Saturday, October 31, 2009

Woot! I got my first woodie today!

OK, now, everyone who clicked here hoping to find kiddie porn, buzz off. I'm talking about ducks.

I went duck hunting with my friend Hellen the English Professor today at Little Dry Creek, which is probably the best public duck hunting land in the state - and this is a big state.

Unfortunately, we ended up with the worst blind in the place. Read more...
We knew it as we headed out to our spot at 5 a.m. because the listing at the hunter check station made it clear: In the three hunt days so far this season, this blind had an average of one duck per hunter - bottom of the list. And given the weather forecast - clear and still, and coming off a nearly full moon to boot - we didn't have any reason to believe we'd bring up the average today.

But sometimes ya gotta just take whatever you can get, so we headed out with the indefatigable optimism of new hunters.

After we got our decoys out - our sad, motionless decoys - we sat back down in the blind and got the lay of the land. We were facing southeast, with willow trees behind us, and a small pond ringed by tules front of us. Potentially a nice set-up.

As we listened to the cacophony of the marsh - snow geese off in this direction, specklebelly geese in that direction, wigeon swirling all around - I told Hellen we should load our guns.

"Why?" she said. "It's an hour before shoot time."

Because, I answered: Ducks might land in our decoys before shoot time, and if we pop shells in our noisy autoloaders after they've landed, they'll take off for sure.

Amazingly, the gods must have wanted me to look smart today, because about 20 minutes later when we were having a conversation about vegans, we heard the whistle of wingbeats overhead and two splashes in the water amid the mallard decoys to our left.

Meep meep. Gadwalls!

Conversation ceased as we watched their dim shadows and spoke to each other in improvised sign language. Ten minutes later, we heard two more splashes in our teal decoys straight out in front of us. Ten minutes later, another splash off to the left.

For the worst blind in the place, we sure were getting a lot of action!

Now, if they'd just hold until shoot time. We moved quietly in our blind, shifting carefully, avoiding letting our calls clank together.

Then, ten minutes before shoot time, we heard a volley of gunfire to the east.

What the hell?

It never fails - every time I go to Little Dry Creek, I hear people shooting early. The shooters were probably on adjacent private land, but five minutes later, people who were clearly on public land started shooting too.

Hellen and I looked at each other with consternation. We weren't going to shoot until shoot time - in five minutes.

And one minute later, every duck in our pond got up and left.


As the sky grew paler and shoot time arrived, we listened to gunfire all around us and watched the ducks flying everywhere but our little pond. Clearly, we were not on anyone's flight path.

Then I saw something off to the right near our gadwall decoys. Motion. Duck butts in the air? But they weren't moving like ducks.

Hellen and I craned our necks and I finally realized what I was seeing: otters. A family of five otters. Nearby, a heron called.


Lord, we had everything but ducks in this place.

We saw some off on the horizon - sorta, maybe, kinda callable... Oh, who am I kidding. But I tried anyway, lifting my newfound love, my Wingsetter Raspy Hen, to my lips. I'd been excited about this moment all week: I've finally learned to blow a mallard call, and today I might be able to use it to help Hellen get a duck, which would be her second duck ever.

I gave it a little toot, and the sound that came out was the kind of emaciated wail Arnold Schwarzenegger might make if someone kicked him in the nuts really hard.

What the hell? It had worked fine in the car on the drive over!

I tried again. No luck. Something was wrong with it. Hell.

So I switched to my Wingsetter 8-in-1, whistling a wigeon call. There'd been lots of wigeon in the area before dawn, so it seemed like a good bet.

I whistled at two ducks in the distance and they responded, swinging around and making a beeline for our blind. At 25 yards, I told Hellen, "Take 'em!"

We rose as they veered to our right and I fired a single shot, dropping my bird stone dead - belly up. Hellen didn't fire. She's still really, really new at duck hunting and just didn't feel ready in time. I totally understand.

I plunged into the water to see what I'd bagged because I hadn't quite recognized it. That's when I saw the garish black, white, red and yellow bill.

A woodie! My first wood duck ever. I shot at three hen woodies once in my second season of hunting, but had never seen anymore until today.

Hellen was excited for me, but still wanted a duck of her own. Just one duck. She has modest wishes.

Well, they might be considered modest in a decent blind in decent weather.

But our pond sucked. It was a stagnant mess. It was deadly still for the first three hours of the shoot, and when the wind picked up enough for me to put out my Windwhacker motion decoys, I discovered that the water was too deep - my poles weren't long enough to keep the fluttering metal "wings" out of the water.

Serious suckage.

We did get one flyover from a mallard pair, and we each took a shot at them, knowing they were probably a bit too high - and missed as expected. Not one single bird came within calling distance, much less shooting distance, after that.

The only bright spot of the mid-morning was that I was able to take apart my Raspy Hen, dry it out, and get it to work again. But it still didn't bring us any ducks.

Finally we had to concede defeat. Hellen and her husband were going to Napa today. She needed to get home and take a shower before their trip.

It was a bittersweet ending. I was so excited to have gotten my first wood duck - which was one of my goals this year - but so disappointed that Hellen didn't get more opportunity to shoot. She's not greedy - she doesn't expect to come home with a full strap every time. But she, like I did just a couple years ago (and to this day, I guess), craves opportunity to shoot so she can learn.

She didn't get that today.

But the season is young - we've got 92 days to go.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

And there was me thinking the high point of the day was sleeping!
Your day was way better

Shewee woman said...

Congrats on the woodie drake, he is a beauty. That is my goal this year as we wait for second season to come in. Only 15 more days. Are you going to mount him? Thanks for another great story!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Shewee: Nope, no mounting. The problem with mounting a bird is you don't get to eat it, and this boy's gonna be a good eater - I swear he had a quarter cup of rice in his gullet from feasting all night under the full moon. And he's a fatty, with a liver so pale it could be the wild version of foie gras.

I'll probably mount another duck some day, but I want to be selective, because I actually really don't want a house full of stuff that's hard to dust.

SBW: I did enjoy a good long sleep last night. Nothing like getting up at 1:30 a.m. for a duck hunt!

Marian Love Phillips said...

Congratulations Holly on your first woodie...a proud picture of you with it! :)

Wandering Owl said...

Congrats on the wood duck! They are a marvel to look at. I'm fortunate that I get to shoot at plenty of them here in the Mississippi flyway.

Great story and thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...


There are all kinds of recommendations on how to keep your (reed type) Duck Calls from freezing up/sticking.

One of the best/easiest that I've found is to keep a small bottle of Rainex (inside windshield defogger) in my vehicle.

Before each morning's hunt I give each call a little squirt. It's really "thin" liquid and spreads everywhere in there and dries quickly.

This treatment seems to hold up pretty well, lasting at least half a day's calling.

My 2 cents for this time.

Bill C.-Orygun

NorCal Cazadora said...

Cool idea - I'll give it a try!

HELLEK said...

It was truly a beautiful bird. So, pretty, in fact, that the ants almost hauled it off!

I wish I had shot at the other bird, but I couldn't get it all together in time and I also couldn't see through the blind cover to see where I was shooting, so... alas!

I posted a story about the "other thing" that happened yesterday on my site. My right ear is still ringing...

native said...

Great story Holly,
One question though, why do you have to sacrifice the meat in order to have a mount?

NorCal Cazadora said...

That would be a question for a taxidermist, Native (or someone who knows more about the subject than I do). All I know is that they want you to bring them the whole bird.

The Hunter's Wife said...

Oh darn this was about ducks. ;) Congrats.

oldfatslow said...

Congratulations on the woodrow.
In my opinion, they are the best
picking and best eating ducks.

BTW, otters are cute, but they'll
take any downed duck they can get
hold of. It doesn't take long for
them to figure out that decoys might
mean a free meal is nearby.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Yes, he actually was pretty easy to pluck - and I dryplucked him, because it wasn't worth firing up the whole wax pot to dip one bird. I can't wait to eat him!

I figured the otters were up to no good. But they were in the wrong pond if they wanted downed ducks!

SimplyOutdoors said...

Congrats on your first wood duck. I think I need to get into this duck hunting thing, but it tends to get in the way of deer hunting, and I'm not sure I could ever give up a few days deer hunting to hunt ducks.

And I feel for ya when it comes to the early shooters. Our gun season is notorious for early shooters; the ones that make you go "what the hell? How could they possibly see anything right now?" Kind of scary actually.

Hopefully Hellen gets her chance on of the 92 days that are left.

Josh said...

Did you keep any feathers for any fly-tier you might know? Wood duck flank is highly sought.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Just a couple... How much do you need?

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your first woodie!

I was drawn #10 out at LDC on opener, and you must have had the blind we had, lol. All the birds would not give us a second look, not enough open water for them to care about, too overgrown and not enough water movement. We watched and heard everyone else around us shooting all morning, but nothing would come near us. Between my boyfriend and I, we ended up with one drake Mallard, and a drake Woodie.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Well, it's good you went home with something! But I have left LDC empty-handed once - two years ago.

The thing that kills me about LDC is that 1) they have stricter rules than the other hunt areas, saying you have to hunt from your blind, period, not within 100 feet of your blind like most areas. But 2) people break the rules like crazy. We had a guy hunting probably 70 yards from us - couldn't see him but could hear the gunfire, and saw him drop a duck once. I thought maybe we were near free roam or something, but when we walked out and I got my bearings, I realized there was no way that was free roam or a blind - he was just plunked down where he felt like it, and judging by the frequency of shots, it was a little honeyhole. We couldn't even see the ducks he was shooting at most of the time, but obviously it was a sweet spot.

Josh said...

Whatever you are willing to give.

In fact, if you like, I can make something nice looking for you on a salmon hook. I'll combine your woodie feathers with some snipe and perhaps cinnamon teal...

Now I'm excited!

Kirstie Pike said...


The Buffalo Digest said...

Excited for the MIssissippi Delta season to open in december! Thanks for getting me excited.

Phillip said...

Congrats on the first woodie!

It's ironic, I guess... in NC I was almost sick of woodies, because it's almost all we ever got along the Cape Fear swamps. But now I miss the pretty little things.

It is too bad the taxidermists can't get the skin without the meat, as with big game.

john Sweeney said...

When you have time join us for a hunt at a very cool club. Check out

we restored one of the oldest clubs on grizzly island. If you like us add us to your links.

John Sweeney

Chad Love said...

Congrats! I usually shoot on eor two each year and I've always meant to get a mount but they always seem to end up eaten...