A Comment about Grizzly Island

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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.

Thanks,
Mark

 

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.

Rich

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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.

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

Aleutian Geese Arrive

Spent most of yesterday at Mayberry Farms on Sherman Island. I’m refurbishing my Airstream trailer and the repair job is progressing. During the afternoon heat, I stepped out of the trailer often to cool down.

Overhead geese were calling. It was the sound of Aleutian geese.

Being early in fall, I was taken by surprise. But, after reviewing some material on the internet I now realize they were actually right on time. It is normal for them to arrive in the San Joaquin Valley during early October. Yesterday their migration flight took thousands of them over the top of Sherman Island.

They just kept coming. String after string of geese. It was a sight to see.

Although a few geese flew lower than most, it appeared that they all overflew Sherman Island, but they will be back.

When the Delta corn crop is harvested, they will return to feast on the spillage left by farmers. That will be some time during the months of November and December.

Mayberry Wading Birds

Mayberry Farms is not what it once was. There was a day when we had a duck club with about 150-200 acres of shallow-flooded seasonal marsh. At times we had mud flats covered with dowitchers, stilts and avocets.

When the shallow ponds were converted to deep perenial ponds, the shore birds disappeared from our hunting territory. But occasionally they return to wade the shallow water in the fields adjacent to Mayberry.

Here are a few that were present on Sunday.

There were a few other birds around as well.

 

Solo Goose Hunt

The last weekend of the season was supposed to be a four-man hunt for ducks and geese on Webb Tract. But, sometimes things don’t go the way you expect. A bout with the flu, a leaky roof and dog-sitting (of all things) eliminated my hunting partners.

I was determined to hunt geese on the last weekend. It had been on my schedule for weeks and nothing was about to stop me. We cancelled our last goose hunt when high tides and rain raised the San Joaquin river to within two or three feet of the Webb Tract levee tops. Then Grizzly and Van Sickle Islands flooded. That was enough to stop our hunt, but we planned to be back for the final weekend of the season.

Arriving about 8:45 AM, I was waiting when the ferry arrived at nine. A weekend alone on Webb Island may sound strange, but when the hunting is good, our little hunting spot can be exciting and I really did get excited when I drove along the boundary of our parcel and found hundreds of ducks and geese sunning themselves on the edge of the pond I planned to hunt.

With Lola, spec decoys and enough ammo (always important when hunting geese) I dragged the decoy sled about a quarter-mile to the pond. Because white-front geese (specklebelly) are notorious for avoiding decoys, I placed a dozen shell decoys along the pond edge about one hundred yards north of the blind and a half-dozen about 75 yards west of the blind. A bunch of decoys close to the blind seldom works, but keeping the decoys a ways away with just four near the blind can be effective.

Four duck decoys were added just in case. I put two floating spec decoys about 20 yards south of the blind and attached a jerk string to one of them. Two more spec shells rounded out the spread. I put them on the south edge of the small island where the blind was located.

It must have been between 10 and 11 AM when we settled in and began our wait.Thousands of geese kept me from being bored, but I didn’t take a shot until about 2 PM and that was a questionable attempt at a flock of specklebelly geese that seemed to be coming in, but veered off at the last second.

A while later, a big flock of sprig dived down and passed within forty yards. I pulled up and missed three times. It was clear that I hadn’t led them enough, which happens a lot with fast-flying late-season pintail.

You don’t want to lose your patience when hunting geese over decoys. If you shoot all the long shots, you’ll never get a good shot. At about three, a large flock of geese to the east of me began to break up and spread around the island in smaller flocks. I could see them working in all directions. I’d seen this before and knew that my chance was about to happen.

Finally a flock dived down from overhead and zeroed in on the jerk-string decoy. At the last-minute they flared and I missed. It was a close call.  A few minutes later another flock circled around out of range, but eventually committed to the decoys.

They circled twice and then set their wings. I could see that they were locked in on the jerk string decoy. I waited and waited until they were right over me. Rising up I dropped one on the first shot and tried for a double, but missed.

Lola made a reasonable retrieve, but stalled out for some reason and I had to climb out of the blind to get the bird myself. After I picked up the five or six pound goose, I trudged back through the corn field mud. I didn’t blame her for misbehaving. She’d waited a long time for that goose and probably didn’t want to give it up.

It wasn’t long before we had a repeat flock and the results were almost the same, except the bird was alive. Lola was on it but the goose was swimming fast. It reached shore about 75 yards from the blind with Lola and I in pursuit. Lola tracked it down, but for the second time in a row, I was carrying the goose back to the blind. Now I was drenched in sweat.

It wasn’t too long before a third flock came in and it was another repeat. Hit the first bird, but once again failed on the attempt for a double. At least the birds were working the decoys. A while later somebody drove down a road about a half mile away chasing up a huge gaggle of geese.

They flew directly over me. I managed to put the right lead on one and dropped him. Goose number four was in the bag and both Lola and I were done for the day and for the season.

I dragged the heavy decoy sled back to camp sweating profusely all the way. Lola ate and laid down on her bed at about 6 PM. She did not leave the truck until nearly 8 AM in the morning.

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While loading the geese into the sled, I noticed that one of them had a band. It’s always fun to get a banded bird and to find out where it came from. This is the first banded white-front goose I’ve shot.

I cooked up some teal on my small gas barbecue, opened up a bottle of zinfandel and had a party all by myself. It was the most exciting hunt of the year for me.

The geese finally did what they were supposed to do and I had them all to myself. I love the anticipation and the final realization that the birds are committed. It’s one of the most exciting moments in waterfowl hunting and the reason why I much prefer decoy hunting to pass shooting even if I have to go solo.

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