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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Delta Sunrise

Last day of duck season, but there would be no hunt for us. Lola and I were pooped. Knowing that she had expended all her energy on Saturday, I couldn’t drag her out into the cold water again. Plus I had four specs to pluck and decoys to pick up.

As I sat in the front seat of my truck drinking coffee and feeling satisfied, I realized that a spectacular sunrise was happening right in front of me.

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Holiday Hunting

It’s often difficult to make time for hunting during the holidays. And the weather doesn’t always cooperate, but here are a few photos from the last three weeks.

Although the weather was too warm and sunny for geese, our first Webb Tract overnight this year did produce this rooster as Lola made a perfect flush and retrieve.

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This pheasant was good for a tray of thinly sliced and delicate meat dipped in cornmeal, salt and pepper, then fried hot and fast. The tray was presented on Christmas eve and it didn’t last long.

Geese eventually packed the island and here are a few photos from the next couple trips to Webb.

Just because the geese were there didn’t make it a slam dunk to bring them home, but last week I finally got a bunch of action and so did Lola. An overnight produced three the first afternoon and five more the next morning in a low fog.

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The three speckled bellies are now fully plucked and are sitting in my fridge, ready for roasting.The Aleutians and snow are breasted out. I’m contemplating how to cook them, but the first was pounded thin and fried for breakfast. Pretty good, but the specs will be better yet. After they are properly anointed with salt, seasoning salt and pepper, I’ll roast them at 400 degrees for about thirty minutes until they are medium rare and nicely browned on the outside.

Hunting geese can produce a real problem. Not the specs, which are easy to prepare and are also so delicious that they easily disappear, but the Aleutians and snows which are inferior.

The catch is that the population of snows and Aleutians is so large that they appear to need thinning. That’s probably why the goose limit is 30 per day, 10 dark and 20 white. Bag limits are three times the daily limit. If you shoot a limit of 30 (or a bag limit of 90), be prepared to make a bunch of jerky, sausage, stew and chili.

Delta Scenes on Webb Tract

The winter scenes I see in the Delta are mostly about waterfowl. Webb Tract is home to many thousands of waterfowl in winter. Aleutian geese,  white-front geese and snow geese are most common.

gaggle of geese

(Click to enlarge.)

Sandhill cranes were fairly uncommon 35 years ago, they now are very numerous.

sandhill cranes

Ducks were the most common waterfowl inhabitants, habitat change has reduced their numbers today. Corn fields and sand hills are most attractive to geese, especially white-front geese, often called speckle-belly geese.

resting specks

Tundra swans were numerous 30 years ago and since declined, but the last couple years they seem to be making a comeback in the delta.

tundra swans

Yesterday was a quite day. No shots were heard on my visit. Except for a few birds here and there in the air, the birds were on the ground, avoiding the wind. I few flocks of geese, that objected to the presence of my pickup, took to the sky for a few minutes and then landed.