Since the days of home-made bows and arrows, hunters have counted on a little sport and a full stew pot during duck migration season.
"I just like being out there on the flats and seeing the birds," said Scott Yarnall, who spent all of last October hunting ducks, working just 19 hours in the entire month. Duck season runs Sept. 1 through Dec. 16 in Southeast Alaska and hunters may bag seven per day or at least two brimming pots of stew.
"It's gorgeous in the morning no matter what the weather is like," Yarnall added. This year his work schedule will allow him to hunt only two or three days a week.
Yarnall grew up in San Francisco and "unfortunately" didn't get involved in duck hunting until he moved to Juneau 10 years ago, he said.
As a clerk at Rayco Sales, a gun store, Yarnall has a personal preference for a side-by-side 12-gauge shotgun when hunting waterfowl. "There's no one gun better than another. You want to use what fits your style (and your physique); you have got to be comfortable with your gun to shoot it well. If you are not shooting the gun well, you are not taking the birds cleanly."
Yarnall hunts waterfowl almost exclusively in partnership with other hunters who own retrieving dogs, such as Todd Vierra, owner of a floor-covering business.
Vierra, 40, has been duck hunting for five years, and prefers to shoot drakes. "You get a better hatch. It's better to shoot the male because you will have more ducks next season. It's just the proper thing to do," Vierra said. He hunts "in and around the islands," including Douglas. Another of his hunting partners is Tony Reiger, a retired teacher who also works at Rayco Sales.
"I have been duck hunting since the late '40s. I started going with my father in Florida when I was about 12 years old, after diving ducks like scaup and canvasbacks. I really got into it serious about 1957 on Long Island," said Reiger, who enjoyed opening day, Sept. 1, with four friends.
Reiger has been hunting in Juneau since 1962. He is "partial" to greater and lesser scaup, canvasbacks and ringnecks. "I like mallards but they can get pretty fishy because they will eat rotted (spawned out) salmon and fish eggs; they can be strong-tasting into October," he said. He also enjoys hunting the Vancouver Canada goose, a sub-species that does not migrate much out of Southeast Alaska although it migrates within the Panhandle and nearby Canada.
Last year's "flight" of ducks to Juneau was not particularly bountiful because a late spring followed by cold, damp weather resulted in flooded waterfowl nests, Reiger said. "This year we are probably going to get a flight similar to what we had last year, but with more mature birds," he predicted.
Statewide aerial surveys of waterfowl agree with Reiger's prediction. Aerial surveys have been conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service since 1957, said Bruce Conant, waterfowl biologist/pilot. The surveys are conducted from mid-May through mid-June above the breeding/nesting areas that produce the ducks that migrate through Southeast. Conant expects "fair to average" duck production for 2001, due to late breakup on the North Slope and in tundra regions and spring conditions on the taiga.
Bob Dilley, 31, began duck hunting with his father when he was 10 in various logging camps on Prince of Wales Island. "I usually go with friends, because I get to spend time with them. And I spend time with my dog, Bailey. It wears my dog out and I have fun doing it."
Dilley, a community service officer with the Juneau Police Department, formerly lived on Sunny Point at the edge of the Mendenhall Wetlands and could just "walk out his door" to go hunting. He lives elsewhere in town now, but still tends to head for Sunny Point to hunt. The birth of a son last year reduced his hunting days to zero, but he hopes to make it out once every two weeks this year, he said. "I like mallards, but I mostly get teal," he said.
The 4,000-acre Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge is a favorite among Juneau hunters, including Tom Weske, vice president of Territorial Sportsmen. "Duck hunting is a very popular sport and encourages a lot of younger hunters father and son, father and daughter," Weske said. "The flats are very important to our organization because they give young people and locals a place to go where they don't have to endanger their lives taking a boat out" in inclement weather.
However, the Mendenhall Wetlands imposes restrictions on hunters. It is closed to all hunting except waterfowl, including snipe and crane. Hunters may not use any off-road or all-terrain vehicle, motorcycle or other motorized vehicle except a boat within the refuge. Hunters 15 years old or younger must be accompanied by an adult, or demonstrate upon request by a fish and wildlife trooper, completion of a certified hunter safety and waterfowl identification course before hunting in the refuge.
The Mendenhall refuge was established in 1976 to protect natural habitat and game populations, especially waterfowl. Because residents around the Mendenhall Wetlands were concerned about shots fired in their direction, the Juneau Assembly approved new cautionary signage at 13 public access points. The signs, erected just a few days ago, urge hunters to consider what lies beyond their targets, be respectful of property, and not to shoot toward roads or residential areas.
"We funded the signage project with Fish and Game," said Art Dunn, chairman of Juneau Ducks Unlimited, a group with more than 300 members. The total cost was about $3,000; Ducks Unlimited put up $1,000, Dunn said. Another recent project was mallard duck nesting boxes, which help keep predators from getting to eggs, he said.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire. com.