When I received a reservation letter for Sacramento NWR, last week, I was elated. I was number 7 for Wednesday Dec 21. Number seven was the highest I’ve ever been drawn for Sac. I checked in with a couple of my friends who know more about Sac than I and they gave me the low-down.
The averages for last year are posted on the web (http://www.fws.gov/sacramentovalleyrefuges/pdf/Hunting/2010-2011/End%20of%20Season%20Sac%20Blind.pdf) and so is a description of the habitat for each blind (http://www.fws.gov/sacramentovalleyrefuges/pdf/Hunting/Sac%20Blind%20Description%2010-11.pdf). A map of the area is very helpful as well, but the map doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. (http://www.fws.gov/sacramentovalleyrefuges/pdf/Hunting/Hunt%20Maps%20with%20Regs/2011-12/Sac.Hunt%209-22changes.pdf)
After great deliberation, (and advise from some of the regulars) I came to the conclusion that the blinds located on the eastern perimeter of the hunting area were most consistent producers. I made a list of the first seven blinds in order of desirability and I knew that Tom and I would be hunting in one of them.
Tom and I ended up with blind 49, a top producer.
Since we didn’t know which blind we would end up with, we came prepared for all scenarios, but primarily we figured we’d need as many decoys as we could carry. Normally, for hunting mallards in heavy vegitation like tules, a half-dozen mallard decoys is plenty. And, I often use only one, two or three decoys at a time. But, when hunting over open water with little cover, a large decoy spread is valuable and most of the Sacramento perimeter blinds are on ponds with little or no cover.
I stopped at Broadway Bait in Sacramento and purchased four floating spec decoys. I figured they would have value. Our total spread was about 26 decoys, six of them specs, a dozen floating pintails, several floating mallards and six stand-up decoys that we placed on dry ground around the island blind.
Because I suspected that the island blind would have no place for Lola to hide, I brought along the dog stand I use to keep her out of the water. Fortunately there was a small tule patch near the blind large enough to hide her. That’s where she spent her day, watching us hunt from about 20 yards away.
Because the island was void of any cover, I went back to shore and collected brush. Aster works well and I found enough of it along the edge of the pond to hide us pretty well.
The hike to the blind was easy on a gravel path. The pond was easy wading, but tailed off to deeper water on the east side. To the east of us was a marsh closed to hunting and it held many birds. As the sun rose, we were surprised that more ducks and geese were not in sight. That changed quickly when the shooting began.
The sun rose and the birds flew high. The fog that we had expected did not materialize and by noon we had a three spoonies and two gadwall. Shortly after that, we crunched our first green head of the day. The air remained still until about 1:00 PM. That’s when things changed dramatically.
The north wind hit us with a gust and the birds began to fly.
Our adrenaline flowed as flock after flock of ducks passed over and around our blind. No more spoonies or gadwall. We were after mallards and spring and that’s what we got – until we finally ran out of shells around 4PM. For the last hour we loaded only one shell at a time.
We didn’t reach limits, taking home eleven ducks. Four mallards and one drake pintail were the best of the lot. We missed some specs and snows. Tom also knocked down two birds (one mallard and one pintail) that flew off after hitting the deck.
It was a fantastic hunt. We could have gone back for more shells, but concluded that 50 shots was enough for one day.