Hunting Modoc Honkers – 1986

Note: This is an except from “Hunting Ducks and Geese,” a book I wrote about hunting the public areas – self published in 1987. I appologize for typos, I was in a hurry to get this done and my fingers were a little loose.

I arrived at Modoc National Wildlife Refuge on Monday, December sixteenth, 1986. Modoc is open on different days from other refuges – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

A merchant at a local store suggested the north parking lot was probably the best spot to start. I stopped there, but decided to go for a walk around the southern portion of the reuge first, before making a final decision where to hunt. As I walked the levees, I passed up a couple shots at teal and goldeneye as I knew my dog Tubbs, probably wouldn’t retrieve them on the thick ice and I didn’t like to see her test the ice anyway as it might be life threatening.

Tubbs ran and had a great time chasing pheasants which were numerous – no pheasant hunting allowed. Two nearby hunters made a stalk on a huge flock of honkers rafted up on a frozen pond, but the birds managed to escape without a shot.

Satisfied with my knowledge of the southern portion of the refuge, I decided to scout the northern portion of the refuge after breakfast in town. As I drove past the northern fields I could see large spreads of 747 honker decoys and hunters hiding in strips of tall grass on the edge.

After breakfast, I walked the grass fields of the northern portion of the refuge and found a good place to set up my decoys and hide by laying on the ground. As two hunters passed me on their way in from  hunting, they stated that they had hunted that very spot a few nights back and had been successful. They recommended that I stay away from any hay stacks as the birds would avoid them.

An open area with a small patch of grass provided a spot large enough to hide in, but small enough so the geese might not shy away from it. It would be best to place the decoys to the east, so I wouldn’t be looking into the setting sun. A few duck decoys fit in nicely on a small patch of frozen irrigation water. When called, Tubbs came over and lay quietly at my feet. Covered almost entirely with hay, we became almost invivisle about thirty yards from the goose decoys. It was 2:30.

A couple of other hunters came out and set up nearby. While laying there almost perfectly still, I pulled the Olt honker call from my jacket and the goose impersonation began. Oonk. Oonk. Oonk…Oonk…Off to the east geese could be vaguely heard and this was encouraging. The trick now would be to lays still and stay relaxed. Acutually sounds that honkers make when taking to the air could be heard to the east, probably from the closed zone. Oonk. Oonk. Oonk…onka, onka, onka, onka.

It seemed increadible to me, but honkers in a large flock were making an enormous racket to the west and it sounded as if they were coming in towards the decoys. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stiffening. Oonk. Oonk. Oonk…Oonk…onka onka onka. This as the time to stay motionless and calm. They were definitely bearing down on my decoys. Tubbs snored. Straining to watch for them, I knew that they would pass over any minute. Sure enough, there they were, sixty yars off to the right. There were about twenty of them…no more than ten yards off the gound. I felt a hot flash, but didn’t move. They were about to land, maybe in range. They glided, almost without motion, turned left about 100 yards out and passed across my toes. Then they turned to the east and landed. Wow, they were 75 yards away.

I figured that if I could just lie still, certainly another group of geese would follow them in. What better decoys thatn twenty live honkers! Not more than thirty seconds went by before a straggler appeared. He was sounding single honks in a monotonous pattern. Onk, onk, onk. He passed to the right of the decoys just as the others had. This must be it. I strained to hold back my excitement. He turned left as the others had done. My eye-balls strained. He passed over the other birds. Without slowing, he turned towards the decoys. At full speed he reached the thirty yard range as I saw double. While trying to leap up to shoot, hay went everywhere. The parka hood covered my eyes. A sane man would have calmly brushed it out of the way, but in my panic, it became a major obstacle. Hood out of the way, I realized that he was way too close, but didn’t hold my fire. At ten years the shot would rip large holes through his breast, but that was not to be, as no damage was done with the two point-blank misses. In the panic the second shell case had jammed in my model 12. By the time I chambered the third shell, the shot became no more than a parting gesture at long range.

Shell shocked I stood in disgrace. I’d heard about hunters missing honkers that were unmissable, but I never thought it would happen to me.

I tried to be optimisic. A few shots could be heard in nearby fields as more geese made their afternoon feeding flights. Laying back down, it seemed as if there was still an excellent chance. It was early and geese could be heard calling in several directions. Several groups of geese came in and started to work, but shooting nearby spooked them before the came into my range. Off to the right I could hear a hunting blowing on a mallard call. Suddenly a drake sprig appeared out of the corner of my eye, twenty yards off to the right,  he turned over the duck decoys abou ten feet off the gournd. My first inclination was to wait for him to make an second pass. The second thought was the it would be a mistake to wait as he was close, coming halfway to my feet, I realized that it was now a marginal shot, and I lay back down. I had blown another opportunity, but it was better to miss an opportunity than to fire an ill-advised shot which would probably scare other birds that might be heading into the area. A single shot form the direction that he’d departed was probably a signal of his demise.

Covering up again, I began calling. Once again geese were heard to the west, from my blind side. They were coming in. Passing on the right as the others had done, they were close and low. They swung across my toes and turned to their left, giving me the same shot that I had practiced earlier. This time I would not fail. Their honking shifted to a differnt sound that they sometimes make while landing. When they were at thirty-five yards, I calmly rose to my feet. They flared away and at thrity yards, I fired: boom…..feathers, boom…he began to sink, boom…he went down. He’d been hit on all three shots, but it wouldn’t have been a good idea to take a chance and try for a second bird. I’d had enough experience with geese to know that they can fly off after appearing to be down for good. The bird was not a giant Canada goose, but he was big enough to make me happy.

My efforts to continue the hunt ended when a hunter in the next field crippled a big honker which led Tubbs and I on a chase. It ended when I finished the bird off with a ground shot. Tubbs had chased the bird away from the pursuing hunter and I felt obligated to give him a hand. One honker made the hunt a success as far as I was concerned, so there was no need to continue hunting this day.  As the sun set, the refuge was turned back over to it’s rightful owners.

One thought on “Hunting Modoc Honkers – 1986

  1. Hi Rich. Was browsing and came across your blog. I bought your book back in the late 8o’s and attended one of your workshops in Concord back in the day. I used the book alot when I got it to become familiar with some of the public refuges I’d never hunted. My brothers and I mainly hunted geese at Los Banos refuge in dry field out of parking lot 8. Our party averaged about 80 geese per year, and one year we got 120. We used home made decoys fron Clorox jugs.

    The last 10 years though, we’ve slowed down, and the geese have got smarter. The techniques we used to use down there don’t work anymore. I now live in Solano County and have been thinking about getting into a club or finding property in the delta to hunt geese. I’ve hunted the delta islands geese at Twitchell Island serveal times after being drawn, and had some of the greatest hunts of my life. However, it is very tough to get drawn for that hunt anymore.

    I recall you hunted geese on Webb tract. Anyway for a guy like me to get a membership or buy an annual permit to hunt geese in the delta? I have hundreds of decoys and a couple brothers who’d like to join me two or three times per year for some quality goose hunts. Thanks for any info you can share. Mark

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