I’ve always been eager to do more waterfowl hunting on the Columbia river, whether by boat or walk-in. It’s a beautiful river and home to hundreds of thousands of ducks during peak waterfowl season. I’ve tried it once before, for geese, and we managed to down a few honkers. But my hunting buddies and I really lack any experience hunting on the larger water. So this year I decided to do something I’ve never done before: hire a waterfowl guide. (We were so happy with the first one that we hired them again for 2023. See below for that update.)
Hunting buddy Woody was up for this as well. He owns a river-worthy boat and was eager to get a little schooling from the adventure. So we found waterfowl and fishing guide Bill Rivas of Top Guides NW and booked a hunting trip via boat for the lower Columbia.
Where on the Columbia Did We Hunt
We put in just downriver from Longview, WA about two hours before hunt time and motored out with Bill, fellow guide Wyatt, and their two dogs, goldie Rooster and black lab Chevy. After a brisk 15-minute run downstream, we popped into spot on the Oregon side of the bank.
Instead of hunting from the boat, we unloaded our gear and set up a makeshift blind using a couple of heavy duty blind panels (similar to these blind panels) and some grass we scavenged from the shore. I could see this being an advantage, as the spot Bill chose gave us lots of cover and shadow from behind us and good cover from the panel blinds. And there was still lots of room for the four of us and two dogs.
What Kind of Decoy Sets Did We Use
Although 20 years younger than both Woody and I, Bill and Wyatt each have about 10 years more experience than we do waterfowl hunting this area. We were both happy to see the simplicity and ingenuity of their decoy sets.
Using the boat, they set up a couple of pods of a dozen mallards flanking the blind about 20 yards out, with a large area in between and right in front of the blind as a landing zone. “All birds decoy into mallards,” Bill explained. You can see an example of this set in this decoying wary ducks post (shoreline, wind away).
Within each of these pods of decoys they then placed a floating setup consisting of a pull-string mallard wing duck and three decoys attached to stand, allowing it to float. When they pulled the string to flap the wings of the wing duck they also caused the other three decoys – which were helping the whole rig float – to bob around in the water. The whole contraption (created by Decoy Dancer – the WhipSplash and the Last Stand) created both motion and ripples on the water, doubling their effectiveness. With two guides working rigs, all Woody and I had to do was our part on the guns.
Once they decoys were set, Bill motored the boat down steam aways, anchored it, then paddled back in an Aquapod boat.
A Steady Plunder of Birds throughout the Day
The day prior to our hunt a huge storm came ashore, accompanied by gale warnings on the coast. Bill had scouted during the weather and while he saw birds he cautioned that the storm could have moved them off. Sure enough, during the early part of the hunt, the day started a little slow. We downed a bird or two in the first hour – including a cackling goose Woody managed to hit overhead – and started to discuss a plan B. We all agreed, however, to see how things progressed over the following hour. It turns out we didn’t need to leave.
For the ensuing four hours we were treated to steady action, as widgeon, teal, and mallards began moving around and returning to the river. Many of these birds were well seasoned and somewhat wary, but the pull-string motion decoys brought in a number of stray birds from the larger flocks. Both our guides were exceptional callers and convinced still other ducks to hit our spread. It made for a great hunt. Woody and I both shot reasonably well, certainly helped by the fact that we only had to manage the guns and make shots inside a 30-yard window. We had our moments of poor shot selection and bad habits, but we always do!
We ended midday with about 18 birds. While that’s short of a four-man limit, I am certain we could have stretched the hunt out longer and gotten there by sundown. For me, that’s plenty of solid waterfowling and nothing to complain about.
Keys to Success Hunting Waterfowl on the Lower Columbia River
We chose this hunt for the learning opportunities and definitely left a little smarter regarding hunting this big, intimidating river.
Scouting: Not only will you be looking for birds, but the river is full of treachery and you will certainly want to go out during the day prior to find a couple of spots and to learn about potential obstacles and how the tides will affect your hunting location.
Motion Decoys: There were other hunters set up near us and because of the extra motion we had due to the pull-string motion duck contraption, it certainly seemed like we had and edge. We were shooting a lot more than the groups closest to us.
Retrieval Plan Should Include a Small Boat: Since I don’t own a waterfowl dog, I always think they are the key to retrievals in big water hunts but I’m learning about their limits. You would not want your dog swimming out in the middle of the river channel, so a small boat that is not easily tipped is vital to your retrieval package, even more so than a dog.
Patience: As is always the case in waterfowl hunting, give the birds a chance to work. It was really nice to let two experienced and seasoned callers work birds into the spread and call the shots. More than a few times, we had decent passing shots but waited for the easier landing shot. Do you lose a few wary birds this way? Sure. But the shots you do get are much higher quality, meaning they are easier to hit and more likely to not get crippled and swim away.
The Final Say on a Guided Waterfowl Hunt on the Columbia River
If you are up for a lower Columbia waterfowl hunt I can definitely recommend Bill. He’s an easy-going and knowledgeable guide with a tireless work ethic. On several occasions both he and Wyatt had to paddle out into the middle of the river on an Aquapod to clean up cripples that landed beyond dog retrieval range. We joked that both had paddled enough to reach Astoria from our location.
Even better, he got us on birds. What more could you ask?! You can reach him through his website at Top Guides NW.
2023 Update: We Hired Him Again
We had so much fun for the 2023 hunt that we hired Bill again for 2023. It was a similar hunt and the four of us dropped basically a 4-man limit of mainly wigeon with a massive honker as a bonus. Put us on the books for next year, Bill.