Great Salt Lake Water Level Could Affect Duck Hunt

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This year’s waterfowl season opens October 4

If you chased ducks and geese in Utah last fall, then you Two American wigeons.  -  Division of Wildlife Resources photoalready know how many birds should be in Utah this season.

The numbers should be about the same.

One thing that will be different, though, is the level of the Great Salt Lake.

Utah’s 107-day waterfowl season kicks off Sept. 27 when the state hosts its annual Youth Hunting Day. Youth Hunting Day is open to hunters 15 years of age and younger.

The state’s general waterfowl hunt begins Oct. 4.

Keeping birds in Utah

In the fall, two factors determine how long ducks stay in Utah: the level of the Great Salt Lake and the weather. And right now, the Great Salt Lake is nearing its lowest level since 1963.

“Ducks use the lake as a place to escape hunters,” Aldrich says. “They rest on the lake during the day and then fly back into the marshes in the evenings and in the mornings to feed.

“Because the amount of surface water on the lake has decreased so much, the ducks have fewer places to rest. And that increases the chance that they’ll leave the state early.”

In addition to providing ducks a place to rest, two freshwater areas of the Great Salt Lake the Farmington Bay and Willard Spur portions of the lake are important feeding areas. “Both of these areas are drier than we like to see,” Aldrich says. “I’m not sure how much food they’ll provide ducks this year.”

As important as the Great Salt Lake is, the biggest factor in keeping ducks in Utah is the weather. “Good numbers of ducks will stay in Utah into late November or even early December if the weather stays warm and calm,” Aldrich says. “But if lots of big storms hit and the temperature gets cold, the ducks will start to leave.”

Number of ducks and geese

Aldrich says the number of ducks and geese in Utah this fall should be similar to last season.

“Many of the nesting areas in the Intermountain West and up into southern Alberta were drier this past spring than they were the year before. But they weren’t dry enough to have a big effect on the overall number of birds,” Aldrich says.

“Also, some of the ducks that are the most plentiful in Utah, such as green-winged teal, nest in west-central Canada and Alaska. Alaska provides good nesting conditions almost every year because the conditions in Alaska rarely change.”

Marsh conditions

Aldrich says the conditions you find at the state’s waterfowl management areas will vary depending on which WMA you visit.

“The Farmington Bay and Ogden Bay WMAs are fed by major rivers. They receive good amounts of water every year, and they’ll be in great shape again this season,” he says. “At the other end of the spectrum are WMAs that we don’t have secure water rights for or that are fed by springs.

“For example, the Locomotive Springs WMA will be very dry again this year. The Salt Creek and Public Shooting Grounds WMAs will have water in the main units, but the flat areas below the diked units at the Public Shooting Grounds will be pretty dry.”

Aldrich says the four main units at the Clear Lake WMA should have water in them when the season opens on Oct. 4. But the outer units, including the popular area on the west side of the WMA, probably won’t have water in them until the middle of the season.

Learn more

You can learn more about this year’s waterfowl hunt by listening to an interview with Aldrich. The interview is available at

Rules, season dates and bag limits for the upcoming season are available in the 2008–2009 Utah Waterfowl Guidebook. The free guidebook is available at