2018 Duck Opener

Arrival at the Kerry Club was unimpressive. As I passed the Ingomar Packing Company ponds, I was surprised that there were zero ducks. When I reached the Kerry Club, I could see a limited number of ducks on the ponds, but not as many as I would normally expect.

Once in camp, I began to look around and I could see some birds working. It was mid-day, too early to arrive at any conclusions about duck numbers.

Other hunters began to arrive about the same time as me. Enthusiasm was high.

Everybody let their labs loose and it was mayhem. My Airstream was in sad shape after a long off-season, but a quick clean-up put it into acceptable shape.

The traditional dinner was excellent with surf and turf with all the trimmings. Parking was at a premium. Camp was about as crowded as I’ve seen it.

Here are some shots from Friday.

 

Being in the “senior” group, I laid myself to rest at 9:00 PM. The younger group was still going strong.

Not a sound could be heard at 5:00 AM when I turned on the Airstream lights, but it wasn’t long before the camp came to life and several more hunters drove up ready for the hunt.

The walk to blind 4 was pleasant. Most of the other hunters rode ATVs so Lola and I were about the last to settle in. My partner, Tom Billingsley, was working so I had the blind to myself. I took my time.

Just after shooting time I snapped this photo of the horizon. As you can see, Lola was ready. She’ll be 12 in January.

IMG_6298 Lola waits at sunrise reset

As is the norm, the ponds were void of ducks by the time everybody was in place, but it wasn’t long before birds poured in, mostly teal and shovelers, but there also quite a few pintail.

My first shot was at a drake pintail. I missed on the first shot, but hit him on the second. He started down, but I lost track of him in the mix. Lola hadn’t seen him.

Bad start. I unhooked Lola and climbed out of the blind, heading in the right direction. After the water cleared of birds, I had no idea where the drake had disappeared. Rather than search, I opted to head back to the blind. Didn’t want to ruin everybody’s hunt.

After my first screw-up, I proceeded to miss the next eight shots at teal. They were humming, but the problem was me, I knew I was aiming and that never works.

Finally I got my sighting figured out and knocked down a teal. Lola made the retrieve.

From that point on, my shooting was better. I passed on a boat-load of teal while trying to get a good shot at pintail. Finally I dropped a drake sprig dead and Lola made the retrieve.

Next I knocked down a green-wing that was a swimmer. I turned Lola loose. She was within inches of the bird, but could not catch up with it. After she turned the corner into some tules, I followed but lost sight of the action. Last year she would have retrieved this bird, but I wasn’t sure where it went and I didn’t want to stay out of the blind, so I called her off and she reluctantly returned to the blind with me, birdless. The fact that she was willing to give up was a sign of her age.

As the morning wore on it was mindful of other Kerry Club openers that went down in a similar way. There was the debate about whether to shoot pintail first or last. There was the amazing difficulty of hitting shot-at teal that never slowed down. There was the worry of shooting a spoony by mistake.

I got my second sprig, my sixth bird. It was getting late as we began the wait for a seventh bird. As sun rose higher, Lola was finished and so was I.

We closed out one shy of a limit. As we neared camp, Bob Smallman drove his ATV out to give us a lift. It was hot and the ride was appreciated.

IMG_6302 sunrise complete

The sunrise was complete as I chased after Lola and a swimmer teal that we never found.

IMG_6307 first pintail of '18 cropped

Lola with a drake pintail.

Opening day hunts are a small portion of a duck season. Unlike most other duck hunt  days, they are generally predictable. The emotions, the ducks and the shooting.

 

 

Last Day of the 2017/18 Waterfowl Season

My conflicts and my blind partner’s work prevented either of us from hunting the last Saturday, so we postponed the hunt ’til Sunday.

Started off pretty good when a few teal buzzed us early at blind C. We had three birds in the first hour and were thinking that things might turn out OK.

early retrieve last day IMG_4187

Unfortunately many hunters were eager to finish picking up decoys, so after 8 AM, the hunting completely turned off with ATVs on every levee.

We still had three birds and hadn’t fired a shot for some time when the last of the other hunters pulled out. About that time a gaggle of snow geese broke up and headed our way. We put in some #2 shot and each of us dropped a snow goose.

Last day snow IMG_4189

Tom had quite long chase while Lola retrieved my goose.

We sat it out for another hour and a half  and Tom dropped a teal before giving in and picking up the decoys at blind 4.

Every season is unique as was this one. Had more limits than goose eggs, but a fair number of each.

Lola was rejuvenated this season and I’m hopeful that she’s got a couple more years of hunting left. Could say the same for me.

 

 

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.