PUBLISHED: 2:58 PM on Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Duck hunting down town
The camo is old, familiar, yet out of practice after a long year in storage.

Flat in the mud, moving nothing but eyeballs, I measure my time in this duck paradise.

The tide is ebbing and will give me an hour or so before rolling in and relentlessly flooding my hiding spot.

The salty mussel-laced mud was goony before dawn, sticky at first light and now has become an extension of my neoprene skin.

To the south, I can see a couple of fly fishermen working the low tide beyond Salmon Creek, probing for the roaming schools of DIPAC silver salmon eager to inhale a Clouser.

And thought I couldn't see them beyond the Douglas Bridge, I know the last of the year's cruise ships are at the downtown docks.

To the north, an Alaska Air 747 screams across the sky heading south to Seattle, carrying another load of tourists and business folk south.

And then I feel as much as hear the whistle of waterfowl wings, passing overhead.

A half dozen mallards were passing wide, but cutting a look back toward my decoys, bobbing at low tide.

Show time.

"Is this a great place or what?" I chuckled, stuffing the mallard call into my mouth.


"Whack. Whack. Whack."

They are already turning and cupping wings, dropping toward the decoys, before I can spit out the call.

I marvel again at the difference between September north country ducks, and the December wary ducks I grew up hunting in Texas.

"Yellow legs. Forget those yellow legs," my hunting conscious whispers, as the greenheads lock cupped wings and flutter into my salt-encrusted decoys.

The Benelli 12 gauge is swinging ahead of the lead drake even as I'm escaping from the mud flat's grasp, with a loud sucking sound.

It crumples in the cloud of Hevi Shot 4s, even as the rest of the flock is still settling to the decoys.

A second drake drops to the shot as they flare, and a third at the fringe of the decoys, as they climb for altitude.

"Welcome to September!" I chuckle, watching the remaining mallards circling and heading north toward less crowded resting spots, even as other shotguns thump in the distance.

Although there is some hunting in August, for most southeast Alaskans, Sept. 1 marks the real beginning of hunting season, with waterfowl season. And Juneau residents have the unique opportunity at world-class duck hunting inside our city limits.

The 4,000 or so acres of the Mendenhall Wetlands which stretch nine miles through the center of the Juneau from Salmon Creek to the Airport are open to public waterfowl hunting throughout the fall season. This ranks the wetlands as one of the most unique and accessible public hunting areas in America. When the area was created in 1976, public hunting was one it dedicated purposes.

By late August, a number of species ducks have begun using the wetlands, including pintails, green-winged and some mallards.

Widgeons and shovelers will join them soon, as will a whole host of different species of sea ducks, including goldeneyes, buffleheads, and scoters.

Sedge grass in the tidal areas and beach rye grass above tide line are both important feed sources for the ducks.

Most of the geese using the area will arrive later and will include the smaller cackling Canada goose, lesser Canada goose, white-fronted goose, and snow goose.

In addition, the wetland has a resident population of Vancouver Canada geese. These geese feed and roost in the wetlands, but become pretty adept at moving into protect non-hunting areas during the day once hunting pressure starts.

Since many houses and Juneau's two main highways border the area, safety is a big concern. It's the most basic hunting and shooting rule, but always be aware of what's behind your target before shooting. Never ever shoot toward neighboring houses.

The single biggest risk to public hunting in the area is careless shooting.

The wisest choice is to mentally establish "no-shooting zones" before shooting light or before you load your shotgun, then never violate them no matter how tempting the target.

It's essential that hunters on the area exercise caution and common sense.

Since early days and weekends will get hunting pressure, be especially conscious of other hunters. While more serious waterfowlers will set up decoy spreads and call to passing flocks of ducks, t here are some who choose to walk around the wetlands. This increases the odds of a shooting mishap, so always be watchful of those around you.

If you're walking, be vigilant logical decoy spreads, since you might not see well-camouflaged hunters nearby.

On my first hunt in the wetlands, I had a pair of hunters walk right through my decoy spread!

To avoid conflicts, hunt on weekdays rather than the busy weekends.

And study the tides, so you're neither stranded nor chasing a vanishing spread of decoys on a rising tide.


A free public hunting permit is required before hunting the area. Refuge permits are available at the Fish and Game office in Douglas or online at, at the link to "obtaining registration permits." The Mendenhall permit is wu001.

More than 750 hunters get permits to hunt the area each year, and post-season surveys report that they'll dedicate 2,000 or more total hunter days in the area, to harvest more than 3,000 ducks and geese.

While it's possible on a rare day to shoot a 7-duck limit on the wetlands, most days will offer a few shooting opportunities at early light and again when pressure begins to move ducks around. But it's one of the few places in the universe where you can savor a true Southeast day, by shooting a duck and catching a salmon almost in the same spot, with a few minutes of home!

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly. He's also been an award-winning outdoor writer for more than 20 years. Email him at