Covered Up

IMG_3958 sunrise blind c

As you can see in the sunrise photo, it was calm at legal shooting time yesterday. And, it was that way all day long. Calm can be bad, but it can also be good.

For the first three hours yesterday it was bad, but then things turned around. With the departure of the morning hunters, pintail began to arrive. By 10:30 AM they appeared above us in large flocks.

Duck hunters use the term “covered up” when speaking of events where large flocks of ducks circle their blind at one time. Most often the ducks that do that are either mallards or sprig. Yesterday at the Kerry club it was sprig and it was also fun.

The first time it happened my partner, Tom Billingsley, and I hunkered down and waited for a good shot. The longer we waited the more pintail circled. They were like a whirlwind of fowl above us.

Finally a large flock banked towards us about 300 yards to the east of us. As they approached it became apparent that they were coming directly over us. Anticipation was thick as we both whistled on our duck calls and pulled on the jerk cords of our decoys.

When the birds were nearly directly overhead, we stood and relished the great opportunity. Two cock sprig were hit, but one (the one I hit) sailed out of sight. Lola retrieved the other after a long chase.

Good news. We had a pintail and an exciting experience. Bad news. I had missed completely on two shots and nearly completely on the third. I’d also sailed a teal and a gadwall earlier. My shooting was in the tank.

IMG_3961 gadwall

Gadwall are fun to hunt as they work much like mallards, but they’re not much for eating. This drake is a beautiful bird. He sailed about 200 yards before crashing.


Good news. I had plenty of ammunition left.

After about 30 minutes pintail began to circle again. This time they came from all directions. There were birds everywhere and I was paranoid that I would miss, so I passed up several good opportunities, waiting for a perfect shot. As I nearly rose on one groups of birds, another appeared in range to my left. The result, I shot at neither group.

It was exhilarating. Unfortunately, they sensed something wrong and in no time it was over. I had passed up shots that I could have taken. I felt bad for Tom who, since the limit is one pintail, was now just an observer. He shrugged it off and told me he was excited just to be there.

After another short wait, pintail arrived again. Our third major cover-up was similar to the first. It ended when a flock of about 15 birds, banked towards us from the east and bore down on our decoys. Calling and jerking, I waited until I could not miss.

Bang – I missed. Worse yet, a hen pintail, that I was not shooting at, tumbled from the sky. Oh well. It wasn’t the first time.

So, after a great day of poor aim on my part, Tom and I were done. It was pretty clear to us that about the only legal targets left flying were shoveler and we didn’t want them.

Being covered up by pintail three times made our day. A hunt can be exciting even when the limit is one.

IMG_3962 Tom with pintail

Tom killed this bird about 10:45 and Lola retrieved it after an all-out 100-yard chase.



A Comment about Grizzly Island


Great mallard habitat on Sherman Island


Received this comment today. It caused me to spend some time thinking, so here is my response for all to see.

Hey Rich, Sorry to ask a question in this forum but I can’t find a way to send a private message. I read your book about duck hunting recently (I found a used copy on amazon). I have been hunting the bay area for the past few years and noticed that in your book on the section for grizzly island you made a comment about it being a “fair weather” area since it is in a delta/bay. I have not heard much about the difference in hunting near a bay regarding weather and was curious if you had any more insight. On a recent “perfect duck hunting day”, (ie rain, wind fog etc.” in napa, my buddies and I watched the weather do nothing for us to get the birds down.



Mark: Thanks for your question. It brings back memories.
I think that original comment in the book was based upon “reputation.” However, here is some anecdotal evidence based upon hunting experiences.
I’ve hunted the south bay salt ponds where puddle and diving ducks would raft up on sunny days and hunted the western portion of the Delta a lot. I’ve also hunted the Suisun Bay. Mallards are often very happy to land on sunny days where they find pockets of water such as those on Ryer Island where they sit and soak up sun. Boat required.
On mild sunny days, ducks are happy to move west and loaf. This is probably true before they enter the cold months when they typically need to feed more often to maintain their body fat. Sometimes not burning up calories is as important as eating them.
In the late 1970’s, we began hunting Webb Tract and at dusk the pintail would fly by in waves. About the end of shooting time they would start landing. We believed they spent their days rafted up on the salt water of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun bays.
When we first started hunting Sherman Island around 1995, on the evening before opening day, we stood on the levee and watched the mallards arrive at sunset. They showed up in droves with the sunset at their back. Watching the mallards arrive became an annual event.
I’ve seen days when a big, black, fast-moving storm moved into the bay and observed ducks fleeing east seeking protected areas and more food. One day while hunting on Sherman Island during a storm, it seemed as though the ducks had all departed further inland. We were about ready to give up when, during late morning, the clouds broke up and the sun came out.
On that day, a good friend and I sat in a tall stand of aster and watched flock after flock of mallards arrive out of the east. We were amazed by the event and we had a great shoot.
Ducks can handle cold weather, but they prefer nice weather. Why not?
So I don’t know if Grizzly Island is always a fair weather refuge, but it probably is more often than not. Over the last 21 seasons, the Grizzly Island area has changed – especially related to human intrusion,  water quality and duck food.


Sherman Island is only a half-dozen miles from the Suisun Marsh.
On a year when Grizzly Island flooded, one of the Grizzly Island tule elk bulls swam all the way to Sherman Island where he hung out on our property for several months.

Overnight At Webb Tract


After two months on the sideline, the Airstream is back in action. The overhaul included new tires, new wheels, two new windows, new floor, serious cleaning, replacing many missing pop-rivets, repairing screens, rehanging the door, ripping out all the places where rats and mice could hide, killing several hundred wasps and blocking mouse holes. I even washed the exterior.

Delivered it to Webb Tract on Saturday morning and spent Saturday night on sea trial. It did well.

Here she is as she sat in my driveway on Friday afternoon.

IMG_3923 AirstreamUpon arrival at Webb Tract, I was surprised to find that the corn harvest on our property was complete. After setting up the trailer, Lola and I went after the pheasants.

IMG_3934 Lola and rooster

It wasn’t long before we had our first bird.

After a couple of hours hiking in the thick cover, we jumped quite a few roosters, but couldn’t get another good shot. I missed a rooster that was probably out of range anyway.

Back at camp, we took some time to complete a few chores before heading out to try for geese. There were plenty flying. Before we reached the decoys, a rooster jumped and flew to my right across a large ditch. I couldn’t resist the shot and the bird went down about 100 yards out.

Another bird rattled around in the bushes and soon Lola put it into the air. The second bird headed to my left and I didn’t miss. Unfortunately, the first bird dropped in a unpenetrable patch of cockleburrs. Got lots of scratches, but not the bird.

No luck on geese, not even a close call. Slept well in the Airstream, on a new cot.

The morning sunrise was an indication of the weather to come later in the day.

IMG_3940 sunrise

The morning hunt was once again a hike through thick cover. The birds were hard to find, but I did manage to miss one rooster and jump up a couple other birds out of range.

On the way out, I stopped next to a goose grind and took a few photos.

Lola and I were pretty pooped on the way home.

IMG_3946 sleeping

Lola crashed in the back of the truck on the ride home.

More Alberta 2017

Can’t say that there were no deer killed during this hunt. Three of the five hunters bagged bucks, and they were all nice trophies. Click on photo to show the caption.



Pheasant Season

It’s now open. Hunting partner Bob Smallman and I managed to  bring down a couple wild roosters on Wednesday at Mayberry. Lola did well, got birds into the air and found what we knocked down.

Her only flaw was not going far enough into an adjacent field to retrieve one rooster, but she gave it a solid try. She’ll be eleven in January.

Rob’s dog, Pete, finally went far enough out and picked up the bird.

Lola and I hunted blind 2b at the Kerry Club on Saturday. Had a nice sunrise and that was about it. Got home early to work on the Airstream Trailer which is now ready for deployment to Webb Tract for the remainder of duck season.

IMG_3909 Sunrise from Blind 2b

Hunting buddy Jerry Lowery killed a great ram today in Montana.


IMG_3920 Jerry with Montana ram

If I’m counting correctly, Jerry  departed Reno for Montana on about the 22nd of October so that makes it about a month on the road, unguided. Congrats Jerry.


Alberta Mule Deer 2017


Shut out this year on my deer hunt with Blue Bronna Outfitters in Alberta. It was a bit disappointing to go a week in prime deer country without finding a buck worthy of bringing home, but I’ve been on a good run lately and was due for some bad luck.

One of the positives about the hunt was learning to use my Phoneskope with my Swarovski spotting scope. The first day of the hunt produced a few photos and videos.

With the Swarovski scope on the car window-mount, a Canada moose walked across a field not far away, but too far for a photo with my IPhone, so I managed to catch him on the scope which produced an imperfect photo, but it’s still worth looking at.

IMG_3814 Canada moose through Swarovski scope and Iphone adapter cropped and adjusted

There is a bit of a learning curve, but it doesn’t take long to figure things out. I didn’t have the PhoneSkope on the lens correctly, which created the quarter moon affect in the upper right portion of the photo. I later corrected this error. The lighting was poor on the original digital copy, so I adjusted it a bit. It’s a work in progress.

The next day, we found our first group of mule deer and I managed to connect on a couple photos. Later on, a small whitetail buck walked up next to and then in front of the truck. At one point he looked into the front seat from about three feet away. Too bad I wasn’t ready with the camera. It would have been an awesome photo.

IMG_3830 mule deer buck cropped and adjusted

This mule deer buck is a four by four with a spread around 18 inches. By zooming in with the IPhone, the circle affect was eliminated. One can zoom in prior to taking the photo, after taking the photo, or both. Hard to see his antlers clearly with the tree limbs behind. He was hanging around with a half dozen does.

IMG_3839 whitetail buck cropped and adjusted

This little guy was the biggest whitetail I saw on the trip. Although I had both whitetail and mule deer tags, they both went unused. This guy had no fear. No scope needed in this case.

More on Alberta later.