Duck Openers

IMG_7454 Sunrise 10-19-19 blind four

2019 opened with a glorious sunrise.

October is a great month for hunters. Coastal deer season is over, but late season and out-of- state hunts are looming. The weather is changing and the days are growing short, but the highlight of October for me so far this year was yesterday and  the opening day of the 2019 duck season.

Back in the glory days of Mayberry Farms, opening day was always full straps of mallards.


Brother Rob, myself and Fred Hilke on opening day 2006.

Those days ended when the seasonal marsh was replaced by permanent marsh.

In 2009, I was concerned about river otters: 2009

In 2010 the Giants were in the World Series: 2010

Opening day 2011 was a winner and brought back memories of the “good old days” : 2011

In 2014 I joined the Kerry Duck Club in the Grasslands to fill the void. My disappointment with Mayberry was mitigated by grasslands teal.


Last year provided good action as I covered the hunt in detail.


2019 was a success in many ways. The Friday night dinner was perfect and the mood of the club members was optimistic and lively.

On Saturday morning we were greeted with more ducks than I can recall for a grasslands opener. I was lucky to have my son-in-law Brett with me. Lola made it to another year of duck hunting, a little slower, but able.

Brett and I both had our hits and misses. We each had six ducks by about 9 o’clock – mostly green-wing teal. Then we decided to wait for a shot at pintail. Brett connected right away and got to watch me miss.

I missed three drake pintails in a row, each time emptying my shotgun. Finally I figured that I needed a bigger lead. The “teal” lead did not work for the faster-flying pintails. On the next bird I “aimed to miss” and the bird dropped with one shot. I was disappointed to see that I’d shot a hen – something I try hard not to do. You would think that it was be just about impossible to shoot a hen.

However, I did. And, we were done.

When we signed out, we found that everybody to that point had reported limits.

Planning Your California Muzzleloader Deer Hunt

On October 26th, many California muzzleloader hunts open. Make sure you are properly prepared.

One of the main issues with muzzleloader hunting is the amount of paraphernalia it takes to operate. The best way to get past this obstacle is to practice several times before going afield.

However, California laws regarding toxic shot are throwing a new wrinkle into the program. For several years, muzzleloader bullets have had the appearance of being made of copper. In fact, I was one who thought I was shooting lead-free bullets until recently.

Now I’ve found out that the so-called “Copper” bullets I’ve been shooting for over two years are actually only copper coated. To complicate things, I’ve not found any bullets that call themselves “lead free.” However, Barnes does make an all-copper 45 Cal. bullet that fits into a 50 Cal. sabot and it meets the California standards as far as I can tell.

Check them out. Here’s a photo of the POWERBELT so-called “Copper” bullets on the left and the BARNES bullets with sabots on the right.

IMG_7421 bullets

The POWERBELT “Copper” Bullets on the left call themselves “copper” bullets, but as near as I can tell they have lead in them. The BARNES bullets on the right are described as pure copper. They are 45 caliber with a 50 caliber sabot.

I shot the Barnes bullets and they were accurate in my Bonecrusher model 50 caliber muzzleloader. The sabots are a very tight fit and it takes a bit or work to get the bullet down the barrel. Make your first shot count and carry a bullet starter. If you have only a long ramrod, you may never get your firearm loaded.

Planning Late Season Buck Hunting

One of the best parts of owning an Open Zone deer tag is planning the trip.

Especially as one grows older, it’s better to be looking ahead than looking back.

My foot troubles are mostly behind me. Still a bit of healing going on, but I’m about 90% healed and by November, who knows how far along I’ll be, but whatever, it will be good enough.

During my previous Open Zone escapades, 2016 & 2018, I went to places that I really wanted to see and hunt. Now that the ice is twice broken, I’m going to be a bit more systematic and practical.

I’m leaning towards focusing on two or three November hunts and taking into account my resources. I’m going to do as much scouting as possible during October. I also have some friends who are imbedded in the areas I’m considering.

And, I have the house at Almanor which is located near several of the best late-season muzzleloader hunts. The house can be my home base and  muzzleloader shooting takes less preparation (practice) than archery.

Now that I’ve spent the summer laid up, the time I needed to hone my archery shooting is mostly gone making it unlikely that I could attain the level of confidence I would need to shoot a great buck with a bow, but I can reach that point with a lesser amount of practice with the muzzleloader.

The late-season muzzleloader hunts begin during the last week of October and run through November. And, one of my favorites, M3 (Doyle) ends before Thanksgiving, meaning I won’t have to come home in the middle of the hunt.

Phases of Ankle Surgery

IMG_6932 getting geared up

Figuring out how you’re going to get around is a major consideration. I mainly used crutches during the eight weeks when I could not put weight on the ankle.

For those who care, I’m posting the progression of my ankle (fusion) surgery from start to finish. Just in case you’re contemplating, or even if you’re not…here you go:

    1. Preparation. It may take years to come to the realization that you can no longer stand the pain. Once you decide to go for it, begin to prepare and don’t look back.
    2.  Surgery. The surgery itself was an exercise in trust. I trusted my surgeon and it worked out. He is a man or great confidence.
      IMG_6933 first cast

      The first cast was heavy and not fun. It stayed on for three weeks before I asked for a new one a week ahead of schedule.

    3.  The second cast was on for the remainder of the first six weeks. It came of in mid-July. By the time it came off, I was suffering from serious  cabin fever. Even took some anti anxiety pills. They worked.
      IMG_6934 new cast - red

      The second cast was a nice red color. It stayed on until the first  six weeks point when I was allowed to use a removable cast – but could still not put weight on the foot.

      4, With the new “boot” cast I had to use crutches for two more weeks, but at the end of eight weeks, I was allowed to walk with the boot on.

      IMG_6968 boot, but don't walk on it
      Here’s the special boot used to get started walking.

5.Finally the day when I could put my mountaineering boot on my right foot. That was around the 10th week. The July 15 X–Ray showed that the bone was 80% grown in.

IMG_6978 real boots - Kennetrek

Putting the Kennetrek mountaineering boot on my right foot was a major positive. I had to cut the tongue of the boot in order to fit my foot into the boot.

6 After putting on a real boot, it wasn’t long before I could take real walks and even a hike at Del Valle dam.

IMG_7011 first hike

Lola and I didn’t make it to the top, but we did go almost half way.

7. At some point in mid August, I celebrated a bit because I could see better days ahead.


8. Today, at the three month visit. Dr. Hamilton told me that I was good to go  and that I didn’t have to worry about hurting the ankle because it was 100% fused. He told me to do whatever I was comfortable with.

He also said he liked my video.

Today I climbed the hill again. Not all the way to the top, but at least half way. Didn’t want to get too sore, but right now, I’m fine and ready for more. Let the mountain climbing begin.


A-Zone Opener

We had a very good time on the opener and we bagged two bucks while doing it. We also ended up with a bonus pig, a nice-sized boar – weighing in at about 250 pounds.

Here are some success photos.

Son-in-law Brett got his buck Saturday morning

IMG_7034 Brett's buck

We spotted Brett’s buck about 8:00 AM on Saturday morning. From about 430 yards, Brett watched for a while before deciding that he was the right deer. Seeing there was a good path to about 200 yards, Brett decided to go for it while the buck remained bedded.

The 200-yard shot hit the buck in the heart. His reflexes carried him in a 20 yard circle before he fell. Turns out their were four other bucks with him.

The cocktail-hour boar met it’s demise about an hour before sunset on Saturday night. It ran into some steep country where it almost was lost, but the crew finally located him in a crevice about 100 yards from where he was shot.

Due to darkness, there we no photos taken at the sight of the kill, but here he is hanging in camp.

IMG_7041 butchering the boar after dark

Joe’s buck was even further in the rough. He arrived in camp in pieces. Here’s a shot of his head and antlers. A nice 3×3 with eye guards.

IMG_7036 Joe DiDonato's buck

My fused ankle held up well. I stayed away from slopes, but managed to get around pretty well.



Ankle Fusion Progress

If you read my blog periodically, you’re probably aware of the fact that I had my right ankle fused on June 3. The ordeal that followed has been a challenge for Linda and I. During the first six weeks following surgery, I was essentially helpless and had to rely on her for most of my needs.

I can probably never do enough to repay her nor can I convince her that I understand what she has done for me. That’s they way it is sometimes under extreme conditions.

On July 15, the surgeon X-Rayed the ankle and declared that new bone had replaced 80 percent of the joint. Instead of a joint, I now have a solid bone connection between my leg bone and the ankle. The is an additional joint below the ankle that still provide opportunity for some bending.

With the good news, I was granted permission by my surgeon to begin walking on the boot which doubles as a sort of improved cast. Here it is.

boot IMG_6968

The boot straps tight around the leg and ankle. It is designed to hold your foot in place while allowing enough use of the foot to facilitate healing.

I’ve now been walking on the foot for almost two weeks. At first I used a cane for added balance. Currently, I’m only using the cane at times when I’ve walked on the foot quite a bit and it begins to get sore.

No pain. Sometimes soreness, but that is part of the healing process. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be out of the boot on August 26. The bone growth should be 100% at that time. In time for Labor Day weekend.

I’ve noticed a loss of muscle in my right leg which is to be expected. As I’m walking now, the muscles are coming  back slowly, but noticeably. Not sure where the improvement will end as without movement in my ankle, there will be something lost.

I’m on track for fishing in September and hunting in October/November.