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

mayberry-feb3-026-mallard-flock-cropped

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

mayberry-feb3-005-mallard-take-off-cropped
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.

2017 Duck Opener

Recovering from my trip to Washington State, I didn’t have the will to get up early on opening day so I chose to get up at the regular time and drive down to the Kerry Club for mostly social exchanges.

However, I did make it out into the ponds. The result was a fat pintail drake that I ate for breakfast this morning.

Here is Lola with her initial retrieve of 2017. She wanted to keep it, but finally decided to let me have it.

IMG_3801 2017 opener

Wednesday I’ll get an early start with my blind partner, Tom Billingsley and we’ll see it we can bag a few teal.

 

Decoy Day 2017

Time to put out decoys and prep the blinds at the Kerry Duck Club. Here’s the way the club looks today.

2017 September Panorama

The short brown grass is swamp Thimothy and there is a lot of it. Ducks love it, especially teal and pintail.

Six to eighteen inches of water will completely cover the Kerry club in a couple weeks. That’s an ideal depth for dabblers. As the season progresses and the water gets deeper, diving ducks will move in as well.

Kerry duck hunt 060

It all starts on October 21, 2017.

Wednesday at the Kerry Club

1/26/27 It was so calm at blind C that Tom Billingsley and I opted for jerk strings first thing in the morning and they seemed to make a difference. The ducks acted as though they’d been shot at for months, which they had. Enough came into range and we held off shooting until they were clearly in range.

Of the ones we shot at, we didn’t let too many get away. Whenever I missed Tom seemed to back me up. Lola had another good day, chasing down all our birds.

view-of-camp-from-blind-c

Snapped this photo from blind C as we waited for some action. It was a windless day, but we were fortunate enough to have the best teal blind on the club so we had thirteen by 10:30 when we turned the blind over to my brother Rob and Joe DiDonato.

They managed to bag another nine teal before departing and were disappointed that they couldn’t hit sprig on the two occasions they flew into range. Despite the nice weather, averages on the club were pretty good.

This was my last grassland hunt for the season as I plan to hunt the Delta on the weekend.