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.




Goose Success

Even with lots of geese, it’s not necessarily a cinch to kill them in Delta corn fields.

While it’s often possible to find Aleutians and snows in range, even on sunny days,  white-front geese tend to shy away from anything that could be a hunter’s blind and they also are decoy shy.

But last Wednesday afternoon, with few other hunters around, my friend Bob and I had some good chances at speckle-bellies and Aleutians – knocking down twelve of the dark geese between us.

IMG_4051 afternoon shoot

Our take was five white-fronts and seven Aleutians, shown here on the back of my utility trailer.

IMG_4053 Mt Diablo sunset

The Wednesday evening sunset was a prelude to the bright sun that Thursday would bring.

On Thursday morning we killed one more of each species before the morning sun broke through. It was a productive hunt.

IMG_4054 December sun burning through fog

We were also able to kill one more spec and also an Aleutian before the morning fog gave way to bright sun and made it almost impossible to decoy the birds within range. The solution at that point might have been to pass shoot, but we’d had enough and wrapped up the hunt early.

We’ll hang these geese for about five days and let them sit in the fridge for a couple more days before making them table fare. The specs are good no matter what but the Aleutians can use a little help from the aging process.

Overnight At Webb Tract


After two months on the sideline, the Airstream is back in action. The overhaul included new tires, new wheels, two new windows, new floor, serious cleaning, replacing many missing pop-rivets, repairing screens, rehanging the door, ripping out all the places where rats and mice could hide, killing several hundred wasps and blocking mouse holes. I even washed the exterior.

Delivered it to Webb Tract on Saturday morning and spent Saturday night on sea trial. It did well.

Here she is as she sat in my driveway on Friday afternoon.

IMG_3923 AirstreamUpon arrival at Webb Tract, I was surprised to find that the corn harvest on our property was complete. After setting up the trailer, Lola and I went after the pheasants.

IMG_3934 Lola and rooster

It wasn’t long before we had our first bird.

After a couple of hours hiking in the thick cover, we jumped quite a few roosters, but couldn’t get another good shot. I missed a rooster that was probably out of range anyway.

Back at camp, we took some time to complete a few chores before heading out to try for geese. There were plenty flying. Before we reached the decoys, a rooster jumped and flew to my right across a large ditch. I couldn’t resist the shot and the bird went down about 100 yards out.

Another bird rattled around in the bushes and soon Lola put it into the air. The second bird headed to my left and I didn’t miss. Unfortunately, the first bird dropped in a unpenetrable patch of cockleburrs. Got lots of scratches, but not the bird.

No luck on geese, not even a close call. Slept well in the Airstream, on a new cot.

The morning sunrise was an indication of the weather to come later in the day.

IMG_3940 sunrise

The morning hunt was once again a hike through thick cover. The birds were hard to find, but I did manage to miss one rooster and jump up a couple other birds out of range.

On the way out, I stopped next to a goose grind and took a few photos.

Lola and I were pretty pooped on the way home.

IMG_3946 sleeping

Lola crashed in the back of the truck on the ride home.

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.


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.