A popular and productive public-land Columbia Basin duck hunting area is filling up with water for the first time in several years, good news as the best part of the waterfowl season arrives.
The recently completed project at WDFW’s Winchester Regulated Access Area unclogged an inlet from the nearby wasteway west of Potholes Reservoir and water is now flowing into the ponds there.
“This will be the first time in three or four years that we’ll have a good amount of water,” says the agency’s Sean Dougherty in Ephrata.
The area opened in the early 2000s and provided good hunting but gradually the channel that fed water into the ponds silted up, and during 2016’s opener it was completely dry.
Dougherty says that funds were secured last year, including from state duck stamp moneys, to fix the problem.
After coordinating with the Bureau of Reclamation and the local irrigation district and with help from Ducks Unlimited, which provided “technical support and project management,” he says, water has begun flowing in again.
The area primarily attracts mallards as well as other puddlers as the migration and season goes on, but some geese fly in as well, and access is first come, first served.
“It’s really competitive to get a spot,” says Dougherty. “I would encourage you to be there at 4 a.m.”
That’s when vehicles can begin parking here, and the first five parties of up to four hunters each head out to set up their decoy spreads.
The area is only open Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, with the other days off limits to rest the birds.
It’s also next to a game reserve, which helps keep ducks in the area too.
Dougherty doesn’t want to make any promises about how many greenheads you might down if you set up here, but says it’s one of the best public hunts, with an average of three ducks a gun in the past.
And with more water here this fall, the ponds might also remain as open water longer, though with their shallow depths, ambitious hunters can still bust through the ice later on.
Editor’s note: This blog initially contained an outdated WDFW map of access to the Winchester Regulated Access Area. It has subsequently been updated with a new one from regional lands manager Rich Finger. Also, blinds are not assigned and the area is free roam.