Why a Habitat Committee to Oversee Public Hunting Areas?

IMG_3909 Sunrise from Blind 2bWetland management is a combination of science and art. A habitat committee should be run by an individual with many  years of experience in wetland development and maintenance.  A year or two of experience is nice, but marsh environments are dynamic. Weather is one of the major contributors to how a marsh grows and weather changes are dramatic and inevitable.

The more years one observes and manipulates marshland, the more they realize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for creating and maintaining a marsh. The managers of individual public hunting areas should welcome advise and consultation with experienced marsh managers in the public and private sector. Marsh managers cannot rely on one technique applied over and over again when managing a wetland.

The habitat committee must be made up of individuals who are passionate about habitat and who are able to work with other people for the greater good. The leader of the habitat committee must be able to nurture a teamwork environment with participants in the agency and public sector.

The major marshlands of the California refuge system are located in areas critical to migratory waterfowl. Intertwined with these public wetlands are many private wetlands and related agriculture. Initially, the California wildlife refuges were created expressly to reduce the impact migratory waterfowl were having on farmers crops.

IMG_4054 December sun burning through fog

Ag lands like corn and rice provide short term food for waterfowl, but a seasonal marsh provides longer-term food as well as other habitat values.

The extent to which the initial motivation for public hunting areas has evolved can be argued. However the existence of private waterfowl hunting areas is a given and how the public areas are managed, especially regarding water and irrigation, has a major impact and direct impact on nearby private lands. This is another reason for a habitat committee with members with varied backgrounds.

One thing that is very clear to me, is that management of public hunting areas is a job that requires an understanding of hunters and the hunting culture. The passion of the hunter cannot be emulated or described by somebody who does not hunt.

The habitat committee should make sure that managers of public hunting areas understand that, for the most part, habitat on public hunting areas is there because of hunters and as a result, hunters want opportunity.

It’s always nice to be able to take photos of sunrises and decoys or observe seagulls, snipe, sandpipers, avocet and stilts, but a marsh without ducks and geese has no use for hunting.

We need a habitat committee in California. Tell the California Fish and Game Commission today. Sign the petition.

Here’s the link: http://chn.ge/2BfeLpd




California’s Public Waterfowl Hunting Areas

California is blessed with numerous public hunting areas. Many of those are waterfowl refuges where acquisition and management of the land has been and continues to be funded primarily with money garnered from sales of federal duck stamps or taxes on firearms and ammunition. This means primarily duck hunters.

In California you can break down the refuge system into four distinct areas. Northeastern California, the Northern (Sacramento River) portion of the Central Valley, the Southern (San Joaquin) portion of the Central Valley and the Imperial Valley of southeastern California.

State Wildlife Areas are managed  by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and National Wildlife Refuges are managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). With a couple exceptions, the hunting program on all public hunting areas is managed by the State.

Currently there is a petition being circulated by Jeff Kerry, a very dedicated hunter and developer of duck habitat and also good friend of water-fowlers. He is seeking support for a plan to create more oversight by public hunting interests on the lands managed by CDFW and USFWS. A petition for a show of support is being circulated. I have personally signed on.

A few years ago, the California Waterfowl Association supported legislation requiring the CDFW to accommodate a Habitat Conservation Committee to provide public input into how the habitat on hunting areas is managed.

The effort met with resistance from the CDFW staff and an alternative solution was negotiated. The current system requires CDFW to hold meetings for hunters each year prior to the opening of duck season. Although these meetings may be productive in other ways, and they should not be abandoned,  it is unlikely that they will result in improved habitat conditions.

A habitat committee would review plans for annual planting, manipulation and flooding. The committee would be advised as to water allotments and how they would be applied as irrigation is the most important aspect of wetland management. Water is the difference between a seasonal marsh and just plain upland. Water is important before, during and after duck season.

Based upon the information I’ve gathered, I am now even more convinced that a Habitat Management Committee is needed to review how California hunting areas are managed. The committee needs access to management plans and the areas themselves.

I’m continuing to urge public area hunters to sign the petition. More to come as I continue to investigate.

Go to: http://chn.ge/2BfeLpd




Green-wing Teal and the Curse of Seven

DSC_0034 teal and other ducks in a closed area near the KDC

Teal have always been a contributor to my duck harvest. However, until the last three years, they have been a minor contributor. Things changed when I decided to join the Kerry Duck Club, located near Volta in the North Grasslands.

Teal are about 90 percent of the take at KDC. You can try as hard as you like, but you’ll never shoot a limit of ducks at KDC that doesn’t have a majority of green-wing teal. They are dominant.

Because of the order of the draw, I didn’t have a chance to start out with one of the better blinds so I decided to hang around until the first wave of hunters was done and then fill in. It was probably ten and eleven o’clock before I made it to the blind and I was by myself.

I chose the same blind that I hunted last Saturday and my reasoning was that I might have a chance to shoot a goose (hopefully a white-front) as the geese have been present.

As I should have expected, The birds that were present were mostly green-wings. For almost an hour I watched them as they flew by, dive bombed my decoys and sometimes even landed in them. I waited and watched without shooting.

As long as I didn’t intend to shoot them, they looked like easy meat. Then, I finally decided to shoot teal as there didn’t seem to be any other options. On the first shot, the drake I was trying to shoot bobbed just as I pulled the trigger and I missed him, but surprisingly I hit the hen teal that was with him.

I was one for one – sort of.

The next teal came in about regular speed and he should have been a dead duck. Bang. bang – he flew off. At least I was still one duck for three shots – sort of.

And so it went. I wanted to hit them all and prove to myself that I could hit teal. After sixteen shots I had six teal. I was feeling OK about myself. Then the lull struck. The teal either wouldn’t fly at all, or they flew around the blind just out of range.

Every hunter on the club had killed seven ducks in the morning. I couldn’t quit until I had seven – I’d be shamed.

Every time I reached for a sip of water or a bite to eat, two teal would buzz by before I could get a shot off. Then two teal flew directly into me and I wiffed on two shots. I felt weary. I couldn’t leave.

Then came the shell count. Two in my gun, two in the box and four more in my pocket. Certainly I would get the last teal before they were gone.

I drake green-wing flew by along the edge of the decoys. I could hit him. Boom, miss – boom, miss.

Now six shells were left. The pattern repeated. Confidently I pulled up on the next bird. Boom – no joy.

More time passed and once again I wished that I could just quit with six teal and be happy. If I did, I’d never live it down.

A teal came in low on the water, I swung on it and missed. Then it turned skyward, presenting a unmissable shot. I held slightly in front of the bird’s beak and fired.

Down he went. I sent Lola and watched her retrieve the bird.

image2 Lola with teal

Lola with green-wing teal. Photo by Brett Kelly

I would not be the hunter responsible for lowering the KDC average for the day to below seven. That’s right, everybody got a limit of ducks. Without counting, I’d guess that to be about 25 hunters. When I reached camp I marked ’em down in the book. Rich Fletcher, blind BB –  7 green-wing teal.




Brett’s Day at the KDC

Thanks to our Kerry Duck Club partners we had a great “pot luck” style barbecue on Friday evening where we drank excellent wine and feasted on barbecued duck and goose.

The traditional Friday night duck stories got Brett in the right frame of mind for his hunt, but we weren’t sure about our chances of drawing one of the better blinds as my draw number was down the line a bit.

Turned out the draw went our way and we were able to hunt an excellent blind that shot very well and there was no shortage of ducks.

Since he had not hunted ducks for over two years, Brett and I anticipated it would take a while for him to get on target with the ducks. We expected that we would need more than one box of shells apiece if we were to fill our limits – so we carried 90 shells to the blind.

We didn’t expect that Brett would have just one duck when his first box was empty. He did kill his second teal on the first shell of the second box – from a new shotgun.

Brett's duck IMG_4150

Lola had a great day retrieving all thirteen teal and a goose. Here she is with Brett’s first duck of 2018.

That was a significant change to the program. It seemed as though something wasn’t right, so after the first box was gone, we agreed that maybe we should trade shotguns. The barrel on his Weatherby  pump shotgun was a bit long for shooting teal at close range and the stock seemed to be a bit long for him, especially given the rather heavy coat he was wearing.

We had nothing to lose, so I handed Brett my Browning over-under and after swinging on a few imaginary ducks,  he loaded it with some 2 3/4 inch #4 shot Kent shot shells.

first duck IMG_4152

The masked duck slayer with his first duck of the 2017/18 duck season.

When the next teal arrived, Brett shood and shouldered the gun. The bird turned to Brett’s right and flew low over the decoys. He proceeded to shoot it dead. New gun, first shot, one dead green-wing. We were learning again that when shooting quick shots at fast, close ducks, a fast swinging, short-barreled gun is an advantage. Neither Brett nor I shot teal well with the Weatherby and its 28 inch barrel.

The only bird I hit while shooting the Weatherby was an Aleutian goose and it came by on a straight line at about 45 yards, a target better fitted to the longer barreled pump.

But Brett wasn’t the only one struggling. Took me a box and a half of shells to kill my seven teal. In the end, it got down to one shell to fill Brett’s limit. Out of the 90 shells we had carried to the blind, only one was left.

A drake green-wing teal came at the blind from the south. It was low and coming fast. As Brett stood, the bird reacted by swinging to Brett’s left. Brett swung smoothly with purpose and fired.

final take IMG_4158

The bird continued on its way, so we ended the day with thirteen teal and the Aleutian goose that must have been lost.

We had a great time and will retell the story of our 2018 KDC hunt many times.




Lola and the Bald Eagle


When the bald eagle (above) attempted to steal a ground squirrel from the golden eagle in the second and third photos, it became an aerial battle.

Yesterday, I feared I’d be seeing another, more personal battle – over a teal that I had just shot. As my retriever, Lola, approached the downed bird, my hunting partner, Tom Billingsley, uttered the words, “Bald eagle,” as he looked upward.

Sure enough a bald eagle had just passed overhead flying in Lola’s direction. It was an eagle we had seen many times in the past. As the bird dropped lower and circled Lola with the dead green-wing teal,  I felt some trepidation.

My next thought was that Lola would probably just give the bird up, but what if she didn’t? I was thinking about firing a shot into the air to scare the eagle away.

Then a pair of teal flew past and I fired at the birds twice. One of them seemed to be wounded and the eagle immediately took up the chase, leaving Lola to retrieve the dead bird that lay in the water at her feet.

IMG_0022 Lola teal by Joe

Photo by Joe DiDonato


I was happy to have my dog back unharmed.

No kidding.

Quick Change

In early December, nary a duck could be killed at the Kerry Club. Then, on the crest of a strong north wind, the ducks magically showed up and it was limits for all – for about two hunt cycles.

On the day before Christmas eve, there were a few limits, but generally the hunting has been below par ever since.

Yesterday was again below par and many of the blinds reported one bird.

Arriving late, I hit the ponds with only two hunters on site and they quit about the time I reached blind C – historically one of the best blinds on the club.

About 1:30 PM, I knocked down a drake teal – the second bird at which I shot. The bird sailed about 150 yards to a tule patch where Lola ran it down.

IMG_4056 before the storm first duck

Lola recovered this drake green-wing teal in a tule patch about 150 yards from the blind. The weather was calm and I was using a jerk cord to create some motion in the decoy spread.

As the afternoon wore on, the ducks continually skirted the decoys or screamed in at speeds that made them difficult to hit. It was a testy situation and I worked hard to kill four teal with 15 shots. The action picked up with a significant wind from the northeast around 3 PM. About 4, with the weather calming, I picked up and made my way to the truck.

It had rained enough to create significant clay mud which stuck tightly to my boots. I stopped to snap a photo of the sun as it peaked through the breaking clouds.

IMG_4127 heading in




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.