California Goose Hunting and Population Dynamics

Hunted geese twice last week. First on Tuesday and last on Friday. The Tuesday hunt went well as two guests, Michael Flores and Chuck Alexander and myself shot almost a box of shells apiece.

Specs and snows were vulnerable in the morning fog. The final tally was 15 geese between us, nine of them were specs, the best table fare.

Last Tuesday, Chuck Alexander and Michael Flores, both with the California Correctional Peace Officer's Association, joined me for a hunt.

We’ve been hunting geese on Webb Tract since about 1978. I remember the first goose I ever killed on Webb. It was a dark goose, either a cackler or a white-front goose.

My hunting partner and I sat frustrated as a huge grind of mallards circled only 100 yards to the south of us. The circle they made was so tight that we could not come close to getting a shot.

We were hunting from a pair of barrel blinds that disappeared in the levy break that took place a couple years later. My hunting partner that day had carried a TV out to the blind so he could watch the playoff football game – can’t remember who was playing.

As he watched the football game, a small flock of geese passed overhead. We fired and both missed on the first shot, but the birds flared straight up and the second shot required no lead.

Shooting directly at the bird’s butt, I knocked him down. In those days Webb held many ducks, but few geese so the goose take was mostly incidental to duck hunting. Today the story is quite different.

Partner Fred with a nice bunch of ducks and geese on a foggy Webb morning. Note how we put out a bunch of plastic that day.

A couple years after the flood, we began to see a rise in the number of geese. First the snow goose population, then other geese.

The small Canada  goose population was so low in those days that the Aleutian goose was on the endangered species list and cackling geese were closed to hunting for a while as well.

The limit on white front geese (specs) was one and the total daily bag was three with three also the possession limit of three.

Goose hunting is feast or famine - plenty of famine.

In the ’90’s goose populations began to expand and it wasn’t long before huge flocks of Aleutians packed onto Webb during December. When hunting returned, they were very vulnerable and tended to fly within range much more than the other geese.

Snows, Aleutians and finally white front goose populations were made of largely of young birds during the 1980’s and ’90’s, but these days the goose population is much more mature.

We used to stop to admire white fronts with barred chests, but these days they are the norm. The average size of the geese is also larger. Population dynamics can be easily observed by unscientific methods.

Who knows how long the geese will maintain this boom cycle, but sooner or later it will come to an end. That’s the bad news. The good news is that maybe the ducks will then return.

The Good Old Days

Here’s a photo of Harry Rowell and and another fellow. This other fellow has been called Johnny horsekiller by some of the locals. I don’t have the story to go with the name.

The photo speaks for itself.

Harry Rowell and hunting partner Johnny

From what I’ve been told, these deer were killed in Nevada. Any of them would win the local big buck contest these days.

The Rowell Ranch, or at least what we know of it, bordered property we now own in Southern Alameda County. The Rowell Ranch Rodeo, which takes place near Palomaris Canyon is named after him.

Final Verdict on the Final Approach Duck Boat

I bagged more ducks when I left the boat for Lola and hid in the tules, but having the boat allowed me to stay out all day and hunt from locations I couldn’t reach on foot.

After nearly a full season of evaluation, I’ve got a pretty good handle on the Final Approach Duck Boat.

I took my evaluation seriously and conducted all my duck hunting from the Final Approach to date. I even hunted from the boat all of the time – until this last weekend. In fact, I’d say my approach to using the boat was a bit dogmatic.

This past Saturday, I spent the entire day in the marsh, working at bagging some ducks. There were plenty around, but during the early morning fog, they didn’t fly much. Later in the day the action was better and steady.

Late season ducks are tough to decoy and I found that the ducks responded best to just a pair of mallards. The early set of eight mallard decoys didn’t work as well. They just sat there and looked lifeless.

These late season birds also picked up the boat well, no matter how hard I attempted to camo it out. The flaring birds caused me to shoot a low percentage and my shooting got worse as the day progressed and became frustrated.

The deep water of the new Mayberry made it tough on Lola and she stayed high on her dog stand, but also kept our hunting profile high, also affecting the birds.

Finally I shifted my setup, moved the boat away from the decoys and hid in the tules. Lola was happy with her perch and I was better hidden. A few ducks fell as I began to hit them. As my frustration lessened, my accuracy improved.

Unfortunately, my early poor shooting led the sailing two pintails that could not be recovered. One landed so far away that it was not practical to go after it and the other came down about 250 yards away in waist-deep water. I went after that one, but gave up as Lola was too bogged down in the cold, deep and brushy waters.

The other four ducks I bagged were all spoonies. I shot at a variety of ducks, but only one was a mallard. Another mallard almost came within range, but I moved too soon and it flared off.

It was a fun day of duck hunting, much like hunting the refuges.

Final verdict. The duck boat improved my chances by allowing me to cross deep water and hunt from locations not available otherwise.

Hunting from the boat works, but is limited. The better you hide the boat the better your shots. Hiding the dog is sometimes tough, and the boat is not big enough for both of us.

Hunting away from the boat, while using the boat as a home base, as a resting spot and a place for the dog to stand works well.

For traveling a long distance, towing the boat on foot works best as paddling is slow. I paddled the boat long distance a couple of times when I wasn’t in a hurry.

In general this is a fun way to hunt and a necessity when hunting deep water, but in shallow water walking is more efficient and productive.

(Note: After a couple years of calling this boat the Final Approach Duck Boat, I came to realize that I’d created a new name for it. Why fix it now? The manufacturer’s name is the Final Attack Duck Boat.)

California Tiger Salamander Breeding Activity

December and January are typically the months when seasonal pools begin to fill up. As the ground saturates and water levels rise, the California tiger salamanders come out of their dry season hides and seek out ponds for breeding.

This CTS in swimming in a few inches of clear water. Note the structure. In this pond, eggs are disbursed.

The females lay single eggs and the males come along behind them to make them fertile. The eggs are laid singly, but sometimes so close to each other that they appear to be in the same gel. Here are a few photos of this seasons crop.

This is the classic single CTS egg. When a pond has a lot of structure, eggs seem to be distributed more evenly about the pond and may be more difficult to find.

 (double click to enlarge for closer look)

When structure is limited, the salamanders will lay eggs close to each other.

Sometimes, when eggs are laid next to each other, the gel almost combines giving the appearance that more that one egg was laid in a single mass of gel.

This CTS breeding pond is on the rise. It will need additional rain in order for it to last until the larvae are mature.



This larvae was photographed in summer when it was nearly ready to depart into the upland.

Featured Mule Deer Hunt for 2011 Livermore-Pleasanton Banquet

The 2011 MDF banquet scheduled for March 10 at the Palm Event Center on Vineyard Avenue in Pleasanton will feature a mule deer hunt with Kiff Covert of Dome Creek Outfitters in British Columbia. Kiff has donated a combo mule deer and moose hunt in BC Game Management Unit 7-5 located in the Fraser River drainage on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

This photo was taken during late November looking from the river bottom land looking towards the mountains.

An interesting twist to this hunt is that it takes place where you’re almost as likely to run into Canada moose as mule deer and some of them are trophy class. Moose can be taken on this hunt for a trophy fee of $1,000.

East Bay resident Jeff Kerry killed this 26 inch muley on November 16, 2010.

This trophy Canada moose was killed by George DeBell in 2008.

If you’re into whitetail, you can go that route, but you’ll need a whitetail and a mule deer tag to do that.

Here's the whitetail taken by Jeff Kerry in 2010.

The hunt is for seven full days and includes pickup from and return to St. George (about sixty miles) on the day before and after the hunt. All meals, lodging and travel during the hunt are included as well as field care of game. If time permits, they will assist in delivery of meat to a local butcher or taxidermist.

I can personally vouch for the hospitality and trophy potential. I’ve already plunked down a deposit for a 2011 archery hunt.

Kiff Covert will be on hand the night of the banquet to answer questions about this or other hunts he offers. Tickets, which sell for $80, can be purchased by contacting Bob Holm (925)447-2044 or by emailing me at

Check out the Dome Creek Outfitter web site at:

This hunt normally retails for $4,900.

Geese Plentiful at Webb Tract

The geese were vulnerable during high winds, but hard to hit.

As is typical for mid-winter, geese have packed onto Webb Tract in the Delta. Between four hunters we brought down 17 over two days of hunting last week. As usual, the most productive method of take is pass shooting. That means finding a flyway between two grinds of geese and shooting fairly long shots as geese pass overhead.

They’re not easy to hit in the strong December winds.

Here’s a short video to give you the idea of how many geese were on hand.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 50,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 110 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 312 posts. There were 215 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 86mb. That’s about 4 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was August 16th with 260 views. The most popular post that day was Most Colorful Bird – The Roller Bird.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for bird, colorful birds, roller bird, south african birds, and colorful bird.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Most Colorful Bird – The Roller Bird February 2008


The Largest Boar Ever Killed in the Livermore Hills? January 2008


The Undivided Interest January 2008


Hunting Along Alaska’s Pipeline Haul Road June 2008


Mule Deer Tracks January 2008

Mediation as an Alternative Dispute Resolution

We’re going to mediation this week. The parties will be the defendant, the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) and us, the plaintiff.

r2e t4s 1905 for export to adobe Click on this link to see a map of the ranch and surrounding area.

In a perfect world, all disputes would end with mediation. In this case we’ll tell our side of the story and why our legal position is correct and the defendants will tell their side of the story and why it is legally correct. The mediator will assist us in understanding our positions and after great reflection and a little compromise from both sides, we’ll come to an agreement.

That’s how the mediation worked in our last suit, a suit for partition. In that case we had seven parties. Three of the co-owners sold their interest and four others were deeded parcels of land.

In this mediation there will be three parties, but the CCSF will only be a party to the mediation, not the court case. They were invited because they own much of the land over which we access our ranch. And, they want to purchase the parcel over which the right-of-way is disputed. CCSF always wants to minimize travel over their property and I don’t blame them for that. However, they are in a position to resolve all our access issues if they choose to.

At the end of the day of mediation we will have a pretty good idea of whether the case will be resolved or go on to court.  We have submitted our mediation brief, which tells our side of the story and the defendants have submitted their response which I read this weekend. Of course we take issues with many of their statements and legal interpretation.

The CCSF will probably have their brief done on Monday or Tuesday this week. They are the elephant in the room.

We believe we have very good legal representation. One of the biggest costs of this undertaking is the cost of educating attorneys. There is a lot of information for them to understand. At this point our attorneys are still learning about the ranch, the multiple access routes, topography and history. By the end of mediation they should be fully immersed in these topics.

Summer Sausage for Christmas

Made summer sausage the week before Christmas and gave almost all of it away. In fact I just opened the final hunk we have left for New Years.

The sausage kit recipe is excellent and it cuts down on the prep work. I mixed ten pounds of ground venison (from Jeff’s BC whitetail) with four pounds of ground pork shoulder. Then I added the seasoning and cure per the instructions which are very explicit and easy to read.

After stuffing the sausage into the casings, I let them sit in the refrigerator over night and smoked them the next day. I heated them for one hour in the oven, then smoked them for two hours and finished them off by putting them back in the oven for an hour until they reached 156 degrees F.

Here are a few photos of the process.

I purchased the kit at Bass Pro. It save a lot of time by eliminating the need to shop for seasonings and mixing them.

Smoking the sausage adds a lot of flavor. I prefer the apple wood. The water smoker is heated by bricketts.

It takes too long to heat the meat to 156 degrees in the smoker, so I finished the sauage off with the oven set at 200 degrees.

Wrapping the sausage using the foodsaver keeps it moist. If you leave it unwrapped it begins to dry out, something you won't like.

I served the sausage Christmas Eve and it was well received. I felt good about giving it away.