Hunting partner, Tom Billingsley, and I arrived at the Web Tract ferry about 8:45 on Saturday morning Dec 1. One truck was in line ahead of us and the driver hopped out of his truck as we pulled up.
“I’ve been here since 8 O’clock,” he bellowed. “There was no 8 O’clock ferry and if it doesn’t show up at 9 I’ll give up.”
“Oh island life,” I thought to myself. “Obviously this guy’s life style is not at the right pace for island living.”
We could already see large flocks of geese rising up on Webb Tract a couple miles from where we waited. Eagerly we drove onto the ferry and then to the property. From the levy overlooking the south end of our 140 acre hunting ground we could see hundreds of geese and swans loafing in the most southern pond, a pond of only 5 to 10 acres in size.
After a brief discussion we concluded that we’d be better off if we entered the property from the North end. With a south wind, we’d disturb the property less if we approached from down wind. When we set up to hunt, the wind would reduce our impact upon the birds at the south end, and hopefully we’d have a continuous draw of birds overhead giving us opportunities to pass shoot.
As we drove into camp, we could see that the northern ponds held even more waterfowl than the southern. In fact this may have been the largest concentration of geese, swans and sand hill cranes that I’d ever witnessed at close range.
Upon our arrival the birds became nervous. Tom and I sat down in camp chairs to observe. As the flock grew ever-more excited they began to lift off. Thousands and thousands of geese rose from the ponds. As they lifted off they carried with them droplets of water which fell back to the ground. The trailing beads of water fell like strings of diamonds creating a cascade of reflections backlit by the morning sun. The sound of calling geese, cranes and swans mixed with the roar of wing beats and the reflecting waterfall made the scene spectacular. We sat and stared like privileged guests at a sacred ceremony.
Webb Tract hadn’t always been a goose Mecca. Thirty years ago, my brother, Rob and I saw an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle Sportsman’s Corner. The ad read something like this: “Delta duck and pheasant club for Sale – seeking six partners, $18K each.”
This was what we were waiting for. We called the phone number on the ad and viewed the property within a few days – could hardly wait to plop down our money, except we didn’t have enough. We told the seller that we’d pay him when sold our rental house and he said OK.
We became one of the first to purchase an interest in what was later to become the False River Farms duck club.
As farmers, we never received enough money, from our share of the crop, to pay for the debt service, taxes and reclamation district fees. One winter, the island flooded and we were strapped with additional charges for reclamation.
The hunting was fantastic, and our prayers for a hunting paradise were answered. Despite the poor financial showing, we were never unhappy with our decision to purchase.
After the island had been returned to a normal and semi productive state, we were offered a chance to sell the property and maintain a life estate – for hunting purposes. This was truly a case of having our cake and eating it too. The sale price was such that we turned a reasonable profit for our years of enjoyment. And, to this date we still have excellent hunting on the property. Except now we hunt geese more than ducks and pheasants, but we still bag a few of them too.
(Tom with four white-front geese, also know as speckle bellies)
You see the rough edges, berry bushes, small marshes and tule patches that used to provide habitat for pheasants and ducks are gone. In an effort to clear the island of such quagmires, the new owners removed most of the wildlife infrastructure. Now they plow, plant or drain everything possible. I suspect that this process also produces the highest yield crop wise. What used to be fantastic duck and pheasant habitat has been converted to perfect goose habitat. The geese prefer the open space, wheat sprouts and left over grain which liters the corn and wheat fields.
If I were asked, “What is the best real estate investment that an individual can make?” I would respond that purchase of property that can be utilized by the owners is the best investment of all. A personal residence is first and foremost. A business person should always consider owning the property that his business is located upon. After that, I would say that recreational property, used with a high degree of frequency, is probably as good of an investment as anything. If the property falls within the individual’s affordable range, and if use of the property remains enjoyable, the owner has the added advantage, from an investment point of view, that there is no need to sell.
When there is no need to sell, the owner can wait indefinitely for the right buyer to come along. Sooner or later somebody will want your property more than you do. In the mean time one can continue to enjoy the fruits of land ownership and be in control.
In the case of our Webb Tract property, the new owners did not need the hunting rights, and we were not interested in selling, so the only way to purchase our property was to offer to let us keep them. As a hunter, they are the reason for ownership, so the hunting rights are invaluable. Upon sale of the Webb Tract property we were able to purchase a second duck club where we still enjoy hunting to this day.
Today, the parcel we once owned and now hunt provides some of the finest goose hunting that exists. During the months of December and January, the 5,000 acre island attracts many thousands of geese – primarily white-fronted, snow, Ross’s and small Canadian geese like Aleutians and cackling geese.
Our weekend hunt produced lots of action. Tom and I each bagged several white-fronts with a pheasant on the side. Lola retrieved her first goose and I managed a rare triple on geese when a large flock of white-fronts passed overhead.
All this took place in bright sunny weather with a moderate breeze and temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s. Throw in a couple rib eye steaks provided by Tom and you’ve got all a bird hunter could ask for.