Author // Tribe Member, Matt McCormick
In 1962, Utah became the first state where Tundra Swans could be legally hunted. In 1983, due to the significant increase in population, the Pacific Flyway Council prepared a long-term management plan for the Western population of Tundra Swans, which today exceeds 120,000. This ongoing plan includes detailed habitat protection, steady population monitoring, and a strict harvest management program obtained only by special draw in the states of Montana, Nevada and Utah.
Last year, I was one of the lucky few to draw the Pacific Flyway’s Greater Salt Lake Basin swan permit in North Central Utah.
On November 15th, after two months of playing meteorologist and checking refuge counts every Tuesday, the aerial swan survey checked in over 46,000 Tundra Swans, up from 4,700 two weeks prior. Game on.
My hunting partner Brady Davis and I immediately packed the truck and migrated 400 miles south to Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, which contains nearly 80,000 acres of public marshlands.
Once there, we caught up with SITKA Ambassadors Tony Smith and Rich Beus, two local marsh rats who are experts in open water decoying. Over the next two days, we drove, drug and winched two fully-loaded Excels over dry land and hiked through two feet of mud all to witness the magical sight of adult swans decoying in open water.
It was an honor to participate in this incredible success story at the Refuge, and it’s exciting to know the Tundra Swan’s stable populations will continue to afford hunters the opportunity to hunt these amazing birds.
Money from Utah swan permits goes directly towards waterfowl conservation, including population surveys and habitat work for all waterfowl species as well as projects like pond restoration specific to swans.
Blair Stringham, Utah Migratory Bird Coordinator, says hunters should also be aware that Trumpeter Swans occasionally use the same corridors as Tundra Swans. Some hunters accidentally harvest Trumpeters thinking they are Tundras. Because all swan kills must be reported, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources keeps close track of Trumpeter harvests and will shut down the Tundra Swan season if more than 10 Trumpeters are reported killed.
All hunters who draw a Tundra Swan tag must complete an online Swan Hunter Orientation Course, which helps with Tundra and Trumpeter Swan identification. This resource is available to the public, regardless of whether you have a Tundra Swan tag or not.