Monday, November 12, 2007

Duck, duck, goose - only not in that order

This was the finest weekend in my first year as a huntress!

First there was the pheasant hunt on Saturday, where I actually got one. Then on Sunday, I went out with a few friends for my first hunt ever at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. And it was a good one.

I've always wanted to hunt there. If you've ever driven from San Francisco to Sacramento, you know the place: It's right before you get to Sacramento, where the freeway is elevated over this vast wetland that becomes the relief valve in the event of Sacramento River flooding. If you're a duck hunter driving over this elevated freeway, you know how often you've taken your eyes off the road to watch ducks flying and ducks on the water and oh crap, better keep your eyes on the road.

The weather was totally ducky: It poured all the way there, spit on us just a bit as we joined the small platoon of groggy, edgy, camo-clad hunters at the check station, then shifted to high fog as we headed out to our blind - two concrete pit blinds in an island surrounded by clumps of tule and covered with amaranth.

The shoot started out a bit slow. We heard a few shots from other blinds, but the only action in ours was the faintly visible scurrying of a few field mice bouncing around the island, hoping that perhaps the hunters had brought them something yummy.

But the action picked up. My friend Matt and his brother Steve hit their honker calls hard, and soon enough we had a small V coming right at us. I'm used to the birds coming close, then flaring after hunters in another blind skybust 'em, but these just kept coming closer and closer. We all must've been bug-eyed when they finally came right over our blind. We opened fire and when it was all over, we'd dropped three.

For the first time ever, I felt like I was in one of those TV shows where the birds always come in close, and the hunters always drop a bunch of 'em. I hate those shows because they make it look like it always works that way. But for us, at that moment, it was reality.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFor my friend Matt, who's also a new-ish hunter, it was his first goose ever. It was my second, and my first Aleutian.

Nothing after that was quite as exciting, but it was a really fun day. We went from high fog to sunshine to a brisk north wind that kept lots of ducks working around us. I hit a spoonie, but not hard enough, and she sailed about half a mile away into some tules. Prior to Sunday, I'd hit exactly two spoonies in my time as a huntress, and I lost both of them in tules.

Spoonies are funny - they're stupid enough to circle back to your blind immediately after being shot at, but smart enough to dive for cover when they're down. I hate that, because while I know they will ultimately become part of the food chain, feeding hawks and crows and vultures and coyotes, I hate the idea of a crippled bird suffering until it succumbs. Two other hunters in my party had already lost spoonies on Sunday. When mine dropped that far away, I had to concede I'd never find her.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBut later, another batch came in and I dropped one. She landed much closer to our blind, but right next to a clump of tules. As I leapt out of the blind, I told the guys, "I know I'm going to lose her in those tules, but I'm going to try to get her anyway." I barreled out there - not an easy thing in waders and foot-deep water - and watched as she flapped around. Then, instead of hightailing it to the tules, her head dropped. I was stunned. I found out why when I got home: shot to the heart.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Now, I know one of the most important things in hunting is the clean, sportsmanlike kill (I can hear my hunter safety instructor's voice even now), but I'm still new at this, and I can barely hit the birds, much less stone 'em. I'm really looking forward to the day when I'm good enough that they're dead before they hit the water. But I'm also not naive: I know killing is rarely clean and simple, and dying is rarely pretty (contrary to the belief of millions of Americans who think that meat ends up on the styrofoam platter by means as "peaceful" as lethal injection).

The hunt got pretty slow after that, but there was one more thing that made the day pretty cool. Steve was looking out on the water to the north of us and saw something floating our way, driven by the north wind, looking like a small fireplace log. He got out to check it out, and it turned out it was the spoonie hen that one of the other hunters, John, had dropped in our first shots of the day, but lost in the tules. The wind had brought her back to us! That made us all feel a little better that a duck we had downed would not go to waste.

The hard part about this weekend - aside from being exhausted after a really hard week of work - was that my boyfriend wasn't there to see it. Because of his travel this season, I've now hunted more days without him than with him. I mean, it was fun showing my pheasant to the neighbors and the cats, and it was cool that my shooting didn't totally suck when I was hunting with three guys (two of whom I just met Sunday morning), but I really wanted my guy to see my success.

I'm sure there's a feminist out there who would chastise me for wanting validation from a male, but I really don't care. I know my boyfriend's proud of me because I hunt with him in the first place instead of staying home, like so many other wives and girlfriends. But I want him to be proud of me because I'm successful.

Today, I think he is.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007


Marian said...

A very good post...and congrats again on your harvest this weekend. You are now a huntress!

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with want those you love to be able to celebrate your success with you. Especially if he introduced you to hunting, being able to share the fun you had with him would make it all the more special.

Congrats on a successful hunt by the way.

Editor said...

alright! you are ready to get involved with a whole lot of good people, eager to help you reach your goal as a true huntress.