November 7, 2018

When the sun rises to the east of Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Area, I like to be on the west side of the lake. The sunrises in the fall are always spectacular. Oranges and pinks backlight the tall cottonwoods that follow the ditches through the sagebrush and grasslands. The lake itself glows and sometimes gives on an enchanting fog or mist. Couple the scene with the anticipation of pheasant opener (or any hunting morning), and it’s a magical place to sit in your truck with the heat on and the dog fogging up the windshield with eager panting.

Three sunrises at Ocean Lake

My dog loves to hunt at Ocean Lake. She was bred and born for it, and when she runs through a field with nose high or through dense willows with nose to the ground, it’s obvious she comes alive when she’s chasing the scent of pheasants.

Between the sunrises that start the day, the scenery that won’t stop, and the dog that refuses to quit, Ocean Lake is my favorite place to be in November.

Two hunters with their dog pause to rest during a pheasant hunt

Ocean Lake is a favorite place for many locals and hunters and fishermen from afar. The whole area is an outdoor recreationist’s dream. The small lake stretches away from rocky shores, a bright teal that more days than not matches that of a Pacific lagoon. The terrain surrounding the lake is gentle in that it’s relatively flat, but it’s unforgiving: Thick willows stripe fields of tall grasses and crisscross with cattails that hide either swamp mud or ice. Pheasants thrive in this type of habitat, as do geese, ducks, sandhill cranes, doves, rabbits, deer, foxes, and more.

“The 11,505-acre Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Area was created in the 1940’s through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and was completed in 1974,” according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “The area is 17 miles northwest of Riverton.  It is loaded with wildlife and offers plenty of recreational opportunities.  You can reach Ocean Lake from U.S. Highway 26, or Wyoming Highway 134 and Eight Mile Road.”

The Ocean Lake Wildlife Habitat Management Area is managed primarily for waterfowl and is best known for its pheasant and waterfowl hunting. Each year, 1,500 to 2,000 pheasants are released in the area to supplement native bird populations, and the resulting health and size in populations has steadily improved.

Single hunter walks through grass, willows, and Russian olive trees at Ocean Lake in Wyoming

The care the Bureau of Reclamation, Wyoming Game and Fish, and sportsmen and recreationists have taken with this special area makes it an incredible destination within Wind River Country. There are many ways to enjoy it, whatever your mode of recreation:

  1. Hunt Pheasants

Ocean Lake is a destination for hunters across the state. If you’re interested in hunting released birds, coordinate your hunts with the release schedule in November. If you’d rather put in the work for the reward of wild birds, visit in December and hunt farther away from the lake. Enjoy parking areas, walk-in access, and a hunting community with fellow dog owners. Just don’t forget your special pheasant stamp when you pick up your license to keep this area healthy and well-managed.

  1. Hunt Waterfowl

You’ll find great walk-in areas where you can set up decoys or jump-shoot, thanks to a healthy habitat of cattails and grass on the shore. Or you can load up the boat, launch at one of the docks, and find some shore with less cover but the opportunity to reach some backwater areas. Enjoy watching and listening to geese, mallards, and teal in the air above.

  1. Bird Watching

“Most of the area is classified as crucial breeding and nesting range for Canada geese. Much of the southeastern portion has been classified as supporting habitat for whooping cranes, currently an endangered species. Habitat has been improved through the construction of dikes, the creation of numerous ponds and construction and placement of 200 nesting structures. During migration, up to 3,000 geese, 400 sandhill cranes and 10,000 ducks may be observed here,” the Wyoming Game and Fish explains.

  1. Fishing

This warm-water lake is home to lots of walleye, trout, bass, crappie, perch, bullhead, and ling. The more than three miles of improved roads also provide access to boat ramps and picnic tables, or you can fish from the shore at one of many walk-in access points all the way around the lake.

  1. Camping

Regardless of your interest, you can camp here in designated sites for 14 days at a time.

Two hunters walk into the sun near Ocean Lake

Posted in Notes From the Field