A handful of dekes and a white sheet will be a more productive combination.
That's because most of the ponds and marshes in the two public wetlands to the north of the Great Salt Lake have frozen over, and the tens of thousands of birds that were using the properties in early November have been winnowed to just a few hundred.
That's not to say you can't kill birds. You can, said refuge manager Randy Berger (435-854-3610), but you'll have to adjust your strategies.
"We went from open water and being covered up with birds one day and the next day we had a half-inch of ice on all our ponds," said Berger of the late-November freeze.
"The next day we had an inch and the only birds were gathered in the channels, behind head gates and on a few of the larger ponds and lakes."
Even the namesake springs at Locomotive Springs WMA, located to the west of Salt Creek, aren't doing much to keep the water open.
"Our springs are really weak because of irrigated agriculture and drought, and they don't help much through the winter," said Berger.
"Locomotive Springs probably has 100 to 200 ducks that will stay all winter, and hunting them can be really fun, but you can't get more than one or two parties per day on there."
A better bet is Salt Creek WMA, said Berger, especially if managers dump water from the series of production ponds on the property.
"When we get over 3 inches of ice some years we elect to dump the water from the ponds, and when we do that we'll run that water down the channels and that's the place to hunt birds," said Berger.
"The channel will run like a river, and when it's the only open water in the country it will be crowded with ducks and geese and guys will come out and have some real success. But it's hard to predict, and it doesn't last all that long. And it's a very localized opportunity, probably a 30-foot ribbon of open water flowing through the ice."
Even if the managers aren't actively dumping water, you should find small pockets of open water both on the channels and on a few of the ponds on the WMA.
A good strategy is to glass the ponds and lakes from one of the access points and then plan to jump birds or decoy then on their return to the open water.
Get to Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area either from the north or from the south. If you come in from the north, you have good access to the creek channel and smaller ponds, but those satellite waters were the first to ice over.
Access the north entrance off 9600 N. and 8400 W. But the more common way to get here is by exiting Interstate 15 at Corinne and taking Highway 83 west. Turn north at Little Mountain Road (11300 W.) and drive to any of the three designated parking areas.
Berger said that even though the classic open-water waterfowl habitat will be capped, it can still be worth a trip to Salt Creek.
"But those who want to hunt with their boats will be disappointed," he said.
"Unless they want to break ice just to get their boat in it's better to just walk on the ice as long as you're certain it will hold you. And the ice hunt can be a real hoot. The fewer the decoys the better off you are. Guys will lay out on the ice on a piece of foam or Styrofoam and cover up with a white sheet. They'll put out just a half-dozen to a dozen decoys on the ice. Those birds come in so low and so fast that they'll take their hats off their heads."
Berger said the main visitors to Salt Creek from here on to the end of the season in late January will be big northern mallards, a few pintails and some hardy cinnamon teal. He also said that some goldeneye will stay all winter on the property.
"We will hold more geese than you think this year because there's some standing corn in the area," said Berger.
"The geese will loaf on the ice as long as that corn is still available, and guys can decoy them effectively when they come back in from the fields."
There's always the chance that the ponds will reopen in a December or early January thaw.
"A few years ago we froze over so we drained our ponds only to have it thaw totally out around Christmas," said Berger.
"That year we had water, but there was a lot of mud between the shoreline and what little open water we had."
Wildlife area manager Randy Berger said cottontail rabbit hunting may salvage a busted winter waterfowl trip to the Salt Creek or Locomotive Springs WMAs.
"Rabbit populations are better than in the past 15 years," he said.
"They're not great, but they're not as dismal as they've been recently. I think our predation is declined and our habitat is in pretty good shape. Getting out with a .22 and a young hunter is a pretty good way to spend a winter day."
While pheasant season ended in mid-November, Berger said this year was an above-average ringneck year on Salt Creek and Public Shooting Grounds.
"Last year was the best production year in my 20 years here, and I was hoping for a repeat, but it was only fair," said the manager.
"I think we checked 53 birds on opening day. That's not bad for 400 hunters on 2,000 acres, especially when you consider that these are totally wild birds."
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