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.

 

 

Late-Season Waterfowl Hunting

 

Waterfowl hunting is dynamic. Here are some of my thoughts on late- season duck and goose hunting.

1.) Location is always important, but in late season hunting, the locations change and are impacted by the history of local hunting pressure. If you must, get out of the usual blind and build a temporary blind where there has not been one before. When you’re done with the temporary blind, tear it down so others won’t ruin your new spot. You can rebuild it later if you choose. Nooks and crannies can hold waterfowl. 25 feet of hog wire and wooden stakes covered with natural material makes a good two-man blind and takes only an hour to build.

2.) Weather is extra important. Late season ducks and geese are educated. Wind and fog are two of my favorite weather events. Winds in the ten to fifteen miles an hour range are good, stronger can cause the birds to sulk. As for fog, not a ground fog, but a high fog with cloud cover that forces birds to fly beneath it.

3.) Shooting. Keep in mind that these are experienced birds. They will fly faster and flair sooner. Shots will be longer and therefore leads will often be longer. Use the right choke tube and bring a couple types of loads for changing conditions.

4.) Food sources. Look for areas newly flooded, where new food may become inundated. Remember that invertebrates can become a new food supply. Cold weather forces waterfowl to feed more often.

5.) Bring your dog, but also bring an old yard chair or other type of stand if you’re freelancing. A chair is easy to camo up.  And a dog vest is extremely important in cold weather.

6.) Choosing your shotgun. If longer shots are necessary, bring your long-barreled gun. On the other hand if shooting ducks over decoys, you will probably prefer a short-barreled gun, like an over/under as the birds will probably not slow down over the decoys like they may do earlier in the season.

7.) Decoys. You need only a few decoys during the late season. Make them as realistic as possible and place them I spots where you have seen ducks or geese feeding or resting recently.  A jerk string may be effective during still weather, but don’t overdue it.

8.) Calling. Use specific tactics. Don’t call any more than is necessary. If a bird is heading your way, let him come. If he turns away, give him one short toot. On the whistle, test different sounds and see what works. The sounds that waterfowl make during the late season may be different than what you’ve grown to expect. Listen to them.

9.) Make a game plan before the hunt. Consider all of the above and be prepared with the right gear when you arrive at your hunting destination. Have a back-up plan in case other hunters mess up your primary plan.

10.) As the season passes, waterfowl shift patterns continuously. They will probably stay in a pattern until hunting pressure or habitat changes force them to change. Think back to previous seasons to recall patterns you observed in past seasons and be prepared to exploit your knowledge when you see them occurring again. Once hunting pressure forces the birds to shift, they may not be in that pattern again until next year.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Greatest Chase

I’d been standing next to a cattail patch 30 yards long and ten yards wide for more than 10 minutes when I thought I might have seen a glimpse of the duck Lola was after. I moved to improve my view.

Lola was in a frenzy. She’d been running ever since the green-wing teal I’d sailed had hit the water. When my eleven-year-old retriever first caught up with it, the bird made it into the air with feet dragging.

After a 50 yard chase, Lola and the bird disappeared behind a large cattail patch. I knew I’d have to shoot the bird again if Lola was to retrieve it, so I waded the 150 yards from the blind to the patch as fast as I could.

Now I was trying to confirm the presence of the bird that Lola knew was there. Getting a glimpse of the little duck was important. Because once I saw it, I would be as determined as Lola.

That’s when the bird swam out of the cattail about 25 yards from me. I raised my gun, but Lola was in the way. And, she hadn’t seen it with anything but her nose.

I moved quickly to the other end of the cattail with renewed belief that the bird would soon be dead.

Another ten minutes passed before Lola circled my end of the cattail. With Lola thrashing cattail with her body and tail, the duck was forced from its hiding spot and popped into an opening.

“Pow,” the chase was over.

Lola picked up the bird and began to slow-walk towards the blind – her best home run trot. For a moment I considered taking the duck from her, but she needed to carry it back herself.

The entire retrieve had taken about 20 minutes and Lola was running almost the entire time. My reaction was over the top. Funny how the energy of a dog can transfer so easily to a human.

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

 

 

 

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.