Grasslands Holding Lots of Waterfowl

Large expanses of open water are very attractive to sprig, wigeon, shoveler and teal. The mallard component is smaller on the open water ponds, but the number of overall waterfowl is higher.

Made two trips to the Grasslands last week. Wednesday afternoon I scouted out San Luis NWR and on Saturday morning I hunted the Kerry Cub near Volta.

In both instances, I was impressed by the numbers of ducks. At San Luis, mallards were numerous and on Saturday we were welcomed by teal, shoveler and sprig. Early limits were the rule on Saturday.

San Luis has great mallard habitat with mowed smartweed and watergrass intersperced with clumps of tules just right for hiding. In addition many concrete barrel blinds have been installed over the years. The biggest problem with San Luis is that hunters tend to crowd each other making it difficult for everybody. Bring your mosquito replellant.

The Kerry Club is wide open with swamp timothy galore. Perfect for teal and sprig. It was a pleasure hunting from well placed blinds with plenty of open water between hunters.

I barbecued two teal and a spring when I got home Saturday and they were spectacular. I don’t normally shoot teal because they are small, but these birds were so delicious I will make them a priority when the mallard hunting is slow – which may be more often than I like.

As of Sunday, I’d received two refuge reservations, but took a pass when my friend Jeff invited me to hunt with him. I’ve got two refuge passes for this Wednesday, but haven’t decided whether to act on them or not. Looks like there are plenty of birds, but they get tough this time of year. I’ll report back later in the week.

One Wigeon Weekend

Opening weekend is typically a slam dunk of some kind. Over the years, limits of big puddle ducks have been common and limits of greenheads routine.

This weekend was a little out of the ordinary. Saturday morning arrived with few ducks over our ponds. For the first hour, almost nothing happened. One pair of mallards snuck in behind me and landed just out of range.

That was it.

During the second hour, a few ducks worked to my north where partner Fred was set up. He shot a couple, but I was getting nowhere.

The day ended with me in possession of every shell I’d started with.

Sunday was a new day. I brought out the wind whacker and set up on a pond aligned with the wind direction which was out of the west. After an hour or so of waiting, a group of mallards turned towards my call and locked onto the wind whacker. They came at me with wings set at a high rate of speed. As I raised the gun to shoot, I couldn’t pick out a drake. At the last-minute I fired a poor shot and nicked one of the lead birds. It sailed down out of my view. I couldn’t see where it went and gave up on the idea of searching for it.

Birds were scarce, but a couple hours passed and another flock of mallards came to my calling and focused on the decoys and wind whacker. As they passed overhead I raised up. Once again the sun was an issue. I waited for the birds to get past the blinding sunlight and fired. In my concentration, I failed to realize that I was leaning too far backward. Curplunk, I was on my back and swimming. The water was above my crotch, so I couldn’t reach down to upright myself. Using the butt of my Bennelli pump, I was able to push myself upward and eventually rise to my feet.

Not willing to give up easy, I decided to attempt a butt shot on the next group of birds by waiting until they were past me. After pouring a cup of water out of the stock of my shotgun, more birds began to work and it wasn’t too long before more mallards arrived. As before, they worked the call and locked onto the wind whacker. When they appeared down wind, they quickly made it out of range and disappeared while landing on the other side of a wall of cattail – didn’t get the shot off.

Now I was ready to shoot any duck that came within range. It didn’t take long before a pair of wigeon set on the decoys. Up I stood and fired. One of the wigeon went down about 100 yards in front of me. Lola and I were quickly in hot pursuit. I’ve never worked so hard to kill a wigeon. Lola tracked her into the tules and eventually nabbed the wounded duck.

That was it. I had nothing left. It appeared that more birds were beginning to work, but my day and weekend were over. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. I won’t be setting up looking into the morning sun again anytime soon. And, I won’t be showing off any photos of my weekend success.

Planning an Idaho Whitetail Deer Hunt

Never killed a white-tailed deer in my life. I’ve hunted them at least three times and missed one in BC.

This will be an out-of-state hunt and I’m flying. The drive to Lewiston ID is nearly two full days for a slow poke like me. And, with gas at $4 or more, the cost of driving  – including two nights of hotel fees – is about the same as the cost of flying. I have a high school buddy who lives near Lewiston, so when he offered to put me up, I couldn’t say no.

So here’s some info that may be helpful if you are faced with a plane flight to your next hunting destination. Luggage is a big consideration. Of course you will need a locking case for your firearm. Sometimes borrowing a firearm is a preferred option, especially if you’re going out of the county.

On this hunt I will take a deer rifle, muzzleloader and maybe my bow. The airlines will not allow the ammunition to travel in the same case as the rifle and the ammunition will need to be in an original box which provides protection to the cartridges. They can be stowed in regular luggage.

Even though archery equipment, muzzleloaders and high powered rifles are in different categories, the airline will require that they all be in a locked case. I’ll be flying Alaska Airlines and I read over the fine print regarding firearms and luggage. In my case the 7×57, compound bow and muzzleloading rifle can all be carried in the same locking case.

You’ll want to look closely at your luggage and the cost of overweight or oversized luggage. Your rifle case, bow case and possibly a cooler will be candidates for an extra fee. Alaska Airlines has three categories, normal(<50 lbs – $20 fee), overweight ( 51 – 100 lbs, $50) and oversize (63 to 80 inches total of outside measurements – $50, 81-115 inches – $75). If you fall into two oversize categories, you are charged only once, for the greater of the two.

As the number of bags increases, so may the price of each bag. In my situation the cost of the fourth bag will increase from $20 each to $50. As you can see, the cost of your air travel can rise considerably for luggage cost. If I were to travel with four check bags with two of them oversize, my fee could be as high as $380 for luggage alone.

Here’s what I’ll probably do. I’ll carry rifle, muzzleloader and bow in one case that will be oversize by length ($50), I’ll carry one item of luggage that will cost $20. If I bag a deer, I’ll purchase a cooler in Idaho. It will be overweight and over length, but it will remain in the $50 category. Therefore, in addition to my ticket cost of $420, I’ll end up with $70 luggage fee on the way there and $120 on the way home. Making the total cost of air fare $610. (Plus the cost of the cooler.)

My friend lives in country with plenty of whitetails, so I’m hoping that this hunt will be an ice-breaker.

On a 2010 hunt in BC, my hunting partner bagged this nice whitetail from a treestand during the rut. On the left is Jeff and on the right his guide Corey.

The timing of the trip is intended to coincide with the start of the whitetail rut. The middle of November should be the time when the mature whitetail bucks come out to look for does and I’m hoping to run into one. We’ll hunt from tree stands, ground blinds and also still hunt. When I still hunt, it’s almost another form of blind hunting. I may even ship my guillie suit out ahead of time.

The hunting will be close range in thick cover. Just how close remains to be seen. I’ll bring my grunt tube and rattling antlers. I’d like nothing better than to call one in and pop him at 25 yards. I’m feeling the tension already.

Mayberry 2012

(Note: For those who are not familiar with Mayberry, that’s what we call our Sherman Island duck club. We owned it for years and sold it to the State (under threat of condemnation) in the ’90s. Since that time we’ve been in a lease agreement with management of the property our responsibility – until about four years ago. That’s when California decided to put a new program into place. We still have a hunting lease, but do not manage the property. This update may interest those who have followed my duck hunting and property management stories on this blog.)

The Mayberry transformation is complete. There is no longer any habitat that is prime for dabbling ducks and wading birds. The property has been changed from a shallow-water seasonal wetland to a deep-water marsh inhabited by tules (hardstem bulrush) and cattail, but very little wildlife. Yes there are a few river otters, fish and blackbirds, but a census of wildlife would show a fraction of  the inhabitants from just a few years ago. To be fair, it is  a fact that the bulk of migrating waterfowl have not reached the area yet, so things will get better.

I’m on the outside looking in, but the way I understand it, the primary purpose of the ongoing project at Mayberry is two fold – study the subsidence of delta islands and also evaluate carbon sequestration associated with the dense stands of tules and cattail. It is hoped that covering the land with water will stop the sinking of the islands by reducing oxidation of the highly organic soils. And, that a study of tules and cattail will provide insight into ways to improve air quality and reduce global warming trends.

These are lofty goals, but the losses associated with this study are by far more clear, to me, than the gains.

Mayberry looks like a lake.

During  my last three trips to Mayberry, I’ve not spotted a duck on the ponds, not even a coot. The closest I’ve seen to a duck has been a cormorant that landed on the water. The good news, I can take my fishing rod out with me on opening day of duck season.

There is still hope for some waterfowl activity, but it’s sketchy. I’ve been told that there are a couple pair of honkers using the property and the shallow seasonal ponds next door hold quite a few ducks that could possibly flyover Mayberry. Maybe ducks will begin to use the property as the waterfowl migration arrives, but there is very little food for them.

Here’s a photo of a shallow pond next door. This is what we used to see at Mayberry before the ponds were converted to permanent water.

The sad part of the story is that 300 acres of great duck and shorebird habitat has been destroyed. It’s too bad that at least some of the property wasn’t left as seasonal marsh. It would have been a nice compromise and it would have allowed for more use by migratory waterfowl – both game and non-game. Or better yet, they could have left the seasonal marsh in place and converted 300 acres of cow pasture to marsh. I guess the pasture was too valuable.

Thousands of waterfowl formerly used Mayberry as a significant winter feeding area.

The bottom line is that management of the property in is the control of others and I have been blessed with great opportunity to hunt there for many years, so no matter what happens, I will always be thankful that my partners and I have had such incredible good fortune.

The good old days with shallow marsh and seasonl wetland habitat.

Let the Wolf Study Begin

Here’s the Mercury News report. Although not reported, I believe the vote was 3-0 with the two descenting commissioners, not in attendance. The other three had already made up their minds.

For a few hundred thousand dollars we’ll learn nothing we don’t already know.

I suppose China will loan us the money.

Tomorrow the CA F&G Commission will designate the Gray Wolf as a Candidate for the California Endangered Species List

The petition is in and the facts support the fact that the gray wolf was once an inhabitant of California. At this time, there is probably at least one gray wolf in California. Somebody knows for sure.

As a hunter, I have a concern for this action. If the petition were prepared by other hunters, I’d support the move. Because the petition has been produced by anti hunters, I have concern.

We admire and respect wolves because they represent everything we love about hunting and the outdoors. They are one of the supreme hunters among us. They are cunning and overpowering.

Unfortunately, unchecked, they have the ability to destroy our game herds. There seems to be no moderation  of the events surrounding wolves and this is fitting because wolves are not moderate.

An Idaho friend of mine is an elk-hunting fanatic. He owns his own pack string and hunts remote places in the Salmon River Wilderness. He has been a successful elk hunter for many years. About 15 years ago he told me he heard his first wolf  and that hearing that howl “was really cool.”

On this year’s trip, he searched in all the traditional places. And, he found not a single elk. I didn’t ask him about wolves.

I didn’t need to.