Sauvie Island WA waterfowl hunts
Located just north of Portland and sandwiched between the Multnomah Channel and the Columbia River, Sauvie Island Wildlife Area is one of the most popular public waterfowling areas in Oregon, with hunters tallying about 10,000 hunter/day trips per season. This article explains how the controlled hunt process works and offers tips for being more successful in the draw.
In this Article
The Wildlife Area is divided into four main units, the North, Westside, Eastside and Oak Island. The Oak Island Unit is typically included within the Eastside Unit for hunter management so we've included here as well. The most popular hunt unit is the Eastside, which is subdivided into these 14 subunits:
There are three ways to get a permit to hunt in these subunits.
- Apply for, and hopefully draw, a controlled hunt permit (permit) for a specific subunit and hunt day through the ODFW draw system.
- Be the guest of a permit holder who drew a permit for one of the “blind” subunits (Hunt, Johnson, Mudhen, Oak Island, Racetrack, & Reeder Tract).
- Go through the non-reservation process, which allocates hunt opportunities left-over after permitted hunters are processed each morning. Every hunt day there are some leftover permits because not enough hunters applied for all the available permits, or because some permits holders didn’t show up to hunt.
Understanding the draw process
At the wildlife area, the Eastside and Westside areas are open to game bird hunting every-other day of the duck season, with a few exceptions.
- During the three-day “season split” in late October/early November.
- Around the Thanksgiving Holiday when no hunts are scheduled on Thanksgiving Day or the Friday after Thanksgiving.
- Christmas Day. (In some seasons, as it was in 2020/21, Christmas Day is a non-hunt day in the normal every-other day schedule and no extra closure was necessary.)
Further, the Eastside season is subdivided into seven hunt periods, A – G, for two reasons. First, this allows each hunter to draw up to seven permits to hunt the Eastside during the season. This is similar to the big game draw where a hunter may apply for one buck deer tag, one elk tag, one, pronghorn tag, etc. Here, a hunter can apply for one A permit, one B permit, one C permit, etc.
Second, as water levels increase during the winter, there’s more huntable area and the number of permits increases to match the increased opportunity. For example, in the Rentenaar subunit, there are six hunt spots are available for A and B periods, eight for C period, and ten for D – G periods.
To apply in the draw
- Consult the current Game Bird Hunting regulation book and identify the period(s) you want to hunt in and the specific day(s) you want to hunt. Look for “Reservation and permit application” in the table of contents.
- Select up to five hunt choices to list on your application. Each hunt choice is for a specific hunt day in a specific subunit, except in the Oak Island subunit, where each hunt choice is for a specific hunt day and a specific hunting blind in the subunit.
- Give some thought to the order of your choices, since you may have a much better chance of drawing some hunts as a first choice than if you list them as a second to fifth choice. Read on for more information about how to make a successful choice.
- Apply for your permit online through the electronic licensing system (ELS) or in person at a license agent.
NOTE: Each hunt period has its own application deadline. You can apply for all seven hunt periods at once, or one at a time. But you cannot apply for any hunt period after the deadline. Generally, the application deadline is four weeks before the first hunt day in each period.
How the draw works
Once the application deadline has passed, your application is assigned a random seven-digit number. If you applied as a party, all party members receive the same application number as the person identified as the party leader and your fate in the draw will be the same as the leader’s.
Next, a seven-digit random number is physically drawn as a “seed number” for each hunt period. This number is created one digit at a time by seven ODFW customers using the licensing counter at the department’s Salem headquarters office each rolling a 10-sided dice once. So if person A rolls a seven, person B rolls a one, person C rolls a three, person D rolls a six, person E rolls a five, person F rolls a four, and person G roll a ones the hunt period’s seed number would be 7,136,541.
Selecting first hunt choices
The draw now begins with the first choices hunters applied for. For each subunit (or Oak Island blind), the ELS identifies the applicants with application numbers matching or closest to and above the seed number, up to the maximum number of available permits for each hunt. Those applicants are classified as “Selected.”
For example, let’s say 15 hunters applied for hunt 39RT in Racetrack as their first choice. Since Racetrack has five blinds available for every hunt day in the season, five of those 15 hunters will be selected. Ordered by application number, the fictitious applicants are:
Since the seed number was 7,136,541, the successful hunters belong to the five application numbers matching, or closest to and above 7,136,541. Since only three numbers were matching or higher than the seed, the ELS wraps around to the beginning of the list and continues the selection starting with the lowest application number.
The ELS completes this process for all first choices, for all hunts, before moving on to second choice applications. For the most popular hunts, there may not be any permits left to allocate in the second choice or later draws. For this example there were 15 first choice applicants but only five permits to allocate. For the second choice or later drawings to come into play, the number of first choice applicants for a specific hunt must be less than the number of permits available.
Selecting second – fifth choice hunts
The second choice draw is completed the same as the first choice draw, using the same seed and random application numbers. First, anyone who drew their first choice is removed from the selection process, since you can only draw one permit per hunt period. Then, the ELS identifies those hunts with unallocated permits and awards permits to those second choice applicants whose application number matches or is closest to and above the seed number. The third, fourth and fifth choice draws follow the same process.
Next, hunters who are selected in the draw are assigned a “check-in sequence number.” This number determines the order they will be called to the Eastside check station on the morning of their hunt. This number is based off the same random application number assigned to each hunter in the draw. So, using the example above, application number 7,196,193 would have check-in sequence number 1, application number 9,131,097 would have number 2, and 9,778,923 would have number 3, etc.
Since the application number is a randomly generated number, the check-in sequence number is also random. Check-in sequence numbers are assigned by hunt choice, meaning within the same hunt all hunters drawn on first choice will have lower check-in numbers than hunters drawn on their second choice.
Checking your draw results
Draw results are published on the date listed in the Game Bird Regulations, about two weeks after the application deadline. To check if you were successful, simply log on to your ELS account, click on the controlled hunts link, and look for your results. You will see a “Not Selected” message next to the hunt choices you did not draw and/or a “Selected” message next to any hunt choice you did draw, along with your check-in sequence number.
On your hunt day
If you were successful in the draw, the next step is to purchase your permit and make plans to arrive to the Eastside check station’s Reservation Holder Vehicle Line at least two hours before shooting hours begin on the day of your hunt. Once you arrive, park in the line on the right side of the road, tune your AM radio to 1580, and wait for your check-in sequence number to be called over the radio.
When your number is called, pull out of line to the left and drive to the check station. Once at the check station ODFW staff will confirm your permit and the check your hunting license and stamps, and those of your guests if your permit is for a blind subunit.
If you’re hunting a roam subunit you will be issued a daily hunt permit and sent on your way. If you are hunting a blind unit, you’ll select a specific hunting blind before you head out. Good luck on your hunt!
Three ways to increase your draw odds
Hunters often are frustrated that they never seem to draw a Sauvie Island hunt, no matter how many times they apply. This issue may not be just bad luck, but the choices they make in their applications. Here are some tips to improve your chances for a successful draw.
1. Select realistic second – fifth choices.
A review of the application data reveals that the most common mistake hunters make (by far) is using their second – fifth choices to apply for a permit that’s impossible to draw with anything other than a first choice.
In our example, if there are fifteen first choice applicants for Racetrack, but only five hunt permits, it’s impossible to draw a Racetrack permit as a second or later choice. In fact, based on the patterns of applications in 2020/21 and 2021/22, there was no possible way any permit for the Johnson or Racetrack subunits could be drawn on a second or later choice.
For the Hunt subunit over the last two seasons, only 14 of the 764 available permits could be drawn with a second choice, and six of these were for a youth only day. On the other hand, your odds of drawing a permit for Mudhen with a second choice were much better. In 2020/21 and 2021/22 respectively, 33 percent and 34 percent of the permits in Mudhen were still available after the first choice draw. And even after all the second – fifth choice draws there were still six remaining unallocated permits in 2020/21 and five in 2021/22. Total number of first choice applications for these four units the past two seasons was:
|First choice applicants|
What’s that the conclusion? There’s next to no chance to draw a permit for Johnson, Racetrack or Hunt with anything other than a first choice.
So how many applicants are throwing away their second choices? Based on applications from the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, about half of applicants selected a second choice hunt that was next to impossible, if not impossible, to draw.
|2020-21 season||2021-22 season|
|Total first choice applications||8,311||8,182|
|Total second choice applications||7,620||7,329|
|Second choice applications for Racetrack, Johnson of Hunt||3,990 (52%)||3,562 (48%)|
|"Wasted" second choice applications||48%||52 %|
So, what should you list as a second or later choice? The best options are to select one of the roam subunits or weekday Mudhen hunts as your second and later choices. For most of the roam subunits, there are usually some permits remaining after the first choice drawing, except in the most popular units on the most popular hunt days.
If you insist on selecting Johnson, Racetrack or Hunt as a second or later choice, please realize that you’ll have little (very little) to no chance of success.
2. Apply for dates later in the hunt period
The application data also showed more hunters apply for earlier days in the hunt period than for later days in the same hunt period. While this is a good strategy if you hope to draw a permit for the opening day of the season, there is no reason to prefer the first weekend hunt day in Period E over the second weekend day in Period E. Since, year in and year out, more hunters apply for the earlier hunt days than the later ones, it’s almost always statistically easier to draw a permit later in a hunt period.
Here’s a quick example for the Johnson Unit the past two seasons. As you can see, hunters that apply for the later hunts in each period have a better chance of getting a permit, even though there might be no difference in the quality of the hunt. Because the application deadline occurs a month before the hunt period begins, there is no way to judge the quality of the hunting conditions that far out. The exception would be opening day vs the later weekend days in Period A.
Consider the later hunt days in each period to increase your odds of drawing, or if your schedule allows, choose a weekday, especially one late in the period.
3. Think carefully about applying as an individual vs. as a party
If you and three hunting partners want to hunt in a blind unit, you’ll have a better chance to draw a permit if you apply as individuals rather than as a party. Remember, if you draw a blind unit you can invite up to three other hunters to join you. If you apply as a party, all members of the group will share the same application number, giving you just one chance to draw a permit. If you each apply as individuals, your party will have four chances to draw a permit.
On the other hand, if you and a buddy want to hunt a roam unit, where each hunter needs to have their own permit, you’ll have a better chance to hunt together if you apply as a party.
Application statistics and patterns for 2021/22
|Unit**||# of permits/day||% of 1st choice applicants||Odds of drawing 1st choice permit||# of ducks/hunter*|
|Oak Island||2.0%||Generally high||0.7 duck|
|0.8 snow geese|
* Based on a 10-year average.
** The attached pdfs include expanded data from the 2021/22 season for each subunit/Oak Island blind showing:
- How many permits were available to first choice applicants and how many remained for each successive draw.
- How many first choice applicants applied for each hunt and how many applicants applied for each successive draw and still remained alive in the draw (didn’t draw an earlier choice).
- For the blind subunits, party member applications are not included as they do not impact draw odds.
- The probability of being selected based on the application patterns during the 2021/22 season.
- Do not interpret these statistics to be your chances of drawing a specific hunt in future seasons. This document is intended to make you (and others) aware of some ways you can change your odds of success. If all readers follow the recommendations, the draw statistics in future years could look considerably different. Though I expect your odds of drawing a permit for Johnson, Racetrack or Hunt on a second or later choice will remain firmly stuck at zero.
Brandon Reishus is the ODFW migratory game bird coordinator. He can be reached at Brandon.S.Reishus@odfw.oregon.gov.
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