Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Huntresses coming out of the woodwork

Just a year ago, being a woman duck hunter was a lonely proposition. Now, it seems they're all coming out of the woodwork.

First there was Dana, a 20-year duck huntress who found me through this blog. Then there was Hellen, a colleague and future duck huntress just waiting for someone to show her the way.

And now there's Tracey. When I posted a story about my hunt with Dana on the Duck Hunting Chat, another hunter told me I should hook up with his ex-wife, who's an avid duck hunter.

Sure! I said. She and I exchanged emails and I found out she's avid indeed - she's been hunting for 40 years - and you can tell from her picture that means she picked up a gun when she was a very little girl!

We met for the first time at 4 a.m. Sunday for a hunt at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area with my friend Matt.

It was not a glorious hunt. Fog, no wind, wary ducks. One of the highlights of the bird action came when Tracey and I watched a duck zoom over our heads, too high to shoot, and just barely avert a midair collision with a crossing seagull. The other highlight was our close brush with a few pintails.

Those ducks are incredibly smart, and it's hard to lure them in, particularly when your blind is in an island where all the tules have been beat down to a muddy pulp.

"Let me try something," I told Tracey and Matt. I got out of the blind, grabbed a few of my pintail decoys and set up on the outside edge of a nearby set of tules. The dekes were close to me, so from the birds' perspective, my call would be coming from the right direction. I pressed myself up against the tules and did what Hellen had instinctively tried when she joined me for her very first hunt at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2: I worked my legs from time to time, marching in place, to ripple and muddy the water around my decoys. Then I hit the call.

I actually got a few pintails to circle! I whistled. They circled. I whistled more. They circled closer. I whistled ... carefully ... whistled ... this is it ... get ready ...

And then the hunters at one of the adjacent blinds fired at a duck in their neighborhood.

That was it. In an instant, the pintails lifted about 20 yards and banked off, never to return.

It was like pulling the arm on the slot machine and watching the sevens line up one by one, only to have some irrelevant piece of fruit pop up at the end. I, of course, continued popping quarters in the machine, repeating the strategy for another hour and a half in hopes I could hit the jackpot.

But that was it.

Matt went home with two scaup he'd picked up early in the shoot. Tracey and I left empty-handed.

Well, not empty-handed. With such a slow flight, Tracey had plenty of time to take pictures, so now I have this delightful shot of myself, distracted by ducks, for some reason holding my gun with pinky finger lifted. What's that about? Oh well!

But more importantly, I have another new huntress friend. Undoubtedly, there will be better shoot days for us in the future.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

No comments: