Monday, January 28, 2008

The agonizing nine-month California waterfowl ceasefire begins

Not like this. Not like this!

Three minutes. One minute. Fifteen seconds. No birds. That's how the 2007-08 California waterfowl season ended for me at 5:20 p.m. Sunday.

Actually, it was amazing that we even got to hunt. Boyfriend and I zipped up to the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge in the morning. On the drive up I-5, we marveled at the standing water everywhere. We were in the midst of a storm that's dumped rain and big wind on us for the better part of a week. Coyotes were everywhere. Hunting for rodents driven out of their holes maybe?

When we got to Maxwell Road, there was a barrier in our lane. "Road Closed," the sign said.

"I don't like that sign," I said, driving around it. But of course, there was a reason for it. About half a mile later, we found the road was flooded. We debated the merits of driving through water. It wasn't much of a debate - it's just a bad idea.

I dialed up the Sacramento Refuge Complex to see if there was another way into Delevan. "Everything's closed," the woman said. "The only place you're going to get on is Sacramento."

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge was only 15 minutes up the road, so we turned around and kept going north. Amazingly enough - even with most of the public hunting lands closed due to flooding - there wasn't a huge line to get on. We called our friend Tom while he was in church (I know, bad!) to see if he was going to join us. He did, and we all got into our blind around noon.

I was optimistic. We had a stiff south wind and gorgeous skies, with the clouds whipped into crazy patterns like you see on photos of the surface of Jupiter. It was stunning. Periodically, the clouds would break over the coastal mountain range, and the sunlight would reveal an unusually low dusting of snow. You could see patches of heavy rain all around us, and occasionally on top of us. For a while, I just sat back in a clump of tules and watched.

But the birds just wouldn't come down low. I took one laughable shot at a bufflehead that zoomed over my head at light speed while I was fixing some tipped-over decoys. OK, two laughable shots. All the other birds, though, stayed about 100 yards up.

Well, there was one realistic chance for us. A group of wigeons strafed us, taking us by surprise from behind. I called to them as they sped away from us, and amazingly enough, they turned around and headed back our way, low.

Please fly in front of me, please...

They flew behind me, straight toward Boyfriend and Tom. If I stood, it would take me a second to get positioned right, at which point the birds would elevate and the guys might not get a shot. So I let 'em keep going, and I started turning around slowly.

Bam bam!

Guess they're in shooting range now.

I stood, saw no birds dropping, shot at the rapidly lifting birds and missed. I had maybe one more very iffy chance, so I pulled the trigger again and my gun jammed.

My gun never jams! I take really good care of it.

But the birds were gone.

Boyfriend and I talked about that later. We were both shooting Hevi-Shot #2s, and he'd had trouble fitting them into his gun, an over-under. I compared them to my other shells and they are in fact larger. My autoloader didn't like them. Oh well.

I'd had big dreams for closing day. It's just like New Year's Eve - you hope you get into a good party, and you hope you get a really great kiss at midnight. And typically, you get disappointed.

But I really can't complain.

Last year, I got a goose and two ducks. This year, I got a two geese and 23 ducks, including a bunch of firsts: two mallards, three scaup, one canvasback, one ruddy.

We got to hunt a lot with Matt, a hunter friend we met last season. I found a bunch of new hunting buddies this year: Evan, Dana, Hellen, Tracey and Jen. And we've made more non-hunter foodie friends who are discovering - and loving - game meats.

I have a blog with readers literally all over the world. I've joined the ProStaff of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors. I'm moderating the women's forum on the Duck Hunting Chat. I'm starting to write for the California Waterfowl Association magazine.

Life is good.

So now it's time to attend to all the things I've been neglecting for months. Washing my car. Working on the yard. Counting the shingles that have blown off our roof in these storms and maybe doing something about it. Fixing the icemaker on the fridge after going six weeks without ice. Teaching. (Holy cow, classes start today! Yes, I have a job!) Getting ready for the SHOT Show, which I'm covering for Jesse's this weekend. There's plenty of stuff to fill the void.

And did I mention Cabela's just sent out its spring turkey hunting catalog?

© Holly A. Heyser 2008

6 comments:

Kristine said...

Sounds like you had a good season. There also seem to be a lot of good adventures in your future. I can't wait to read about them.

Phillip said...

At least you got out there! Can't believe Delevan and Colusa were closed and you still managed to get on at Sac for the closer!

I spent Sunday on the couch in front of the TV...but at least it was quality time with my daughter.

Oh, and just a tip (or a thought)...

If you're shooting Hevi-shot, consider downgrading your shot size to #4. That's plenty of oomph for ducks. Keep a few #2 or BB loads in the pocket for geese, although in a pinch the 4s will work (if they're close enough). Going with smaller shot will also increase your hit percentage with larger spread and more pellets.

Too late this year to try it, but trust me on this one... you'll hit and kill more birds.

NorCal Cazadora said...

That was actually the first time I'd put the Hevi-Shot 2s in my gun. We actually got them for goose hunting, but we were running low on the 4s, so I finally included some yesterday to round out my shell pouch.

Now, I don't care if I'm hunting ostrich - I can't afford to have my gun jam, so I won't be using them again. Lesson learned!

So many lessons learned this year - all good in the end.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Mmmmmm...ostrich...

NorCal Cazadora said...

Imagine helicoptering an ostrich! We'd definitely have to switch to Phillip's mob hit technique...

Marian said...

Hi Holly - looks like good things are coming your way. So happy for you. :)

About ducks - I heard on the TV station today in Jackson, MS (state capital) that a duck that was tagged in Japan in the year 2000 was killed in Ruleville, MS 2008. How about that!