Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ducksnobbery: Precious moments in duck hunting

"That's a spoonie," Charlie said.

We were watching a duck that had just been shot at - unsuccessfully - by a hunter in a tule patch to the south of us at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge. It was now flying toward us.

Many duck hunters spurn spoonies. They can taste pretty foul because their diet typically includes a lot of algae and invertebrates. Add to that the fact that they're surprisingly small and they have the dorkiest bill in all of duckdom (think clown shoes) and you've got the single most unpopular duck in our flyway.

Of course, Boyfriend and I have found that most Sacramento Valley spoonies gorge on rice and taste just fine as a result, so normally we have no qualms about putting them on our straps. We couldn't care less about killing only prestige ducks - we're all about the food.


But on Sunday, my buddy Charlie and I were having an epic shoot, one of those days when the ducks just kept coming. The teal - one of the best-tasting ducks I've ever eaten - had finally arrived in the valley, and they were swarming around us like mosquitoes on a Minnesota hiker who got stranded at the lake without DEET.

"Definitely a spoonie," Charlie confirmed.

My strap at this point included five teal and a wigeon. I needed one more duck to fill out my limit. As that just-shot-at duck arced toward us, I thought to myself, "Do I really want to risk putting a duck that might taste bad on such an immaculate strap?"

I kept my eyes on the bird, but I could just feel my pinky almost levitating off of my gun.


The duck drew closer, a dark silhouette against the gray sky, coming in at what would've been an excellent angle for me. I'm an average shot at best, but this was a shot I knew I could make ... if I wanted to risk tarnishing my strap.

My gun stayed in my lap as the duck entered shooting range. As it passed in front of me, I finally got a clear look at the bill and body. And I did not see the clown-shoe attachment on the front of its face.

"That's not a ...."


My mouth agape, I stared at Charlie.

"That wasn't a spoonie! You said that was a spoonie!"

He was getting up.

Wait a second. I'd just heard a splash.

"Did you kill that bird???"

"Yes," he said, sloshing away. Shortly after that, he brought back a gadwall. Boyfriend and I love gadwalls!

Charlie was chuckling to himself. He hadn't even been holding his gun when the bird got close enough to ID. Right about the time I was informing him that he was mistaken when he called this duck a spoonie, he was grabbing his gun and pow! Duck down.

Charlie was gloating.
About shooting what should've been my seventh duck!

Of course, I did end up getting my seventh duck shortly after that - another wigeon, and quite the fatty. And I did swap one of my teal for that purloined gadwall, so I got my bird after all.

But somewhere in here is a lesson. It might be that snobbery doesn't suit me well. It might be that I should never rely on others to identify incoming ducks. It might be that it's more important to shoot quickly than to correct your hunting buddy quickly.

However, would I admit any of the above to Charlie? Hell no! I'm having a much better time carrying out the threat that I made when he returned to our tule patch with that gadwall.

"You are never going to hear the end of this!"

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Tovar said...

Love it, Holly. Great story!

Shewee woman said...

Holly I only wish we had the variety of ducks that you have. Great story and I agree I don't think that you have a snobby bone in your body.

Anonymous said...

Too funny Holly!!! Great story! Thanks for sharing.

Phillip said...

Hmm.... rely on someone else to ID your bird, and then get mad when he kills it? Gotta wonder if Charlie wasn't planning this all along. LOL

Funny story, Holly. Sounds like a great shoot out there. One day I'm gonna have to clean the spiders and mice out of my shotgun and get out there to shoot at some ducks.

Wolfy said...

Great story Holly.

I've always been thrilled by whatever I shoot or catch - I just don't think I have the "Trophy Hunter/ Selective Hunter" DNA in me.

And that's fine by me

Dorian said...

Let me know if you want to bring a newby along one of these days :) My weekends are free up to christmas at this point...


Anonymous said...

Holly, I'm sure Charlie is still chuckling, and now I am picking up the scent of sweet revenge in the air. Terribly funny...and now he's had his 15 minutes of fame. It's a good idea to learn to ID your ducks, and the Ducks Unlimited pdf flyer on Duck IDs is small enough that you could laminate it, and keep it in your pack, like I plan to do with mine. It's available on the Delevan Wildlife Refuge website...I'm also perusing Youtube videos, to look at flying examples, and typical trajectories of ducks into dekes...lot of studying going on. Delevan, here I come!

-Richard Mellott

NorCal Cazadora said...

Tovar: Thanks! I've been telling this story since the minute it happened. This is the kind of stuff I'd like to see in duck hunting TV, because these are the moments that make duck hunting fun. I'm sure we'll be laughing about it for years.

Shewee woman: Our variety here is awesome. There are a few we don't have - we see Eurasian wigeon and bluewing teal only rarely. No black ducks. No sea ducks. But yeah, it's a real UN of waterfowl here.

Phillip: I would think the same thing, only the truth is that gaddies aren't one of Charlie's favorites. (And didn't I time this well - he's out hunting now, not able to defend himself. Hee hee hee.)

Yeah, get the mouse turds out of your shottie and come out hunting. This is my last week of school, so I'm going to start really ramping up how much I go out.

Wolfy: Agreed. Though on a primo day, I can be persuaded to hold out for the better eaters. Perfect strap to me would be two pintail (the limit on pins) and five greenwing teal. Back in our duck hunting heyday in Cali, people would come home with a full strap of pins, back when a limit was 25 or something ridiculous like that. They always taste excellent - they eat nothing but seeds.

Dorian: Yep, it's about time. My next two weekends are weird - doing some private guided hunts this weekend, and a bunch of my kids are graduating next weekend, and I wouldn't miss that for the world. But if I'm hunting public land, I'll see if we can get you in with us. Are you ever free Wednesdays?

Richard: I'm actually not bad at ID'ing ducks; nor is Charlie. But when you've got high fog and the incoming duck is just brown, and all alone at that, it can be really hard to figure it out. Usually spooni-ness becomes clear if there's a drake in a group - very vivid colors - or if you get a clear silhouette of the bill. We didn't get that silhouette until the bird was literally right in front of us.

Anonymous said...

I choose to view selective shooting of Duck species as not snobbery but rather shooting what I prefer to eat. (Assuming I CAN shoot what I prefer to)

I mean am I stopping at Jack In The Box for a greasy fix or going to dinner to have Prime Rib?

I DON'T LIKE eating Spoonies and thus pass on them.

BTW, this season we've had a LOT of Spoonies in our area, probably more than average.

An I caution my neophyte hunter friends "Be careful of any (hen) Mallard looking Duck that bombs straight into the decoys when everything else is being cautious and circling...it's most likely a Spoonie hen."

As far as the table fare of Teal goes, I love their taste (but it takes 4 of them to equal "a Duck's" worth of meat) and what's so strange is that their diet isn't really that much different than a Spoonie's! Go figure...

At times Teal eat some nasty stuff.

Bill C.-Orygun

NorCal Cazadora said...

Bill, I'm going to have to disagree with you. Greenwing teal are seed eaters. They don't eat animal matter. Cinnamon teal I know can taste a little off, but not greenwing. (Of course, I know I didn't specify GWT in my post.)

I'm totally cool with foodsnobbery - killing what you know you'll enjoy eating makes sense to me. I sure wouldn't kill a merganser.

But the fact is spoonies in the Sac Valley tend to taste just fine, so some of the snobbery toward them is misplaced here. There are some hunters who will literally be deeply offended if you shoot a spoonie while hunting with them, and I think that's just silly.

sportingdays said...

Nice going, Holly. I bet you had a smile on your face walking out of the marsh with a full strap of nice ducks. Good for you.

You may be the ultimate defender of the noble Northern Shoveler. I kind of feel the same way about the much-maligned snow goose, which I personally find to be among the most beautiful waterfowl species and also very challenging to hunt and not worthy of its bad rep, even as table fare.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh yeah, I was a happy camper!

And I really am fond of spoonies as a species. I need to do a follow-up soon on that feather project I wrote about - I just got back a pair of earrings with hen spoonie feathers in them, and they're beautiful!

As for snows: I just hate plucking them - brutal! But Hank and I have determined their skin isn't our favorite, so now we just skin them on the rare occasions we get them. Obviously, we'd prefer a speck over a snow any day, just as we'd take a pintail over a spoonie any day. But there's nothing wrong with 'em.

Say, when are we going to get together in a duck blind, Sportingdays? Can't believe we still haven't done that!

Greg Damitz said...

I hope you traded a "Cinnaspoon" for the "Gagwall" and not a delicious Greenwing for it. There's nothing better than GWT breast fillets surrounding pepper jack cheese and a sliver of jalapeno all wrapped in a slice of bacon and put on skewers on a hot charcoal grill. Pair that up with a pint of Pliny the Elder and all is great.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Greg, that is exactly what I did, because I've had some really magnificent gadwalls from Delevan.

I've had the cheese-jalapeno-bacon treatment on all variety of game, and it's certainly tasty. But my favorite way to eat GWT is whole, salted, browned in duck fat and cooked briefly in a toaster oven at 450 degrees. It is the perfect single-serving duck, well worth nibbling at those little legs.

Greg Damitz said...

I'll have to give it a try, sounds delicious.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Click here for the detailed instructions.

Peebs said...

That bird acted like spoon it never changed its flight pattern drooped onto the decoys like a spoon even looked like a spoon black gad head looked like the classic laughing mallard bill, I was so supprised I shot it and as Holly said I really don't like to eat them but I did have to snicker you could hear the little girl say you ate my candy in her voice. Richard there is more to the story and I'll be sure to fill you in on our upcomming hunt. I think that I am bird snob I almost never shoot spoons, divers and snows unless I'm sure there is someone who will take them and I usually have a long list of takers around my home. As Holly said I was out hunting today and it was like I was on a different planet there were no birds and it took up till the last five min. to get my limit never let anyone tell you that Del shoots good in a rain or rather in a constant rain.

NorCal Cazadora said...

"You ate my candy!"

Yep. You nailed that one!

SimplyOutdoors said...

Duck snobbery, huh? I suppose it could be looked at that way. Lol.

Hmm...I think I might practice deer snobbery, too. I passed on a couple little bucks, trying to let them get a little bigger, and now my freezer is still empty.

Deer snobbery in full force.

And I wouldn't let him hear the end of it either. It's always fun to give people a little ribbing.

Josh said...

Just an awesome story, Holly. You are awesome. Really.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Josh, I've just been blessed with a funny life, that's all.

Anonymous said...

Ha! What a great story and valuable lesson, always identify your own game.

Be it fur or fowl, I know I only trust my own eyes due to experiences much like this one, afield with my husband. He loves to do that stuff to me, but I'm not so sure he does it "on purpose." Latest example while out muzzleloading-

*deer enters woods*
Me: hey look, it's a deer
Hubbin': it's a doe
Me: it's a spike buck
Hubbin': No, that's a doe
Me:No- it's not
*shot taken*
Dead deer on ground has horns

See what I mean! Yikes!

Once again, great story!

Josh said...

You are too modest. You are blessed with an interesting life, sure, that you have cultivated. And you are blessed with a finely honed ability to relate your life stories (and others', too) in a remarkable fashion. Blessings don't just come out of the sky, though; you have worked hard at your craft, and you are very good at what you do.

I'm just happy to know ye.

hodgeman said...

Great story... I'm not particularly picky about what I shoot either. Heck I'd carry a Sasquatch tag if the state had one.

Anonymous said...


While I've never personally witnessed this myself, I've read that GW Teal will stop along our rivers in the Pacific N.W. and feed on the flesh of dead Salmon after they have spawned.

Of course, as I mentioned, I've never seen this myself, but supposedly others have.

Bill C.-Orygun

Anonymous said...

O.k., I thought I'd go back and check my references on this, checked several books, Bellrose, Todd, LaRue, etc. I wanted to refresh my memory and make sure what I was reporting was correct.

Ah, there it is! Page 112 in Game Birds of North America by Leonard LaRue; section on Green Wing Teal.

According to this it claims that an investigation was made on the stomach contents of 653 GW Teal which revealed that their diet consisted of 91% Seeds and 9% Animal Matter, generally consisting of 5% Insects and 4% Mollusks. It also mentioned the fact that they fed along river banks on the decaying flesh of spent Salmon.

Just thought I'd share.

Bill C.-Orygun

NorCal Cazadora said...

Well, Bill, all I can say is they must eat better in California, because I've never had a bad or even less-than-delicious greenwing teal!

Cork@Cork'sOutdoors said...

Charlie might have gotten the shot, but I'd take a widgeon over a gaddie any day!

Anonymous said...


Oh no, don't take what I said wrong.

What I was trying to convey was that even though Teal might at times eat some less than ideal food, they still remain delicious.

I've never had a bad one either. ;-)

Bill C.-Orygun

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh good! As you can see, I love me my teal, and don't take kindly to any insults to them :-)