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Duck hunters find plenty to shoot at

Despite the good weather — no wind, warm temperatures and no low clouds — Saturday's opening of the 2004 duck hunt was good, which simply means most hunters came off the marshes with at least one duck and in several cases with a full limit.

Usually, good weather keeps ducks either grounded or flying high and out of range.

The general consensus of marsh managers was that there were apparently enough ducks flying that a fair share stayed within range, which resulted in the opinion of several hunters that it was a "good" hunt.

Typically, shooting comes in rapid volleys around opening time, 8 a.m., but then trails off to occasional shots after the first 15 minutes.

Saturday, there were a few shots heard about 20 minutes before the official opening. The big barrage hit between eight to 10 minutes before the start time, and shooting remained steady for the first hour.

Consensus, too, is that hunting pressure was up this year. Part of the increase is attributed to early reports of large duck populations resting on Utah's northern marshes.

At Farmington Bay, for example, hunting pressure was up 22 percent. Officers counted 740 vehicles and estimate the number of hunters at around 1,500.

Early checks showed the average number of ducks taken was between 3 and 2.5 per hunter, said Justin Dolling, area manager.

All hunters contacted early Saturday said they had opportunities to shoot, but not all were able to hit their targets.

Several suggested they should have taken a few "practice" shots before heading out to the marshes.

Most of the ducks taken along the Great Salt Lake's eastern shores were teal — green wing and cinnamon. There were also a number of Rudy and mallards taken.

The best hunting was on those marshes with abundant water. Farmington and Ogden bays both reported most of the impoundment were full and flowing over into the lake.

Other areas, such as Public Shooting Grounds, Salt Creek and Locomotive Springs, are drier than normal and duck numbers are down.

There were also reports of several geese being taken during the first hour of shooting. Once shooting started, however, many of the geese picked up and flew to safe areas, such as golf courses.

Over the course of the 107-day hunt, Tom Aldrich, waterfowl coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said the total number of ducks passing through Utah will likely be down.

"Right now there are good numbers of some management areas, like Farmington and Ogden bays. As the season progresses, however, there may not be as many ducks," he said.

The number of breeding pairs of ducks from northern nesting areas in Canada was down between 7 and 9 percent.

Low water levels in the northern areas of the state will also play a part in south flying ducks' decision to stay in Utah for fly through.

The season will run through Jan. 15.