Friday, January 21, 2011

Something to cling to as duck season ends

OK, I have to admit I was a little obsessed with duck hunting stuff when I was walking the aisles of the SHOT Show this week in Las Vegas. It didn't help that I missed fantastic duck weather back in Northern California on Wednesday, and that every time I returned to my hotel room, I got to watch a mallard pair dozing in the Bally's fountain.

But at the back of my mind, a little voice was rising in panic. Oh no oh no oh no! Duck season's about to end!

There are just two weekends left before I'll have to put away the decoys and waders for 265 days. The rush will be over. Hunting will go into slow mode - a turkey here, a pig there. If I'm lucky.

Oh well, guess I'll have to spend my time at the ... Read more...
Oh yeah! The shooting range!

One of the first things I got to check out when I arrived at the SHOT Show on Wednesday was the Prois Hunting Apparel booth. As owner Kirstie Pike took me through the new additions to her clothing line, one thing leapt out at me: an awesome shooting vest.

I already have and enjoy one of Kirstie's Competitor shooting shirts and love it - there are shoulder patches on both sides, accommodating those of us who shoot left-handed, and the patches are well-padded.

But I'm really excited about the new vest, which will be available for sale this summer (and as a member of the Prois Field Staff, I might get access to it a little earlier).

Here's what makes this vest cool:

- Nice feminine cut, which you can see from the photo above. OK, I know, that's not the most important thing in the world. But it's NICE.

- In addition to front cargo pockets for shotshells, there's a rear pouch for hulls that also opens by zipper across the bottom to make it easy to dump the shells at the end of your shooting day. LOVE that!

- If you don't want to use the cargo pockets and rear pouch, you can actually remove them - they unzip completely.

Because the SHOT Show is a trade show, not a consumer show, you don't always get the opportunity to try things on there. But Kirstie had a floor model vest in my size and it fit beautifully. I especially liked the built-in belt that allows you to adjust fit perfectly.

The vest will retail for $139. If you'd like to see the full catalog description, click on the image below (and for that matter, if you'd like to see the full catalog, click here).

Nothing like a new article of clothing (or the hope of one) to brighten your outlook on the future. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to pack for tomorrow's duck hunt.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nine fun finds for hunters at the 2011 SHOT Show

It's easy to get distracted at the SHOT Show - there are tons of shooting/hunting/outdoors exhibitors here in Vegas - so I attend this trade show with specific goals in mind:

1) Look for cool new stuff for women hunters (and if you missed it, check out yesterday's post on the new women's waterfowl line).

2) Look for anything cool related to duck hunting.

3) Try to meet hunting TV celeb Jim Shockey.

This year, No. 3 was an epic fail thanks to my "friend" Phillip at the Hog Blog. Here's how it went down in our text-message exchange:

Phillip (12:46 p.m.): your boy, Shockey, is up here

Me (12:47 p.m.): WHERE???

Phillip (1:03 p.m.): He was in the press room. (Emphasis added.)

Me (1:03 p.m.): That's where I've been this whole time.

So, thanks, Phillip, for waiting SIXTEEN MINUTES before finishing the damn sentence.

Anyway, I did really well on Nos. 1 and 2, so here are some of my favorite finds of the 2011 SHOT Show, mostly in alphabetical order, except for No. 1, which is too awesome to be anything but first on the list. (And guys, only three of nine are chick-oriented, so keep reading.) Read more...
Best duck hunting hat ever: I stopped by the Feather Flage booth today to see if there were any women's items in the coolest camo pattern in duck hunting. The answer was no, but then they showed me the most amazing hat ever, so obvious I can't believe it's taken this long for someone to think of it.

If you're a duck hunter, I don't have to say a word here for you to understand what you're looking at. But for those of you who are wondering what the big deal is, it's this: When you hunt ducks, you spend a lot of time trying to hide your face under the brim of your cap. This, of course, makes it hard to see the ducks, which causes you to do neck contortions reminiscent of Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

Head Down Gear basically cut a hole in the bill/visor of the cap and put mesh over it, so you can look up through the visor while still having much of your moon face and eyes hidden. I am totally wearing this Saturday at Delevan. Psyched beyond belief.

Disclosure: I got this cap free. No clue what it costs retail. It's pretty new.

Beretta Xtrema's newest feature - handwarmer grip! Yeah, you heard me, the Xtrema now has a built-in HAND-WARMER. You pop open a little lid on the bottom of the grip, stuff a chemical hand-warming pack in there, then close the lid.

Voila! Warm grip.

(Sorry for the lame image, but oddly enough, there were no detail shots of this feature in Beretta's media kit.)

Obviously Beretta thinks this will be a hit with men, because that's most of the market for this gun, but holy cow, women will love this. Our biggest problem in the marsh is cold hands, and this solves it. Zowie!

Price: Starting at $1,350 (and hell no, they did not give me a free sample).

Ducks & Bucks Cart Blind: This nifty device is a combination decoy-hauling cart/boat AND portable blind. The easiest way to see how it works is to check out the slideshow on the company's website - click here - but the short version is that the boat tips up and becomes a seat (with seat and back cushions) surrounded by a camo blind. There are slots on the outside where you can stuff grass or branches, whatever you need for the terrain you hunt.

The cart retails for $375, but the company has a season-end clearance sale now in which you can get it for $295 - pretty sweet discount.

It's impossible to gauge field performance in a trade show booth, but I did take a seat in this, and it was comfortable and afforded good field of vision in front, with little windows to the side.

You do have a blind spot behind you, which can be mitigated a bit by lowering the camo blind material. But the boat is basically your back wall, so you can't see through it. However, if you're 5-foot-8 like I am, once you stand up you can shoot in a 360 around the blind.

Looks pretty cool - I hope I can try this out next season.

Haley Vines' almost-duck jacket: I stopped by the Haley Vines Outdoor Collection booth and while the company doesn't have women's duck gear per se, it does have a waterproof jacket made in Mossy Oak Duck Blind (a pattern they chose because, simply put, chicks dig it).

I'm hoping to score a review sample and put it to the test in the field this weekend. Looks like the kind of thing that would work if you layer appropriately for your temperatures, or if you tend to hunt in warm-ish rain.

Price: $125

Sizes: 0-5 (and no, I have no idea what that means, but the floor model I'm coveting is a medium, so this isn't just for little pixies)

Heated wader sock: This merino wool blend sock from Heat Factory is pretty cool: a thigh-high compression sock (i.e., designed to stay up) that has a foot-warmer pack pouch on the end. The pouch takes one of Heat Factory's foot warmers (hotter than hand warmers), and it sits on top of your foot, not underneath it.

A friend today said that sounded uncomfortable, but I know I have plenty of room in all my wader boots, so I think this will be awfully nice.

Disclosure: I paid discount price for this pair of socks, and got a fistful of free footwarmers to fit in the pouch.

Loon Lake Decoy Company: I need more duck decoys in my house like I need blanks in my shotgun, but when I walked by Loon Lake's booth, I had to stop.

The first thing that caught my eye was the drake spoonie decoy, which is the one we have sitting on our hearth at home, purchased at a Cal Waterfowl fundraising dinner. Love spoonies!

But as I looked around, I found I loved the whole collection. The pintails have a true-to-life purple sheen on their brown heads, and all the birds are vivid and striking.

The company also has a collection of antique decoy replicas that are stunning. If you love buying decoys, check these folks out. They're good people.

Rocky Durango Flirt: One of my online buds has been telling me how much she likes Rocky clothes and shoes, so I was pleased to get a chance to check the company out for myself today.

I hope to try some of their hunting/hiking boots soon, but honestly, what really caught my eye (and heart) was this pair of Durango Flirt boots.

I am not a cowboy-boot wearer. I don't hang out in the country music scene. But orange is my favorite color and I'm a sucker for flame designs. Add a sensible sole like you see here (uh, SCREW high heels) and I'm sold.

Or in this case, gifted. The folks at Rocky said they'd send me a pair gratis. Yay! New shoes! Cute shoes!!!

Storm Kloth II women's jackets etc.: I have to file this under "way too warm to wear where I hunt," but I really liked Storm Kloth's offerings for women.

Storm Kloth II is a fleece laminate, and products the company makes with it are fully waterproof (score!).

Dede Speight designed clothes that she'd want to wear hunting - and does wear hunting - herself. On the vest and jacket, you'll see there's an interior drawstring to allow you to cinch the waistline to your own personal specifications. (In fact, it was that women's jacket on display that caught my eye.)

It looks super cozy and this whole waterproof fleece thing sounds pretty cool.

Winchester Blind Side: This is Winchester's new waterfowl shot, designed to induce the serious trauma that will bring a bird down hard.

Couple things going on here:

1) The steel shot is not round - the pellets are shaped like dice. The goal is to create big wound channels (not sure what that's going to do to the meat, but with any luck I'll get a sample and find out soon).

2) The second point of that weird shape is that it allows the shot to be stacked efficiently in the shell - you get a 1 3/8-ounce load in a normal 3 inch shell.

3) This shell has a "hinged wad" that apparently absorbs a bit of the felt recoil, which is good, because those funky stacking pellets leave room for more gunpowder.

I definitely look forward to trying out this shot. The test for me is going to be whether the awesome stopping power that Winchester promises is worth the "250% more trauma" to the bird, which I am killing for food. I will, of course, report back when I find out.

Velocity: 1400 fps

Price: No clue.

Availability: Initially, just for 12 gauge in 3- and 3 1/2-inch shells, shot sizes 2 and BB. Look for it in stores in a few months.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Finally! A women's waterfowl hunting line

The first time I came to the SHOT Show - the mammoth hunting and firearms trade show put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - I spent a lot of time walking around looking for women's duck hunting gear. I never found any.

But this year, I was in for a terrific surprise: SHE Outdoor Apparel has just unveiled an entire line of women's waterfowl gear: waders, bib, jacket, gloves.

I was floored. And thrilled. This is an enormous commitment to make to a very tiny market - women waterfowlers number 131,000, at best, in the U.S.

SHE didn't have anything other than gloves that I could actually try on today, but here's what I can tell you so far:

Waders: The most brilliant thing about these waders is the sizing option: First, you pick your shoe size. Then, you pick your body size, ranging from S to XL.

After working with Cabela's to develop women's duck hunting waders, what I heard most from women was how much they wished they didn't have to settle for one-size-fits-all. These waders address that problem. Quite honestly, I don't know how SHE can afford to do it, because we're talking about very, very small numbers of women in each sizing option. But God bless 'em for doing it.

The wader design also shocked me, because, holy crap, it's feminine.

What I don't know is how it looks on someone who's not a beautiful, slim model like the woman you see in this photo. But my experience with SHE pants in the past has been that they worked well for those of us with the figures of mere mortals. (They're going to send me a pair later this year, so I can report back in full detail in, hopefully, a few months.)

For all my duck huntin' sistahs in the cold parts of the country, you're going to love these: 5 mm neoprene, boots with 1000-gram Thinsulate.

Price: $240 - steep. But at this point, it doesn't look unjustified based on the design - it's pretty carefully built.

Boot sizes: 6-10

Body sizes: S-XL

Only concern: They don't have a hand-warming pocket - it just wouldn't work with the zipper front you see here. But I'm happy to give them a test-ride to see how I like it.

Jacket: This jacket has a feminine cut that tells me it will work beautifully under the waders (how I prefer to wear my jacket), but SHE CEO Brian Zaitz told me it's cut with enough room to wear it over the waders (and with the beautiful cut of those waders, I can see it).

The jacket is made of brushed tricot with 200-gram Thinsulate, and it is waterproof (note: in the original version of this post, I wasn't sure whether it was waterproof, but I've confirmed it). There's a zip pack-away hood, magnetic pocket closures and fleece-lined hand pockets, which may make up for the lack of handwarmer pockets on the waders, assuming you wear your jacket outside the waders.

Price: $120 - well within the realm of normal for a duck hunting jacket.

Sizes: XS-XXL

Bib: I don't do any dry-land duck hunting - I have ZERO expertise on bibs - so I'll just give you the catalog details: brushed tricot, 200-gram Thinsulate, two chest pockets, full front zipper, knee side zippers, internal gaiters.

Click on the image if you want to see a larger version to check out details for yourself.

Price: $120

Sizes: XS-XXL

Glove: Lord, one of the most frustrating things about being a woman hunter is finding properly fitting gloves. This may be the only women's duck hunting glove, based on what I've seen so far. (If I'm wrong, e-mail me.)

This one I got to try on, and it was quality. It's a neoprene extended-cuff glove, with 600-gram Thinsulate, and unlike my other duck glove with an extended cuff, it was really easy to get my hand and into this (on the ones I have now, the lining gets all bunched up and I can't get my fingers into the finger holes - irritating).

Price: $50

Sizes: S/M, L/XL

So, when can you get this stuff?

For those of you who, like myself, still have a little bit of your duck season left, you won't be able to give these items a test ride in your last weeks in the field - this collection isn't available for sale yet.

Personally, though, I'm just happy there are some more options on the horizon for all of us duck huntresses.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Introducing the coolest duck feather ever - and my new feather photo website

I think the first time I ever plucked a wild duck, I admired the beauty in the pile of feathers at my feet. Maybe it was something about how the beams of light hit them on the garage floor. Or the fact that the individual feathers that comprise our image of a duck can be so surprising when we view them in isolation.

But it wasn't until this duck season that I really began to study duck feathers, and boy was I in for a surprise. Amidst all the beauty on the plucking-room floor, there lay this discovery:

Yes, folks, it's true. This photo is not a fake. Drake gadwalls have smiley face feathers.Read more...
Backing up a little bit: When the 2010-11 season began, one of my students came to school wearing beautiful feather earrings. I asked where she got them, and she said her mother made them. I told her I get lots of beautiful feathers all the time during duck season and asked if she'd like some. Yes!

Then when I blogged about the new partnership back in November, my mom read the post and asked if she could have prints of the photos I used because she wanted to frame them.

Thus was born a new project: gallery-quality duck feather photography.

My work has just begun: I've completed thirteen photos from six species: gadwall, greenwing teal, mallard, pintail (including some nice hen feathers), ruddy and spoonie.

However, there are some obvious holes, like no pin tail-feather for the drake pintail, and no shot of the classic scalloped feathers from the drake gadwall's shoulder. I've photographed them, but want to re-do them.

And the much-maligned drake spoonie has a lot of stunning feathers that I haven't gotten to yet (though I did get my perfect specimen yesterday at Delevan - possibly the first time I've ever been jubilant at shooting a spoonie).

Good lord, I have fourteen boxes of duck feathers stacked up in our den, just waiting to be scrutinized and photographed. You wouldn't believe how long a single shooting session takes.

But my photo gallery is up and running: You can now peruse photos and buy prints online at It's a great opportunity to purchase hunting-related art that you could hang in any workplace without offending those folks who are queasy about hunting.

If you're interested in purchasing the smiley-face photo, just select the Gadwall gallery on my site, or click here to go directly to that photo. (And don't worry about that ugly ole "© Holly A. Heyser" splashed across the image - I have to do that online to prevent copyright infringement; your print will be nice and clean.)

It's important to note that I went with SmugMug because I had purchased a photo through that company by dynamite waterfowl photographer Fred Greenslade of Delta Waterfowl. I was really impressed with the quality of printing and the incredibly sturdy packaging that ensured photos would not be damaged in transit.

SmugMug also allows me to make a little money for the creative work that I do - believe me, blogging and doing food photography for Boyfriend is not terribly lucrative. To that end, dear readers, I'd be grateful if you could spread the word about the fun smiley-face photo and my new online gallery among all the duck hunters/admirers you know.

So, back to that gaddie photo: If you don't believe the photo is real, go get yourself a drake gadwall before the season ends and check it out for yourself. While the quality of smiley face varies from bird to bird - some of the feathers I've collected have garish jack-o-lantern-style smiles with big wicked eyes - every drake gadwall I've plucked has these smiley feathers.

Here's where you look - on the breast, in the transition from brown feathers to white feathers:

I don't know if I'll ever be able to top that smiley-face photo. But I'm really enjoying the process. The ducks I have admired for all my time as a hunter become more beautiful and amazing to me with every feather I photograph.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

New show: Hunting TV on a non-hunting channel

The other day, my mom was telling me how my taking up hunting has changed her viewpoint: When she watches TV or listens to the radio, she's much more tuned in to how hunting is portrayed, and it bugs her when hunters are stereotyped as stupid, cruel or violent.

The good news is that there appears to be growing curiosity about hunting as a way to feed yourself (which is - DUH! - what hunting is), and there's a new television show that feeds that interest: Steven Rinella's The Wild Within.

If the name Rinella sounds familiar, it may be because of a New York Times op-ed piece he did a few years ago called Locavore, Get Your Gun. The gist of it, in case you don't feel like clicking over, is this: Eating local, sustainably produced meat may be all the rage these days, but hunters have been doing that all along.

Having a piece like that in the New York Times is important because it delivers a valuable message to the Times' huge non-hunting audience, showing an alternative to the stereotypes that may have shaped their views of us. But having a weekly television show on that topic may be even better. Read more...
I watched the premiere of Rinella's show last night on the Travel Channel, and on the whole, I thought it was really good.

The first episode featured Rinella at his part-time home in Alaska fishing for crab and shrimp, hunting deer and going on an opportunistic hunt where he might get bear or waterfowl (he got the latter). The show culminated in a meal with his wife and friends back at his home in Brooklyn. Get it? Hunting = food.

The overall tone is fairly adventure-oriented, kind of like Bear Grylls with a gun. In other words, this isn't Everyman Hunting - there's a definite survival orientation.

The highlight of the show, for me, came right after Rinella shot a deer. Directly addressing the camera/audience, he noted frankly that killing is inherently ugly, but hunters at least take direct responsibility for it, rather than delegating to a third party.

That, of course, is one of my favorite soapbox speeches, so I was thrilled to hear it coming through the megaphone of the Travel Channel.

I don't think we necessarily need to guilt-trip all the people who buy meat from third parties - there isn't enough wildland or wildlife left for everyone to hunt. But we do need to fend off the hypocrisy I hate the most: Meat eaters who think there's something wrong with hunting.

My only real criticism of the show is how it handled what came after Rinella killed that deer: the field dressing. That scene mostly featured close-ups of Rinella's hand cutting various parts, and shots of him talking to the camera with his hands in the deer, but with the frame cut off at his hands - you couldn't see the deer. I caught a glimpse of the deer's head only once, and only briefly.

In other words, the filming obscured the full reality of the dead deer in front of him, looking partly like a previously living animal, partly like meat and guts.

Being a mildly militant meat activist, I'd really like the public to see the whole reality of killing. I think the fact that we've sheltered most people from the reality of killing animals is the reason that we see so much hypocrisy and ignorance about killing animals for meat.

That said, I know exactly why Rinella's producers handled that scene this way. Just look at the reaction to the caribou-dressing scene in Sarah Palin's reality show - people were so freakin' offended that they were "forced" to watch an animal being transformed into meat. (Doubt me? Check out this hypocritical and vitriolic rant by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.)

I'm sure that some of the reaction to Palin's televised killing was rooted in people's disdain for her politics. But I also know that many people put such scenes in the same category as full frontal nudity - "How dare you expose our children to this?" - regardless of their political views.

So, I get it. My only hope is that shows like Rinella's will eventually help restore Americans' understanding of where food comes from, and we can get back to watching the full and honest reality of it without hysterics. It's certainly a good start.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

Duck hunting fortune, earned and otherwise

High over the sodden purple clouds that coated the Sacramento Valley early Sunday morning, the gods were having a debate.

"Has that little twit Cazadora learned her lesson yet?" asked Hera, wife of Zeus. She peered down at the woman bundled up in camouflage, hands thrust in her pockets, shivering under the dim light of the hunter check station at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge.

"Does she understand now that any success she enjoys in duck hunting is a function of our benevolence, not any talent on her part? That her bragging is not only inappropriate, but offensive?"

Orion, burning brightly in the sky, though hidden from the little twit, had his doubts. "She thinks a couple of vaguely contrite blog posts can make up for that one atrocity. 'Limit with 15 shells! Six ducks with one shot apiece!' Such hubris does not subside so quickly."

Most of the gods murmured in agreement, but Eleos - the god of mercy, pity and compassion - defended the mortal huntress.

"I've watched her hunt, and I think she is sincere. She has taken her punishment well. When Zeus made her miss 13 shots in a row yesterday while she and her boyfriend were trying to teach Jacqueline and Keith how to hunt ducks, she didn't rage against us - she accepted it. And she turned it into a teachable moment for the new hunters. I would like to reward her with a little gift."

Zeus had remained quiet during the debate, but he spoke up now. "Send her the gift. But I'm sending more stinging rain. No reason to make this too easy." Read more...
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The moments just before shoot time Sunday morning were pretty close to my idea of perfection. Clouds obscured the sun so thoroughly that the ducks whizzing by Charlie and me were mere silhouettes. I could hear mallards and pintail and gadwall and wigeon and teal all around - high above us, zooming low around us, parked in the water nearby. Life's real 3-D theater.

Rain driven by a northwest wind had stung my face all the way out to the tule patch where we'd be hunting that day, but I didn't care. I was bundled up in probably $500 worth of gear - layers of wool and fleece and neoprene - so once I turned my back to the wind, most of me was pretty warm. This, patience and a good sense of humor are the price of admission to my favorite place on earth: the marsh at dawn in a storm.

The shooting started for everyone else in the marsh before it did for Charlie and me, but we didn't have to wait too long for ducks to come our way.

"Ducks coming in out front," Charlie said in a low voice.

A pair. Big ducks, not teal. Good shooting height. But would they stay that low when they came into our range?

They did. Charlie and I shot - he at the bird in front, I at the bird in back. His dropped. Mine didn't. I shot again, and down she went.

We sloshed out into the water to pick up our ducks.

"You know what those are, don't you?" Charlie asked from 20 feet away as I picked up my duck. Hen mallard. So many hens look alike, but that big orange bill was a dead giveaway (no pun intended), even in this dim light.


I never get mallards. OK, I do, but I'd gotten only one this whole season. My bag tends to be heavy on teal, gadwall, wigeon and the under-appreciated spoonie. The mallard's weight in my hand felt good, like a special gift.

Sloshing back to the tules, I remembered to check. I lifted her in the dim light, twisting my wrist until her belly faced me, so I could see her feet.

I gasped like one of those idiot women in the diamond commercials on TV.

"Oh my God, she's got a band!"

I've put bands on ducks' legs before, but I had killed 161 ducks and geese in my four-plus years of hunting before shooting this bird and not one had sported a band. This was my first.


It's hard to explain why bands are special - it's not like you have to have any talent to get one.

State and federal agencies band a wide variety of game and non-game birds to study their movements and numbers. The agencies get some data when the band is clamped around the bird's leg - species, gender, where that bird is at that moment and whether it was born that year or previously. They collect the rest when someone finds the band - often a hunter - and reports when and where the bird was found.

But agencies band only a small fraction of ducks, and only a small fraction of those ducks - maybe one-fifth? - are killed by hunters every year. Being lucky enough to get one is like being lucky enough to win a modest little prize in the lottery.

When a hunter has a lot of bands, it means either he's very lucky, or he hunts in an area where a lot of banding is done, or he's just been hunting for so damn long that he's gotten a bunch of bands. Now, I had my first.

When Charlie's friend Don swung by our tule patch later that morning, Charlie told him about my band.

"I know," Don said. "I think the whole marsh could hear it."
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Eleos beamed. Zeus, pleased with Cazadora's gratitude, dialed back on the rain. Even Hera seemed content.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The hunting went well after that. I got two ruddies, a greenwing teal and a drake gadwall. Gazing out across the marsh, I got that panicked little feeling - oh no, five ducks, the hunt could be over soon! I was enjoying myself and didn't want to be done too quickly.

Then a flash of white on the water caught my attention. Spoonie drake, swimming maybe 75 yards from me. Something wasn't right. Wounded?

Funny, I'd been thinking about how different this year was. Last year I think one-fourth of the ducks I killed were birds that had been wounded by other hunters. I'd spot a cripple and go after it no matter what it was, unwilling to let any bird suffer longer. I know predation of any variety isn't always neat and pretty. I know nothing goes to waste in nature. But I just can't stand the idea of an animal being shot for nothing.

But I was so happy with my bag this morning. All good ducks. Did I want to risk bringing my hunt that much closer to an end with a spoonie, which might taste perfectly good, but which might easily be somewhat fishy due to a diet of invertebrates?

Maybe he wasn't crippled. I let him keep going.

But I wasn't proud of myself.
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Artemis exploded. "What kind of huntress is she that she would let one of our creatures suffer?" she asked, indignant. She liked to support fellow huntresses, but she was disappointed in this one.

"If a longer hunt is what Cazadora wants, she's got it," Artemis said. She'd been staying out of this debate, but now she'd be watching very closely.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hunting came to a halt. The rain was easing up, but the birds were all flying high, way out of shotgun range. I winged a gadwall and sloshed probably a quarter-mile through the water to where he landed to see if I could find him, but it was no use - he was nowhere in sight. Perhaps that limit of seven ducks wasn't as close as I'd thought it was.

Charlie and I both started looking at incoming spoonies with a lot more interest. Funny how quickly snobbery can go out the window.

I looked out across the water and saw a flash of white about 100 yards away. The crippled spoonie! How lucky was that - to get a chance to redeem myself for choosing the quality of my strap over ending the suffering of a wounded animal.

"I'm going to go after him this time," I told Charlie, and I charged out.

But as I got closer to the spot where I'd seen that flash of white, I couldn't find it again. Coots and ruddies kept a wide berth. Perhaps the flash of white had been a bufflehead mingling with the ruddies and coots?

Then I looked east and saw something big and white on the water 200 yards away. Plastic bag? Crippled snow goose? Seagull?

I charged off in that direction keeping my eye on the white thing. Definitely a bird. Head up, pink beak - looks like a snow goose. I was gaining on it - had to be a crip. At 40 yards I took aim and shot.

It got up and flew. I shot again. It flew 15 more yards before tumbling into the water.

Once in hand, I saw it was a Ross's goose. A tiny one too - had to be a juvenile.

I started chugging back toward our tule patch, and halfway there I spotted a small duck hidden in blades of grass rising from the water. It had let me get much too close - had to be a cripple. Greenwing teal? Couldn't make it out clearly, but I knew it was a duck, not a coot.

I dropped the goose into the water and shot. Sixth bird of the day - a ringneck hen. Excellent! Boyfriend had been wanting to get a ringneck. I walked back to the tule patch with two birds in hand.

Never did find that spoonie, but at least I tried to do the right thing.

And I finally did get my seventh bird.

Sort of. A gadwall came in and Charlie and I shot, a fraction of a second apart. We thought we'd hit the bird, but he kept sailing and sailing and sailing and then, probably half a mile across the water, we saw the abrupt splash-down that signaled his death.

We both set out for a long walk - my third and definitely my longest of the day. Must've taken us 15 minutes to get there, scanning the half-submerged grass for an un-grassy lump all the way.

I picked up the bird and walked toward Charlie.

"I think we both hit that bird," he said. It was his way of saying I could count the bird as my seventh.

Turns out we probably didn't - when I plucked him today, there was just one hole, and it was BB-sized. Charlie's shot. I shoot 1s.

But that's OK. Sometimes you get limits by shooting great. Sometimes you scrape them together with a mix of good shooting, good luck, mercy and the grace of friends. Regardless, you should consider yourself blessed.

Epilogue: After I wrote this post, Charlie reminded me that he checked that last bird and found two spots where it was hit, so I may actually deserve some credit for it.

And a week later, I got my certificate from the U.S. Geological Survey:

The hen mallard was a NorCal resident bird, banded by the folks at Cal Waterfowl in Benicia (in the San Francisco Bay Area) July 29 when she was still too young to fly.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011