Duck Wind Down

The last weekend of duck season was a workout.

Guess I’m getting a bit old. Can’t burn the candle at both ends and get away with it.

The Livermore Native Sons Big Buck Contest took place on Saturday and I didn’t want to miss it. That left Friday for a goose hunt and Sunday to pick up decoys at the Kerry Club.

Got to Webb Tract about 10:30 AM and checked the single blind I wanted to hunt. It was not flooded, which made me happy. But, the area around the blind was dense smart weed which made for tough paddling for Lola. We made it work.

The blind had not been hunted all season, so I figured the ducks wouldn’t be too shy of it. Although there we’re many ducks around, I did get chances at ring-necks twice and pintail once. Missed the first couple chances, but knocked down a ring-neck later on.

Specs were pretty active. After the first couple hours of hot sun, the birds began to work. Seemed like everything was going wrong. Hit the first ring-neck, but he sailed out of sight. Then I hit one of the sprig and it sailed away. I went after it almost certain that Lola would find it, but she did not. Could be that it never actually went down.

Lola was struggling to make it through the thick smart weed, so I actually assisted her by holding her up by her dog vest.

Specs kept coming around and finally I shot at a small group thinking there were well within range. Again a bird was hit and it sailed out of sight. I decided to calm down and wait for a shot I couldn’t miss – if there was such a thing.

Finally  a spec came over at about 45 yards and my shot brought it down. Lola swam right past the goose and I had to make the retrieve. She was not having a good day.

At least she turned around and made it back to the blind – with my assistance.

As the afternoon was coming to an end, I checked the time. There was about ten minutes left before the end of shooting time when another spec came over in range and I dumped it. After four misses, I had killed birds on my last three attempts.

After picking up my decoys, cousin Wes appeared in the Yamaha Rhino and gave Lola and I a ride. I felt better after finally connecting. We barbecued specklebellies from my previous hunt for dinner. They were fantastic.

The Big Buck Contest at Basso’s Barn was a lot of fun. The out-of-state bucks were amazing with Jeff  Zuniga winning with an Arizona Strip buck that was humongous. Clayton Koopmann won the A-Zone contest and my Inyo buck nipped Rick Escover’s nice blacktail in the “All-Cal” category.

Met my Kerry Club hunting partner, Tom Billingsley, at the K-Club about nine on Sunday and we hunted for about two hours. Knocked down a couple teal and then hauled decoys.

I won the half-mile race from our blind back to the truck. Tom did have a slight handicap. He was dragging all the decoys in my decoy sled.

Guess that’s story for 2018/19 hunting.

Now it’s time to start thinking about the plan for next season and doing some fundraising for MDF.

 

Delta Goose Hunt

Last weekend found me back in my old haunts. Webb Tract.

img_6579 1-13-19 at ferry

Forgot to take any photos while hunting so Rob snapped one at the Ferry. The three specs I shot were old birds and large.

Brother, Rob, and I returned to the site of our first duck club where we still find very good hunting for ducks, geese and pheasant.

It was approximately 40 years ago that we saw an advertisement in the Sportsman’s Corner of the SF Chronicle Sporting Green. Saturday was not unlike many trips to Webb. In Byron there was a sense that fog could be forming.

On Cyprus Road, just shy of Bethel Island, fog was visible. On Jersey Island Road, the fog thickened and by False River, visibility was down to about 100 yards.

But, it didn’t last long. By the time I’d driven across the island, watched geese, unloaded my gear, changed clothes and had a bite to eat, the fog was on its way out. Didn’t matter. I was happy to be surrounded by thousands of geese and ducks knowing that something good was about to happen.

Rob showed up shortly after me and we took turns hauling decoys out to our respective blinds. He chose a water blind with the idea of hunting sprig and I chose a semi-dry field in search of specs.

The goose hunt was good with some minor exceptions. Once ready in the blind, with my decoys exactly the way I like them, it wasn’t 15 minutes before I heard specs calling from my left. They came into sight about 150 yards out in the dwindling fog. Right away they spotted the white-front goose shell decoys I’d placed along the edge of the field.

I called softly, they were close and turned away towards the decoys. Slowing, they put their feet down and helicoptered downward. This was too good.

When about 10 feet over the decoys, they came to their senses and flared off the plastic birds. I called again and they turned towards me flying low, about 30 feet in the air. They were about to pass less than 30 yards from me when I stood and fired….whoops….I mean almost fired. My semi-auto clicked. Yes, a mechanical malfunction.

There were better moments to follow and despite more malfunctions, I did manage to bring down a spec before the afternoon was over and also bagged a couple in the morning. Both hunts were exciting and three specs is enough to motivate me to go back again before the season is out.

On Sunday, three more small groups of specs worked the decoys and call – passing by in range. I managed to bring two more birds. Lola made great recoveries on all three birds. By recovery I mean she chased them down and held them at bay. She might have retrieved them, but at 12 I’m giving her a break from heavy loads.

Without her I might have lost any of the three birds that went down as they were all very lively.

I’ve got an appointment to get my shotgun professionally cleaned on Friday.

dsc_0749 1-12-19 gbh on false river cropped

This adventurous great blue heron was floating False River towards the ocean on a boat made of water hyacinth. Photographed him from the Ferry on the way home.

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.