Regulated access areas offer lots of waterfowl and limited competition

It’s that time of year again- the sun is coming up later and going down earlier, there’s dew on the grass and frost will follow it soon, and fog hangs over the water in the early morning. While that triggers seasonal affective disorder in some of us, for others it triggers the urge to go duck or goose hunting.

There’s nothing like getting up before the sun to set up decoys, calm your retriever’s nerves while he waits for the first birds to approach, and drink coffee in a duck blind while waiting for first light. For those who agree, we’ve got good news for you. This past year, WDFW completed improvements to regulated access areas (RAAs) in the Moses Lake vicinity that can make your hunting experience even better. For those not familiar with RAAs, they are areas set aside by WDFW to provide a place with low density hunter access and are closed to commercial guided hunts. The Columbia Basin Wildlife Area manages three RAAs near or adjacent to waterfowl reserves that have large concentrations of waterfowl, but also high numbers of hunters.

Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Regulated Access Areas
Here are some helpful hints on the three Columbia Basin RAAs that can help you hit the ground running when it comes to waterfowling this fall and winter:

Winchester Ponds Regulated Access Area (WRAA) is specifically managed to produce duck food (commonly known as moist soil management) to attract waterfowl for hunting and to provide food for the birds during the annual fall migration. There is excellent moist soil seed production in cells A, B, and C and a relatively high rate of waterfowl harvested in this area in general.

In September 2021, dredging was used to improve water flow from the Winchester Wasteway up to the project delivery ditch. Getting water to this area has been a problem in the past as flow depends on how sand shifted during the previous year and the amount of water moving through the wasteway. Thanks to the dredging, great water conditions are expected this year in the north half of the project and fair to good conditions in the south half. The Department is evaluating potential improvements to the south half for the future.

Photo courtesy Conner Webster

Hunter access to the WRAA is allowed on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, and Management Area 4 goose hunting days during the youth hunt and regular waterfowl season. All visitors using the area must register and park in the designated parking lot located on the eastern boundary of the property. Parking is limited to five vehicles, in order to keep hunter numbers low, and is not allowed before 4 a.m. Contact WDFW’s Region 2 office for more information on this area.

Frenchmen Ponds Regulated Access Area (FRAA) is also managed to raise duck food and moist soil production has been very good this year, particularly in cells 2, 3, and 4 and portions of cells 5, 6, and 7. This area also has a relatively high harvest rate for duck and goose hunting. The Department has been working toward expanding the huntable area in the southern portion of the FRAA through wetland development and Russian olive tree removal. The area is technically open to hunting now but because piles of Russian olives must be burned, wetland basins will not be flooded at this time.

One of the blinds at the Winchester Regulated Access Area (lower right)

Good news- the ADA-accessible blind at cell 2 is being replaced with a new and improved one with a lower profile for better concealment, and the blind at cell 5 was cleaned up, brushed in, and is ready for use.

Access in the FRAA is every day during the youth hunt and regular waterfowl season. All visitors using the area must register and park in the designated parking lot. Parking is limited to seven vehicles; with two of those spots reserved for disabled hunters. Vehicles are not allowed into the parking lot before 4 a.m. Contact WDFW’s Region 2 office for more information and to reserve the disabled hunter blinds.

WDFW doesn’t control water levels for moist soil management at the North Potholes Regulated Access Area (NPRAA), but hunters should know that natural waterfowl food production is best in ponds 1, 2, and 4. The water level of these ponds is dependent upon water level management of Potholes Reservoir by the Bureau of Reclamation (check water levels here). Typically pond levels are low, or even dry, through mid-November so later season hunting is better. Good hunts are possible with the right weather conditions though (wind, fog, and snow) because the North Potholes Reserve to the south often has large numbers of birds. A good idea is to scout ahead of hunting and be cautious because these ponds have mucky bottoms in places, so learn where you can and cannot set decoys.

Photo courtesy Conner Webster

Access to the NPRAA is allowed every day. All visitors using the area must register and park in the designated parking lot located on the northern boundary of the property, just off the Interstate 90 south frontage road. Parking is limited to five vehicles. Vehicles are not allowed in the parking lot before 4 a.m.

Maps
If you would like additional help to hunt these regulated access areas, WDFW has recently developed georeferenced maps that include the regulated access areas. The maps are compatible with georeferenced map mobile applications and can be used without cell reception.

Say “Hi” to Chattan

If you spend much time at any of these regulated access areas, you will eventually bump into Chattan (if you haven’t already), our former Wetland Specialist recently promoted to assistant wildlife area manager. Chattan is in charge of managing these areas and other wetland habitats throughout the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area. Chattan oversaw this work for about three years and has vastly improved the moist soil management, invasive species control, and overall function of these areas. He’s taken waterfowl forage production to the next level using moist soil management techniques and loves sharing his knowledge of the area and waterfowling with hunters. As a seasoned waterfowl hunter himself, he has helped other hunters by knowing not just how to promote desirable vegetation but also where it should occur to benefit hunting most.

If you run into Chattan, be sure to say “hi”.

And if you are interested in trying out one of our other regulated access areas, but aren’t close to the Columbia Basin, consider one of these other regulated access areas from across the state.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.