on a loose V set-up. with the tip of the V at the shore in front of the blind extending out into the pond. We had about 3-dozen mixed decoys, with about half of them being wigeon, teal, and gadwall, and the other half mallard, including some brand new flocked-head mallards Tim had gotten the previous year but not used. We also had a half-dozen geese floaters. The flocked head mallards were right at the tip of the V in the landing zone, with the 6 geese lined along the right side of the V pointing toward the blind.
Unlike nearly all our hunts, we did not have to make any adjustments to this set-up. From the opening volley at 6:50 a.m. until we decided to call it quits at 11:30 a.m. we had birds consistently trying to finish right into the tip of the V, making for a very satisfying hunt. Granted, opening day birds are pretty easy to manipulate. However, it was still gratifying to get the easy shots we always try to set up. Even better, we also only took one marginal shot and only missed a couple of gimmies, including one drake mallard that must have been too close for us to hit!
Our combined bag ended with 8 birds. We had 3 drake mallards, a hen mallard, and 4 green wing teal hens. We could have ended with more teal but on a couple of occasions we just let them land and sit in the decoys, hoping they would attract some larger birds with their splashing around on this relatively calm-water day. Had we stuck around the rest of the day I’m certain we could have had 3-4 more birds.
We saw plenty of geese around the refuge but any that flew near us were too high to shoot.
The bottom line
If you get stuck with Blind 4 at Ridgefield don’t despair. It seems to be recovering and I think will return to its status as a good middle-of-the-pack blind with chances to be highly productive.
Good luck this season.