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.

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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.

img_2792-lola-with-specs

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.

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Holiday Hunting

It’s often difficult to make time for hunting during the holidays. And the weather doesn’t always cooperate, but here are a few photos from the last three weeks.

Although the weather was too warm and sunny for geese, our first Webb Tract overnight this year did produce this rooster as Lola made a perfect flush and retrieve.

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This pheasant was good for a tray of thinly sliced and delicate meat dipped in cornmeal, salt and pepper, then fried hot and fast. The tray was presented on Christmas eve and it didn’t last long.

Geese eventually packed the island and here are a few photos from the next couple trips to Webb.

Just because the geese were there didn’t make it a slam dunk to bring them home, but last week I finally got a bunch of action and so did Lola. An overnight produced three the first afternoon and five more the next morning in a low fog.

img_2489-lola-and-geese

The three speckled bellies are now fully plucked and are sitting in my fridge, ready for roasting.The Aleutians and snow are breasted out. I’m contemplating how to cook them, but the first was pounded thin and fried for breakfast. Pretty good, but the specs will be better yet. After they are properly anointed with salt, seasoning salt and pepper, I’ll roast them at 400 degrees for about thirty minutes until they are medium rare and nicely browned on the outside.

Hunting geese can produce a real problem. Not the specs, which are easy to prepare and are also so delicious that they easily disappear, but the Aleutians and snows which are inferior.

The catch is that the population of snows and Aleutians is so large that they appear to need thinning. That’s probably why the goose limit is 30 per day, 10 dark and 20 white. Bag limits are three times the daily limit. If you shoot a limit of 30 (or a bag limit of 90), be prepared to make a bunch of jerky, sausage, stew and chili.

Thanksgiving Ducks

Now that my deer season is officially over, it’s time to hunt for something else.

So yesterday I drove down to the Kerry Club which is next to Volta Wildlife Area and scoped out the situation. Almost all the hunters had left by the time I got there and the take was not so good.

The two hunters that were still at the club had killed 14 teal, but they stayed in the blind for nearly six hours and they had one of the blinds that traditionally shoots best.

Other hunters killed a few ducks. Not one sprig in the entire bunch.

I sat and glassed the ponds from camp for about an hour. I never saw a teal and most of the pintails I did see were way high. About a dozen sprig came in and landed. That was it.

Before leaving, I took Lola for a walk. We saw lots of shore birds like curlew and ibis, but almost no ducks. First time I’ve driven all the way to the grasslands and not bothered to try hunting.

Heard from my brother who hunted Friday and yesterday in the Delta. Four of them killed two pheasants, one greenhead and one honker. At least they had something to shoot at.

Time of a change. The one thing about duck hunting is that it seldom stays lousy for the entire season. It’s not even December yet.