Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The newbie, the scavenger and by far the most bizarre duck hunt yet

The photos from today's hunt are ... well, not your usual duck hunting photos. But this was a most unusual hunt, on so many levels that it's hard to figure out where to start. So maybe you should just click that play button below and by the time you've seen these three photos, perhaps I'll know how to explain why I can't stop smiling tonight ...

OK, here we go. That first photo is Alison. Alison is a new hunter. Who lives in Berkeley. So all you haters out there, stop hating - you now know there is at least ONE hunter in Berkeley.

I met Alison in September at that cool event California Waterfowl did where women could pay $150 to 1) take shooting lessons, 2) take their hunter safety course, 3) get their license and stamps and 4) go on their first hunt - for pheasants.

Alison has been very diligent about pursuing hunting opportunities since then. She did a guided hunt up at Tule Lake, and I helped hook her up with a guy named "Nabs" from the Duck Hunting Chat for a hunt last month at the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. She emailed me on Saturday and said she had been drawn for a hunt at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area today, and did I want to go? That's how it all started.

Random Interruption No. 1: On the way out to our blind this morning, I asked Alison what made her decide she wanted to hunt. (She is now my third female hunting buddy whose significant other - boyfriend, in her case - doesn't hunt.)

You know what the spark was? It was Eliza Dushku, who played "Faith" on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Dushku hunts. Last August, she went on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show, announced that she hunts and even shot her bow onstage. PETA, naturally, pitched a hissy fit.

Hey PETA, I'm so, so sorry that your efforts to attract attention and make money by picking on Dushku - who's all about eating what she kills - did not affect my new friend Alison. Wah.

So, the hunt. Alison and I got to our blind and set up a good hour before shoot time - using a whole bunch of her brand new decoys. We were stationed in one of several clumps of tules that ringed our blind, and we were surrounded by big water. After a night of hard rain, we could see more stars than clouds, and there was a good wind coming from the south. Everything felt good.

And as the horizon to the east began to lighten, the ducks crisscrossed the airspace over our blind. They landed in our decoys, took off, landed again, dropped in from all directions.

"Oh my God," I said. This was Alison's third duck hunt and I wondered if she realized how extraordinary this was. I warned her that the ducks would not fly like this after shoot time. But I had the sneaking feeling this would be an amazing day.

I prepped her: If ducks came in where we both could get them, she should pick one on the left and I'd take one on the right. Otherwise, if one came where just one of us could shoot - and felt comfortable shooting - we should just blaze away.

When shoot time arrived, the ducks were still flying vigorously, but we couldn't get a shot off - there was so much shooting around us that every time ducks started working our blind, someone else nearby would shoot and our ducks would flare.

Finally, one duck came in at an angle where I could get it. I fired once, and dropped the duck. Spoonie hen.

I settled back in and a greenwing teal came by at a similarly good angle for me. I fired once and dropped it stone dead.

My first thought was, "Well, thank God you're not totally sucking in front of the new girl."

My next thought was, "Oh, this won't last."

Finally some ducks came in where Alison could get at them, and soon enough she dropped a teal stone dead. I was ecstatic for her. This woman had invested lots of time and money in her new pursuit, and it was beautiful to see her get that precious little reward that says, "You can do it! Keep it up!"

I immediately recalled my first season. Three ducks, literally hundreds of shells. Each duck was precious.

And teal - that's good eating!

The guys in the blind to our south, meanwhile, were slaughtering ducks like crazy.

Today, the "X" was on their blind, a measly little mudpile with zero cover. That morning at the hunter check station, we'd heard guys mumbling about how amazing this blind was. The hunters who were just in front Alison's reservation took that blind. And it was a good choice. They could do no wrong - ducks came in no matter what they did.

But they didn't always kill them. On one volley, they wounded a duck that came flying our way, low and on my side. Spoonie drake. I could see his lower bill hanging crazily - ugly injury. I shot and he swooped down to a grassy island where he could hide. I charged toward him, determined to finish him off quickly.

This is when things got weird.

When I neared the little island, I caught a glimpse of another duck - mallard? - as he burst away from the opposite side. Obviously wounded. Hmmmmm...

I raised my gun and shot my duck on the water. He went belly up.

Then I began to chase the other duck. As I crossed the island, yet another wounded duck burst out of hiding about 20 yards from me. He tried to lift off, and I shot. Belly up.

I doublechecked: Yep, two ducks belly up.

Back to that other wounded duck. He was making his way toward a grass-lined dirt road, where I'd probably never find him without a dog. I leveled my gun and shot him on the water.

I picked him up. Not mallard. Drake spoonie. Went back to the island. Got the first drake spoonie. Got the other duck. Another drake spoonie! Well, lordy lordy.

Random Interruption No. 2: When I was planning this hunt, Boyfriend - who is laid up after surgery from a ruptured Achilles (ouch!) - encouraged me to take one of the blinds at Yolo known for lots of scaup and other divers.

"I need some ducks that are more challenging to cook," he said. You know, for his blog.

Well, hell, I wasn't going to take poor Alison to a diver hole. We picked one that had lots of teal coming out of it.

Spoonies... Hey, they can be challenging to cook! I blame Boyfriend.

I walked back to Alison with a twisted grin on my face, three ducks in hand. "This has never happened to me before!" I said.

Not three ducks on one fetch. An never four spoonies in one hunt. I always tell people I'm not that picky, but this was really pushing it...

But... wow, I had five ducks in hand! And only three of them were cripples.

Random Interruption No. 3: Remember my crazy streak of bringing home nothing but cripples for the longest time this season? Well, by golly. I was still at it.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It actually gives me some comfort to know that while I am picking up ducks others have wounded, perhaps other hunters are doing the same for me. Only maybe not with any spoonies I wound.

Poor spoonies. Nobody loves them.

So later in the morning, Alison and I were sitting there in the most unusual and uncomfortable position: facing into the wind, because that's where the ducks were flying, and into the rising sun, for the same reason.

I was looking off to my right when she said, "Hey, a duck just fell over there!"

"Who shot it?" I asked. I looked where she pointed off to our left and saw what appeared to be a dead duck a good 150 yards away. And no one from any of the blinds around us was getting up to get it.

"Oh hell," I said as I trudged out for a really long walk in the water. I haven't been to the gym in two weeks, but with all the long walks I've taken in marshes lately, I haven't missed it. Duck hunting without a dog to do all your fetching is great exercise.

The closer I got to the bird, the more identifying marks I could see. I was pretty sure it was a...

... pintail!

I picked it up pleased to have this duck to hand to Alison - a beautiful bull sprig. Good eating. That and the teal she already had in hand are the two best-eating ducks there are.

On the way back to the blind, two guys walking up the road on the edge of our pond shouted, "Wigeon!"

I looked over and their dog had flushed a wounded wigeon from the grass.

"Cool!" I said.

Was it our bird? Someone else's bird? Who knew. But their dog grabbed the bird, and they handed him to me. I thanked them.

"Nice bull sprig!" they said.

"Thanks," I replied, with absolutely zero reason to be proud. The Duck Scavenger strikes again!!!

Back at the blind, Alison looked at me perplexed. "What happened?"

I handed her two ducks and explained. She now had three and I had five, and honestly, that is so much better than so many hunts I've been on that I was pretty happy. And so was she.

* * *

The morning was wearing on, but the shooting opportunity continued pretty steadily. Alison hammered a drake spoonie. I whiffed on some bufflehead - oh, how I want to be able to actually hit a bufflehead! Some scaup came over, out of range.

We both whiffed on some more shots. Alison slammed down another teal. Damn, this girl is good!

And at one point, when I looked out across the water to our left, I saw a duck where only a wounded duck would be - out in the middle of a bunch of hunters, shooting going on all over the place.

Sigh. "Here we go again..."

I chased the crippled little bird - looked like a scaup! - to a little grassy island and got close enough to fire a water shot. My pattern sprayed across that duck, and I'll be damned if it didn't dive and surface five feet from where I shot it, apparently unharmed.

Freakin' scaup.

I charged through the water to narrow the gap between us. Shot again and killed it this time.

Yay! A scaup for Boyfriend. My sixth duck. Another scavenged cripple.

* * *

Alison and I were running low on shells. At Yolo - like most of the best public duck hunting land in the state - there's a 25-shell limit in the field. You can have more in your car, but you have to walk back to get them. We call it the Walk of Shame, and the flight was so vigorous that hunters had been doing it all morning. But not us.

Could we get to the Magic 14 with what we had left?

We whiffed on some more shots. Good lord.

I chased another cripple, this time without success. On my way back, some spoonies that had been shot at in a nearby blind came bombing into our blind. One dropped in right in front of Alison. She whacked him about a foot off the water.

"Nice shot!" I yelled from where I'd stood.

Six and six. Just a few shells left for each of us.

We missed a couple more. One shell left in each of our guns. We'd have to be good.

Some teal came in hard - and close. We raised our guns. Alison fired, and missed. I got my bead on one of them in perfect range. I could fire on the same group - we'd be done at the same time!

But my bead met the duck right as he passed in front of the sun. A perfect duck eclipse. Blinded, I dropped my gun and let him fly. Sigh. I'd so wanted to fire that last shot with Alison.

It was getting close to noon, but the ducks kept flying. Some spoonies started working close, and I thought, "What the hell!" I fired at a drake. Missed.

"That's it!" I said. And we began to clean up.

* * *

When I opened my blind bag to put something away, I saw my camera there.

"Alison, I have to take your picture! Do you have a duck strap?"

She did, but she needed to dig it out.

"OK, I'll go pull in some more decoys while you're doing that," I said.

I went on one side of our blind and yanked a windwhacker pole from the mud. As I was doing that, I looked back toward the blind. Across the blind.

I'll be damned.

There was a duck on the water. Had to be a crip. Here we go again.

I charged around the blind, threw my windwhacker poles and blades into a clump of tules and went after that duck. No gun. No shells. Just me, in my waders, chasing a ...

a ...

... bufflehead!

Oh dear lord, do you know what it's like chasing divers? Even when you shoot them on the water, they somehow evade you. And now I was chasing one with nothing.

I charged at this duck hard. Like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. Arms swinging hard and straight to propel me forward. I glanced back and saw that Alison hadn't noticed yet what was going on.

Ha! You didn't know just how much I would chase after cripples, didja!

I was gaining on the buffie, but when I got 15 yards away, she went for a dive. I charged toward the spot, looking for air bubbles. There were none. I angled toward the road, where she could find cover. Finally she popped up again - off to my right.

I charged again and narrowed the gap more. At 10 yards, she dove again. Ohhh, if I had a gun!

This time I could see her as she swam under water. I closed the distance. Plunged my arm into the water and missed. Plunged again and missed. Charged forward a few more steps, plunged again, and emerged with a duck.

My heart wilted when I brought her up. A shattered wing. And she'd taken shot in the eye. What a tough little bird. I helicoptered her to end it.

She was my first bufflehead, and while I'd still not gotten one using my gun, the accomplishment of chasing her down without one was just as significant. I still can't believe I did it. I'm just sorry that she didn't die quickly - I wouldn't wish the suffering and the chase on anyone.

But here I was with bird No. 7, and Alison looking at me like, What the hell?

"OK, let's take pictures now!"

I encouraged her to ham it up and took her picture:

Six ducks - on her third hunt!

And she took mine:

Well, there's one great eating duck in there

On the walk back to our car, and back in the parking lot, every group of male hunters that saw us seemed just delighted to see two girls with all those ducks. Back at the check station, the DFG staff seemed equally happy to see how successful we'd been - even after I admitted there were a lot of crips in the bag.

"Wanna take our picture?" I asked.

Random Interruption No. 4: OK, guys, I know all you single male hunters are going to want to marry Alison now, because she's a total babe, and she hunts! But she's got a boyfriend.

Consolation prize: I now know of
two dating websites for hunters: Hunters Blind Date and Rut 2 the Heart. Check 'em out.

Alison and I parted company after I gave her my tips on dressing ducks. She had plans for tonight - perhaps cooking both teal and the pintail or wigeon for her boyfriend and some friends.

I admired her energy. I was beat.

But back at home, I was exuberant, recounting all the details of the hunt for Boyfriend, who occupied his now-customary position on the couch, the leg in a cast propped up on pillows, the laptop providing his only window to the outside world.

He smiled, but looked a little wan. He misses hunting.

* * *

Alison and I texted back and forth a bit this evening. Her energy had run out at some point while she was dressing all her ducks, and she and her boyfriend had ordered out for tacos. That made me feel a little less old.

But our drive to hunt remains high. You can bet we'll be going out again soon.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Cork Graham said...

Hey, Holly --

Kudos to you and Alison on your stringer. Even higher kudos for taking on cripples instead of just killin' more birds to make a limit!

I remember fondly my Alaska-born Chesapeake Bay retriever who often kept me from shooting, because he was cleaning up retrieving the cripples left by hunters who either were to lazy to chase down their shot but not killed birds, or much worse, traded illegally a teal for a mallard in some perverse form of catch and release. Many were still alive, except for a broken wing.

I didn't miss shooting, especially knowing that the birds were going to good use and not just left to rot and feed crawdads or an occasional river otter.

I'm especially delighted that PETA's venomous diatribe Eliza Dushku backfired on them. I find it very hard to get behind a movement that spends 80-90 percent of funds on advertising and propaganda against hunting, while 90% of hunters and anglers licensing fees goes to habitat improvement and species protection. Wish more people read my friend Dr. James Swan's best book on the subject to get the real picture of thise organizations and their la-la land understanding of nature and hypocrisy: "In Defense of Hunting".

Perhaps, Alison's conversion to nature as reality, might mean more people will look at the facts and not be so easily dissuaded by false advertising. Perhaps the Mountain Lion Foundation can be taken on, with Proposition 117 repealed, and in the process improve the deer herds of California suffering under undue predation, and the Desert Bighorn in SoCal might be saved, too:

Fish and game initiatives have been a madhouse since the 1950s (right after the infamous doe hunt that led to public outcry), when local citizens without an understanding of the subject of wildlife management, were allowed to control what well-informed biologist at DFG could or couldn't do with wildlife management programs, such as hunting, seasons and species.

Through the new respectful hunters like you and Alison, with all it entails such as getting properly informed and getting the latest research, maybe California's ecosystem will be able to express it historical levels of fecundity.


Barbara Baird said...

You are showing a rather "cheeky" attitude throughout this post. I like it!

Phillip said...

Nice work, Holly and Alison! Sounds like yet another heck of a day in the field, and that's some serious retriever work you're doing there, Holly. Heck, a bird dog may be a let down after all that. "Duck Scavenger". That should be your new handle on the forums.

Still, that's a remarkable number of crips you recovered... especially since most of them apparently weren't yours.

Too bad I didn't know Hank was looking for some buffleheads. I could have probably limited out on them at Grizzly Island on Sunday morning. I just don't shoot them... don't like 'em.

That big, fat canvasback that crossed a little too close though... heh heh.

GSPRuss said...

Most fun article you've written. Enjoyed it immensely.

Holly Heyser said...

Cork: Someone would deliberately not pick up a teal? That's just stupid. Great eating duck. And so easy to pluck.

Babbs: That was the vodka speaking ;-)

Phillip: I'd really prefer not to change my handle to Duck Scavenger...

But you're right about the dog situation. Whenever I hunt with people who have dogs, I feel like I haven't worked for my ducks. I definitely worked yesterday. Five charges through the water, 75 yards out on two of them and 150-200 on the other three. I might actually lose weight this duck season.

GSPRuss: Thanks! I'm pretty sure that was my weirdest day of duck hunting ever. In the end, though, all my weirdness aside, I'm just so thrilled that Alison 1) got so much opportunity and 2) got four ducks with really good shooting. That was really priceless.

Nabs AKA Milton said...

Nabs here, great write up, I met Alison on your recommendation and our hunt at gray lodge was anything but a banner hunt. When I asked Alison whether she wanted to go to a quiet spot where we might shoot 1 or 2 birds or the zoo where we would get more shooting but under crowded conditions, she was gung ho and wanted to shoot the zoo. Alison has a great attitude and hopefully we can pull at least one more hunt together before seasons end.

Anonymous said...

Hank may be disappointed in the "challenge" of cooking a bluebill.

Scaups and ringnecks, in my experience, aren't any gamier than other ducks, though the meat is much darker.

I like smaking them around with a meat mallet, cubing them up, blanching them in a mix of panko, salt and spices and flash frying them in olive oil. Make great appetizers, especially when dipped with a tooth pick in balsamic vinegar.

I've found the challenge with divers of any kind is they're really, really hard to breast out. The skin sticks to the meat and if you get a bunch of them, your hands can get surprisingly sore processing them. After one great, frigid diver shoot up on Big Lake a couple years ago, a partner and I shot a limit of scaup, redheads, ringnecks and cannies. My hands were so sore after breasting 14 divers that I could barely make a fist the next day.

Ryan Sabalow

Holly Heyser said...

I've found scaup to be pretty strong tasting, though not bad. But we're probably using very different standards. We pluck everything whole, skin-on. To us, a good duck is one that you'd be happy to salt, brown in duck fat, roast and serve whole. Anything that requires adornment goes in a different category, and that's where I'd put scaup (though Hank says the scaup he killed in Manitoba tasted different and better than ours).

I think pretty much the only thing we'd ever breast out is a coot. And let me tell you, I was in a position to blast about 15 coots yesterday when they huddled in a corner as I was going on my crippled spoonie rampage. I looked over to the corner and thought, Hmmmmm. My friend Sarah has been wanting to do chicken-fried coot... But I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Not that I'd mind the coots, but with a 25-shell limit, I was holding out for better eaters. Not that this tactic was terribly effective for me yesterday...

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Ryan and Phillip,

First of all I was hoping for bluebills, ringnecks, redheads and cans. Not spoonies, which will be fine, but will prolly be skinned and end up in a duck salami.

Buffleheads are fine, if a little fishy. Between them and ruddies, I prefer ruddies.

Ryan. Please tell me you did not breast out canvasbacks and redheads?! They are among the best-tasting ducks there are and deserve to be plucked. Really all ducks do, but especially redheads and cans.

And skinned ducks all pretty much taste the same, which is why I rarely skin them (snow geese are an exception -- VERY hard to pluck, not much fat, and they can be sketchy tasting)

Oh well, maybe some bluebills will fall at Holly's Saturday Yolo hunt. And yes, I am missing duck hunting a lot right now...

Anonymous said...

Have you ever tried merganser? I've never heard of anyone eating them. I haven't shot bufflehead or ruddies since I was a kid.

I confess to breasting out the redheads and the cannies. That was a couple of years ago before I knew better. I haven't gotten any since due to last year's cannie closure and since I haven't done any diver shoots this year.

My wife hates duck, not matter how I prepare it. That's part of the reason why I breast out most of my ducks. I also cut the legs and thighs off. Saves space in the freezer and makes it easier for me prepare meals for myself.

I love making duck into soup, jerky, burgers and sausages, stroganoff and those appetizers.


SimplyOutdoors said...

Looks like you two had a great day. And I'm sure the guys that were hunting loved seeing two ladies coming out of the blind with that many ducks in tow.

I seriously need to at least try duck hunting once. The only bird hunting I've ever done was for pheasant, and duck hunting sounds a lot more challenging.

And way to be the bird dog, Holly. Too cool.

Holly Heyser said...

My friend Scolopax from Scotland is beginning to think I might be part Labrador Retriever. And he may be right. If you ever saw me when someone has just invited me to hunt, I'm sure you could detect my tail wagging...

Hutch said...


I'm not asking this cynically. I'm genuinely asking. And this is a question I realize can only come from a non-hunter, so I'll preface.

First, I'm glad you're writing about this. I think too many people have the impression that hunting is always about fast, clean kills. I think it's important for prospective hunters to understand this. And why I've always expressed my respect for the hunters who come here, because, in spite of any imperfections on the hunt, you all seem to care and try to do the "right" thing. (Right is in quotes because I recognize its subjectivity.)

As you've personally experienced, waterfowl poorly shot don't die easily or well. And they often don't become food for predators, owing to the habitat. I've known of enough cases of birds languishing days -- even a week or more -- crippled with septic infection and injury.

So when you're out hunting, and you see as many cripples as you do, with the injuries you do, how do you think of it -- or rationalize it? Again, only a non-hunter could ask this. But I would be in such emotional agony over what amounts to a shooting field, for those hours the duck hunters are shooting over the public wetlands. I can't conceive of it and have often wondered how one deals with that type of wanton suffering in other living beings.

I realize you are the one who goes out and does her best to rectify what has been wronged. I know that's what I personally appreciate about you, in and around our dramatic philosophical differences. I know you love your cats, too, which is precisely why you're the person I'm asking -- and not someone who's completely detached from animals and their feelings.

I've seen the aftermath of duck hunts in areas where I've been traipsing around. And it's so hard to impress upon hunters how this is perceived by those of us who don't hunt, who are reasonably educated and experienced, but who care very much for the wild animals who live among us.

gary said...

Great story - I suspect it would have made a great video also.

Holly Heyser said...

Hutch -

I'm a bit addled by a headache at the moment, but I'm going to do my best to give you some coherent responses here.

Re: "I think too many people have the impression that hunting is always about fast, clean kills. I think it's important for prospective hunters to understand this."

Interesting you say that, because the first time I shot a bird and it fell down but didn't die, I was very surprised. I think you're right that we don't talk about it enough. (In fact, I have a blog post on this topic marinating in my brain right now.)

Re: "So when you're out hunting, and you see as many cripples as you do, with the injuries you do, how do you think of it -- or rationalize it?"

I should start by saying this was an extraordinary number of cripples that I saw on Wednesday - this was not normal. And Alison and I were also in a "corner" that was "collecting" the wind - any cripples in the vicinity were going to end up floating there.

But yes, I know there that anyplace there's concentrated duck hunting, you're going to find cripples. And no, I don't like it.

If there were a cleaner way to kill ducks, I would, but we can't hunt them with scoped .22 rifles.

But I think what you're asking is how can I accept this and I think the beginning of the answer is that I accept it the same way I accept the basic notion of killing animals for food in the first place. The act of killing inherently involves damage - the obvious intended death, and the unintended wounding. It's there. It can't be eliminated entirely. So I spend an inordinate amount of time and thought trying to minimize the unintentional damage.

I suppose the answer is similar to how you might respond if I ask how you rationalize, or what you think of, the fact that birds, rodents and insects are killed in droves in the act of producing the grain, fruits and vegetables that you eat. We know it happens. We don't like it. We try to minimize our impact, while understanding that we can't eliminate it - we leave a wake everywhere we go.

I doubt that's a satisfying answer, but it's the best I can do at the moment. And it's definitely honest.

Phillip said...

Just a note to Anonymous...

I have eaten merganser, and no, I don't recommend it to anyone. Very much like seagull, although if I had to choose between the two, I'd pick seagull every time.

Hank, if you can make mergansers palatable to my taste, you'd truly be a miracle worker... at least in my opinion.

By the way, if you're interested in some scaup, send Holly up to Grizzly and hunt the big water on the Crescent unit... or she can hump it out of parking lot four as close to the bay as she can get. Lots of divers there, with the bonus of the occasional can, especially with this fog lately.

And finally... Hutch's point is one of the things that stays nagging in the back of my conscience whenever I go duck hunting. I'm extremely conscientious about taking close shots and maximizing my kill:wound ratio, but I realize that I'm imperfect and there are many folks around me who aren't so careful.

Hutch, I don't have a really good answer for you (not that you asked me). Of all the things I do and witness while hunting, this is the toughest to rationalize. From the perspective of a non-hunter, I can see where this is no small thing. Pretty damning, even... if you choose to see it that way.

Cork Graham said...

Yes, Holly -- Infuriating!

It was actually my last opening weekend of waterfowl hunting, experienced about 10 years ago. We were hunting Sacramento.

The natural blind my friend and I were hiding in one afternoon were littered with their little carcasses. It was evident previous days hunters just shot and once they got into bigger or larger ducks they tried hiding the more easily shot teal, especially at the beginning of shooting time.

The worst part was that most of them were from opening day (it was Sunday this day). The birds were a day and a half too late for me to recover and use. Seochael, my Chessie, kept retrieving them from the tules around us, and I kept looking for a place to hide them again so he wouldn't retrieve them.

...Nowadays, unless I'm up to Tule Lake dry fields for the Northeastern opener for the specks, I wait until December before I start duck hunting.


P.S. I went to the ISE Show in San Mateo for the first time in five years. What was once the largest sportshow in California, even larger than ISE Sacramento (amazing, but true!), is a 1/3 of its former self...Is it the economy, or that ISE hasn't recovered from splitting their audience by having a show right after in Pleasanton for a few years, to counterproductive results? ISE doesn't make money off attendees: it makes it off the booths, just like a publication makes its revenues off advertising and not sales.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Hutch and Holly -

I really appreciate your honest exchange on this topic. This was certainly one of the tough issues I faced in becoming a hunter, especially coming to hunting with a vegetarian's longstanding concern over animal welfare and a horror at the idea of unnecessary suffering.

Like you, Holly, I devote a lot of attention to minimizing the harm. So far, I and the animals I've hunted have been lucky in that respect. I'm not sure how I would emotionally cope with a wounded, unretrieved animal. Probably not well.

Josh said...

Very cool story. Why do you need a dog again? I think birds find you.

Thanks for the feathers, I'm especially impressed with the spoonie's.

Alison said...

Hey Holly, I love this post (obviously)! While Ms. Dushku's hunting confession planted the seed in my mind that hunting might be something I could try some day, your blog gave me the information and confidence needed to actually make it happen, and thanks so much for it! There's no way I'd be out this season if it weren't for you having mentioned the women's pheasant hunt, and I never would have considered duck hunting in particular. And I think you shot f'ing great, you dropped those two with your first two shots!

I'm hoping the process of cooking ducks will start tonight because I don't have enough room in my fridge for things like milk anymore, the entire bottom shelf is ducks! My plan for the teal/wigeon I currently possess is to roast them. I did breast out some ringnecks because I heard they could be too strong for roasting, I'll probably try the panko appetizer method, that sounds good! Still deciding on what to do with my pintail, mallard and spoonies but if the teal and wigeon roast goes ok then they might meet the same fate.


It wasn't that long ago when I was a non-hunter so I can relate. I was a vegetarian for years because I cared a lot about animals and didn't want them to suffer, I even got into a fight with one of my friends when I found out he hunted rabbits. Obviously I'm not a vegetarian anymore, but I still care and don't want animals to suffer. I want to be able to shoot them as lethally as possible so they only have a brief bad moment, then it's over. Each bird I hit I ran to as fast as I could so I could ensure that if it wasn't dead, then it would be dead soon. I was pretty saddened by the amount of cripples we encountered the other day, but like Holly said I think it was just a fluke, and I'm glad we scooped up as many as we did.

Holly Heyser said...

Cork: I'd be pissed too. I was at Yolo once last year and my friend's dog kept picking up dead coots. Coot after coot after coot. We found a pile of shells by one of the dirt roads. Clearly, someone was just shooting them for the hell of it on the previous shoot day. I told the wardens on the way out, but it was too late.

Tovar: Hutch is a regular here and we have lots of good conversations that I think you'll appreciate.

Do you do bird hunting? If you do, it will happen. Even with big game hunting, it will happen. Hasn't to me, yet. I have one bad shot (recovered the pig within 10 minutes) and three textbook kills, but I know it will happen to me and I'll HATE IT.

I hate it with the birds too, obviously, and I work very hard to find my cripples, and I take other people's cripples without question. And I'm very concerned with improving my shooting so I can be as effective as possible. But I am essentially a journeyman shooter now, and people who are inexperienced at anything by definition do damage as they acquire experience to become better. I certainly see this with the journalists I train - they screw up all the time (as did I). They make mistakes that make people look bad. There is simply no way, though, for them to go from novice to expert without passing through this territory.

Josh: I wish the ducks came straight to me! I really had to hustle. And honestly, I want a dog to participate in the ancient partnership. And on some occasions, where a bird hides in grass or tules, I want a dog for her nose. But I really don't mind doing the work. Seems a small price to pay for the privilege of hunting.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Alison! I can't tell you how happy it makes me that I could be of help to you on this path.

You are well on your way to being an excellent hunter - you have talent with that gun (far more than I do, and I think you'll see that very clearly in a couple years), and you have an ethic that I wish every hunter had, from your desire for a clean kill (or a quick dispatch if the duck isn't dead) to your desire to honor the bird by using it completely and well in your kitchen. I'd like to clone you. (Actually, I have something more Matrix-like in mind - if you could just insert yourself into some of the slob hunters out there to turn them into copies of you, the world would be a better place.)

Tovar Cerulli said...

Alison: Great to meet (virtually, anyway) yet another ex-vegetarian hunter!

Holly: Pretty much all my hunting so far has been for small game and deer. At the beginning I made mistakes and had a couple clean misses, which scared the hell out of me, as they could so easily have wounded the animal. Since then, thankfully, my shots have been quick and clean.

So I haven't had to deal with the trials of bird-hunting. What little shotgun work I've done has been almost all with clay pigeons, which I don't mind clipping with a less-than-dead-on shot!

Hutch said...

Thanks, everyone, for your responses. Phillip what you say is so thoughtful and candid I won't disparage your honesty by refuting anything.

For Tovar and Alison, yeah, Holly's right. I've been a non-hunting flea on this message dog. I've taken a hiatus here and there, promising to leave them alone. But when it comes to Holly (as someone once said), I just can't quit her. There are certain topics that draw me out of my proverbial blind to reveal myself.

In sincerity, this is one of the few forums I've found where hunters and non-hunters can have meaningful -- if sometimes animated or even frustrated -- encounters on these various topics. My compliment obviously includes the other bloggers, like Phillip, who weigh in here and who have great internet homes of their own. Lucky Holly gets to have me. Every hunting blog should have a token non-hunter. :) And vice versa. Provided the exchange could be like this one.

Briefly, as the old timers here know, I came to this discussion after a particularly difficult hunting experience rocked my (and my friend's) world. Although I started out in an unrelated profession, I've added field and wildlife work to my lifetime CV, so my perspective might be a tad different than your average urban vegetarian. I'm immersed in the natural world and also work with people who rehabilitate injured wild animals. I've personally been hands on in many rescues, having specialized training for that, for oil spill recovery, etc.

My perspective tends to draw from what I've seen since I started doing this work, and from the admittedly heartbreaking scenes I witness consistently when it comes to how humans interact -- and often harm -- wild animals. (That says nothing of the domestic animal issues I've also encountered, but for the purposes of my comments here, let's say wild animals.)

So, I'm not naive to what happens out there. My immersion in nature is as deep as yours. It just doesn't include a gun or bow. I admit I've learned and sometimes been shocked by how prevalent the wildlife-harm issues are. But more than anything, I hope my presence is less of an annoyance and is, in fact, perceived as an outreach -- from the genuine questioning process I personally undergo each day as I see this around me.

Holly and her respectful crew here know this and tolerate me. They've welcomed me back time and again, even after I've pushed the envelope. So you have, indeed, come to an unusual and thought-provoking forum. I'm so glad you found people like this in your early hunting forays, rather than some of the hunters I've encountered that I dare not describe.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Hutch -

Thanks for (re-)introducing yourself. Good to make your virtual acquaintance.

As a past anti-hunter and vegetarian, I wholeheartedly agree with you about the value of diverse perspectives. Heck, I'm still vehemently anti-certain-kinds-of-hunter.

I look forward to future conversations, here and elsewhere.

Holly Heyser said...

Well, if anyone wants to see what magic Hank worked with the spooonies and bufflehead from this hunt, click here. Hint: Meatballs. I'm eating some now. They're out of this world.

Unknown said...

Haven't even finished the story but thought I'd let y'all know that there are at least two hunters in Berkeley. This winter I went hunting for the first time on Catalina Island. Luck would have it that I shot the buck with the widest rack of any buck taken on the island all year! Yeah!

Next year, you and boyfriend should make sure to get down there. The island is beautiful, and you get to hike through cactus laden chaparral (which we don't really get this far north) and the Catalina Island Conservancy guides are wonderful.



Holly Heyser said...

Woot! Changing Berkeley one hunter at a time...

I'd love to see a photo of that buck, if you'd care to email it. We hated canceling our trip to Catalina in December (even though we were just going for does). Hopefully next season!

Anonymous said...

Hi Holly,

I have been pouring over your posts (as well as Helen's) and I am getting more and more excited (read: terrified) for my first duck hunt. I'm sure it's quite different to clomp around your apartment in waders and gear than it is in the field.

Joined our local rod and gun club in San Francisco, so I can get in as much shooting practice as possible before the season.

IN February, our British friend suggested we go to the Hunting Safety Class and I've been bitten by the bug ever since. Funny--but what inspired him to go duck hunting in the US was an article he read in The Art of Eating. Upon re-reading the article, I realized that the very piece that got us into this was the same one written by your Hank--the evocative and moody pictures taken by YOU!

We had Lucrezia over for dinner a few weeks ago (duck served, of course) to hear about her experiences--what fantastic stories! Hope to see you out there in the coming months.

Please thank Hank for planting the seed (oh yeah--and for happily draining our bank account in the process!)
Cheers--Jacqueline May

Holly Heyser said...

Ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaaa...

I am so sorry for what we are about to have done to your bank account, your ability to sleep late on winter mornings and your perfectly normal tendency not to watch thy sky all the time.

But really, I'm not. I'm tickled pink that you're about to understand why we're insane enough to endure the costs, the early mornings and the complete change in perspective. It is an amazing gift. And ducks taste damned good!

Let's make sure we get out together this winter!