Before Flood-Up

Sunday was decoy day for my blind partner Tom Billingsley and I. Tom stores the decoys each season and for that I am grateful. We arrived at our blind about the same time, about 11:00 AM.

Here’s what we found.

img_2261-blind-4-before-decoys

This duck blind is ideal for grasslands open water shooting.

The duck food is swamp timothy, which grows close to the ground and produces lots of small seeds. It also provides habitat for the tiny invertebrates that waterfowl love to eat. As you can see, this club is very level, which means that every blind enjoys shallow wading, a big benefit. This is a three-man concrete blind which is limited to two people for hunting.

Most of the blinds at the Kerry Club have only one dog box, but this blind and several others have two dog boxes, which can come in handy.

This blind is very low profile. We will place some cover around the blind, but not raise it in elevation as that makes the blind appear larger to ducks. We also stock the blind with palm leaves and such so we can cover ourselves and the dogs up.

Because this is open water hunting, we use primarily teal and sprig decoys. We stocked it with about 100 decoys which will remain in place for the entire season. We painted them a bit to make them a little more appealing to both ducks and hunters – putting most of our effort into the more colorful drake decoys, especially the heads and white parts of the birds.

We left the cover out of the blind until after flood up as there will be a million crickets and other critters in the blind as they escape to dry ground during flood up. We placed the decoys in anticipation of a northwest wind as that is the prevailing direction at the club, but we also took into account that this particular blind is in the southeast corner of a very large pond.

One of the things I had to learn while providing decoys for this open water club is that the large ponds with little emergent vegitation generate large waves – especially at our blind location. The first year we had four ounce weights on our decoys and many floated away. Last year we switched to eight ounce weights and some of the larger decoys still drifted.

Here are a few photos taken during past seasons.

Our blind is not in the top echelon at the club, but does receive moderate use. It will shoot well on opening day – which is where Tom and I will be hunting.

A Dove Hunt

On Friday evening I passed a corral located near a pond at the ranch. Since I was on the way home and Linda was expecting me, I didn’t spend much time looking but I couldn’t help but notice the number of doves. While driving, I couldn’t get the birds off my mind. I’d been wanting to hunt doves, but it hadn’t been working out.

The ranch is not usually a good dove hunting location. The elevation, about two thousand feet, is not ideal and the cool evenings with bay fog generally discourages doves by the time September arrives. Apparently not this year.

Saturday evening couldn’t arrive soon enough. I loaded my shotgun into the Ford and headed to the ranch a little early. I figured that maybe a few of the doves would arrive early and Linda would be happy if I came home before dark – or even sooner. So, at 1:00 PM I was on the road.

I arrived at the hot spot about 2:30 and set up in the shade of the largest post at the corral. Making myself comfortable, I began to bird-watch. Not just for doves, but for anything interesting. I brought along my Nikon in case something interesting came along while I waited for the doves to show. Three-thirty turned to four.

A phoebe arrived at the corral, and without a lot of thought, I watched it fly-catch for a while and decided not to photograph it as I have quite a few good shots of black phoebe’s. But, there was something different about this phoebe.

About the time when the bird decided to move off, I realized that this was a Say’s phoebe, a bird which I seldom see and have not had any luck photographing.

I made some feeble attempts to photograph the bird from far away, without any notable success. Then the bird disappeared.

Now, with camera in hand, I was looking for something to photograph. Turkey vultures began to circle overhead. Their numbers began to increase and before long there were about fifteen of them and they were coming pretty close. Maybe they thought I was dying, but I was only dying for something to photograph so I snapped a few photos. Reviewed them and they looked pretty good.

Now I really wanted that phoebe to come back. The doves were still not flying. When the phoebe did come back, it stayed a little too far off and I kept trying to make something out of nothing as the bird refused to fly into good photography range.

All of a sudden a rock wren landed about ten feet away. Any bird looks good at ten feet in perfect sun and this bird had no fear.

Now I was really feeling it and as soon as the wren left, the phoebe flew up and landed about 20 feet away. It was heavenly.

Beautiful birds.

Then it happened. I saw a dove fly by and turned around to look as another one landed on the corral. I bent over to grab my shotgun and realized there were several others already landed. They had sneaked in while I was in bird nirvana.

I shifted into hunter mode and quickly dropped two doves. In the next 45 minutes I was covered up. There was no reason to keep shooting after I’d knocked down twelve – enough for a couple dinners. As I plucked the birds it was clear that most of them were birds of the year.

What a great hunt, and I made it home before dark.

Tonight Linda watched as I barbecued up half the beautiful doves. They were very good. She was not impressed.

Dolphins in the Surf

On the last morning of our Labor Day weekend stay at The Sea Ranch, a family of dolphins played in the surf. Here are some photos of them surfing. DSC_0304[1] flipping dolphin

DSC_0310[1] surfing dolphin

DSC_0321[1] surfing dolphins

There were five in all.

DSC_0332[1] dophin family

We also saw harbor seals, sea lions, blacktail deer and lots of birds. It was a good time with the family.

Here’s a photo of my son-in-law, Brett, enjoying the ocean view, which is reflected from the windows of our rental home.

IMG_2230 Brett with mirror view of ocean

 

Bobcat on a Limb

A few weeks ago I was leaving the ranch when a young bobcat appeared on the road in front of me. Unlike most wild animals, this cat decided to walk and run down the road in front of me and continued to do so for several hundred yards.

Eventually I decided that maybe I’d get a chance to photograph the cat and moved my camera onto my lap where it would be handy.

Finally the cat decided to leave the road and as I passed its location I spotted the cat standing on the limb of a downed tree. I grabbed the camera and made an attempt to photograph the cat before it disappeared into the woods.

Not expecting the photo to turn out, I didn’t even review the shot when I got home.

While glancing through photos on my computer yesterday, I noticed that the cat photo was interesting. Here it is.

DSC_0214[1] bobcat

I like the silhouette and the one eye. You can’t be sure when a photo will be worthwhile. Just keep firing away and maybe something good will happen.

Open Zone Mule Deer Road Trip

Spent the weekend driving and looking over mule deer country. First stop, X5a. Lots of good looking deer habitat. Observed about 50 deer during two tours. Here are a couple photos.

DSC_0215[1] roadside four by on private ranch off Horse Lake Rd.DSC_0221[1] X5a doe from roadDSC_0225[1] nice buck at 700 yardsDSC_0247[1] Does & fawns in X5a

Coul

DSC_0241[1] Horse Lake bucks

Could have shot this guy with my bow as archery season was open. He stood there at 20 yards and waited for me to take his photo. Good thing I left my bow home.

Next was Devil’s Garden. Saw only a few deer, but the habitat was stimulating. More deer will move in during the fall.

DSC_0236[1] DG burn

DSC_0239[1] County Road does

And finally, X6b. This is the location of the Doyle Muzzleloading rifle hunt.

IMG_2212

The Doyle hunt takes place in late November. Should be prime time for rutting bucks.

That’s about it. Didn’t see anything too exciting, but did see some great deer habitat and it will look much better during October and November.

Spoke with an antelope hunter who said he’d seen a 29+- incher that morning. Not me.

The Good, the Bad, the ugly

Weather patterns over the fast five years have created some of the worst conditions for wildlife habitat we’ve seen in our area during our lifetime.

Drought, habitat decline and more drought took the habitat on our ranch from excellent five years ago, to bare bones in 2014/15.

My personal opinion is that deer numbers are down about 75%. I haven’t seen anything official to confirm that. Two years ago deer hit bottom and dropped like flies. A few survived – hopefully enough to make a comeback.

The silver lining is that 2016 has brought excellent rain and the habitat is rebounding. The reduced numbers of deer has created a scenario where the habitat is producing in some areas like never seen before.

Among the benefactors are oak trees. When compared to average years, the number of acorns that are hitting the ground and staying there are unusually high.

IMG_2189 on tree

Deer, rodents and cattle normally scoop up acorns as fast as they fall, but this year the mast crop in exceptional and a lack of deer and other acorn eaters could potentially contribute to successful sprouting of new trees, which is unusual.

IMG_2183 blue oak on ground

Due to this bounty of food, the deer we do have, should be healthy so let’s hope next year’s fawn crop will respond.

A-Zone Opener

Saturday August 13th was opening day for the California “A” Zone – the Central California Coastal zone for blacktailed deer.

The hunting in this zone takes place mainly on private ranches like ours. Standing on our ridge, we can see San Francisco Bay, Mount Diablo and to the east the Central Valley. On the clearest of days, the Sierra Nevada mountains can be seen.

Hunting takes place in weather that averages in the 90’s and it was that way this last weekend.

Our deer herd is down in numbers to about 20 percent of the population from four years ago when five of us could likely kill a buck on opening weekend. It was expected that we would see a half dozen or more bucks apiece.

Weather patterns, especially the drought, seems to be the reason behind the decline. This weekend, my deer count was seven. Two spike bucks, three does, one fawn and one legal buck.

However, the excitement did come about mid-day on Saturday. While still hunting through a likely bedding area, I came upon a buck that was sneaking along about 50 yards from me. For some reason, it seemed like he had not seen me when he stopped and bedded down facing generally in my direction, but not focused on me.

Frustrated that he had not stood still long enough for me to get off a broadside shot, I began to worry a little more than I should have. While generally pretty patient, for some reason, I got antsy and began to look at the buck though my scope. I realized that if I moved about a foot to my left, I might have a shooting lane.

I looked again through the scope and could see his brisket, head and horns clearly. It looked like an easy shot, but a little jolt of buck fever was brewing in my mind. For no good reason I rushed the shot and saw the bullet hit the ground just below the buck.

He was so surprised that he didn’t even move, but stared in my direction looking for me. As I looked through the scope at the buck, I realized that he was giving me a chance for another shot, but as I worked the bolt, he pinpointed my location, rose and sneaked off. I nearly had a chance at him walking, but then he was gone.

This was the closest rifle shot I’ve ever missed, but it points out the fact that shots at lying-down bucks are not as easy as they may appear. My only previous success at a buck while lying down was from a tree stand  where elevation created a much better angle at the deer’s body.

Case of temporary buck insanity was a good thing to get out of the way and I didn’t have to get bloody. Nice to know that I still get excited by a nice looking buck at close range.