Sunday, December 9, 2007

I heart Dale Tate! No, seriously!

Today was my first day out with my newly fitted shotgun, courtesy of gunmaker Dale Tate. As with every hunt, I went out with a mixture of high hopes and well-earned fear that my hopes would be dashed by bad shooting.

My Beretta had fit reasonably well before, but on Friday, Dale altered the angles of the stock to complement my long neck and high cheekbones. The idea was that mounting the gun properly, which is vital for proper aim, would be more comfortable now. But he also warned me that proper fit alone wouldn't do the trick; I'd need to practice the correct mount diligently.

I did. I practiced Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday night and this morning when I got up at 2:45 a.m. Then when we found ourselves comfortably ensconced in our concrete pit blind at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area with 45 minutes to go before shoot time, I practiced some more.

It felt like it was going to be a good day. There was a brisk north wind. I was at the same refuge where I got my first Aleutian just a few weeks ago. And I was hunting with the same crew I'd hunted with on a wonderful opening weekend: my boyfriend and our friends Matt and Evan, they guy who took me turkey hunting before Thanksgiving.

When the first shootable ducks came overhead ... well, they came right overhead, which is a pretty hard shot. I mounted my gun, fitted my cheek snugly on the stock, fired once and missed. But I wasn't worried yet, because, hell, it was an overhead shot.

When the next batch came in, they did so at a more hospitable angle - maybe 60 degrees up, instead of 90. I mounted slowly and carefully, made sure the stock fit snugly under my cheek, fired and ...

HOLY !@#^ING $###!

I hit one on the first shot. It dropped like no duck I've ever shot has dropped before. It didn't sail; it tumbled.

I got it! I got it!

It hit the water, and I jumped out of the blind, my heart pounding. I lurched through the water, knowing that speed mattered because a crippled duck can hide in the tules in less time than it takes to reload. But as I got closer and closer to it, I saw another sight I'd never seen: My duck was belly up, and holding still.

I'd stoned it.

She was a spoonbill hen, and she was quite dead. There was nothing more to be done here, except pick her up and take her back to the blind.

This was an epic first, because it's very important to me to become a good shot. My goal is to drop birds quickly, rarely crippling them, rarely watching them sail off wounded to places where it will be up to some coyote to finish, belatedly, what I started.

This was the holy grail.

The rest of the day was almost as stunning. I got four ducks (a first for one day's take), doubling my take for the season (wow). I got my first canvasback ever. And I got a drake spoonie that had some beautiful white shoulder plumage, and I just don't care what anyone says about spoonies - they're gorgeous. My hunting partners did great too. Between the four of us, we got an amazing variety of birds that's a hallmark of Yolo Bypass: a mallard, a cinnamon teal, two canvasbacks, three spoonies, four pintails and four scaup.

None of the rest of my shots today was as good as the one that stoned the spoonie hen. But that's OK.

On past hunts when I've downed ducks, I was never quite sure what I'd done right, so I had no idea how to replicate the successful shots. But this one is burned into my memory. I know what the butt of the gun felt like on my shoulder, what the stock felt like on my cheek, what the picture looked like on my retina. It is the precise combination that I will try to repeat every time I hunt. It is the feeling I will seek to reproduce when I practice mounting my shotgun in front of the mirror. It's what I'm supposed to do.

Now, I'm finally getting somewhere.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007


Anonymous said...

First of all congratulations on the great day hunting. Sounds like you had a lot of success.

Second, I was wondering if Hunter Angler Gardner Cook was your boyfriend after he mentioned you on his blog. Guess now I know. Is it weird that I wondered?

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Holly!

Sounds like an excellent hunt for the day... especially considering the weather. Did ya'll have some wind, at least?

The birds are moving down. I may have to try to get out before Christmas after all.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks! I'm still pretty excited about it. Totally exhausted, but really happy.

And no, it's not weird that you wondered about HAGC. We don't go way out of our way to advertise it. But we have a very similar outlook, and most people who read both of our blogs would eventually either figure it out or recommend that we start dating. :-)

Holly Heyser said...

That last comment of mine was for Kristine.

For Phillip, who commented while I was replying to Kristine: Yep, it was windy and cold (for NorCal, anyway). There were crazy flights of birds all day, especially over the closed zone next to us. We had two full hours of great action before there was a lull. This totally made up for Wednesday, when we went out for a little weekday quickie hunt and got skunked in the fog.

The only thing we didn't see much of yesterday was geese, except for the tundra swans that like to fly low because they don't get shot at. But that's OK - we had our hands full plucking anyway.

And boy, was my pintail fat! She looked like a domestic duck. That's gonna be some good eats.

Anonymous said...

Yer neck don't look so long in that there pitchur.

Holly Heyser said...

Oh, well, I had the gunsmith shorten my neck too.

Anonymous said...


Just wanted to let you know I tagged you with a meme. Details are on the OBS blog.

Marian Ann Love said...

Congrats on your hunt Holly...very proud of you! Practice, practice, practice.....