Monday, November 15, 2010

Impending glory: The magnificent story of Sarah's first duck hunt ever

I go into pretty much every hunt with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning, probably because I still am a youngster in terms of how long I've been hunting. But this Sunday morning, there was a little extra sizzle in my anticipation.

Not only would it be my first hunt of the season with Alison and Darren - whom I'd hunted with on the closer last season - but this time we'd be joined by Darren's wife, Sarah, who was one of the graduates of the Cal Waterfowl Women's Hunting Camp this September. It would be her first duck hunt!

Making things even better was the forecast: north wind, 10-15 mph. Nothing like a brisk north wind to stir up the ducks.

We met at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area at 3:25 a.m., picked our hunting spot, then headed out to set up. The wind was almost non-existent, but it was supposed to pick up.

And we could hear lots of birds around us - the meep of gadwalls, the squeaky whistle of wigeon, the wicked-witch cackle of teal hens, the fluting of pintails and the unmistakable quack of the loudmouth of the duck world, the hen mallard. Ah, my favorite symphony.

As shoot time approached, we still had no wind, except for the sound of vast flocks of birds crossing over us high in the air. As it became lighter, we could see them, and I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it - wave after wave after wave of ducks! Makes me all tingly just to remember it.

The only problem was that the ducks pretty much stayed at that elevation. And the wind never came up. Ever.

A couple ducks accidentally flew at the outer edge of our shooting perimeter - including a canvasback that hurtled through at rocket speeds - and we took a few unsuccessful shots at them. Then it was immense nothingness.

First we relaxed our guard a bit.

Then Alison declared it was time for her to do yoga, because that's what everyone from Berkeley does in the morning.

Then Darren and I began trying to teach Sarah and Alison how to blow mallard calls. I took some pictures of Darren's demonstration, but they're rated R, so I'll just leave that scene to your imagination. Just understand it was twice as bad as what you are imagining at this moment. Suffice it to say I nearly peed myself laughing.

Still no ducks.

Alison played "Pop Goes the Weasel" on her Mickey Saso 8-in-1 call. I played the theme song to Jeopardy. Then - and I really can't recall how we came up with the idea - we began playing all of our calls at once:

We didn't worry about pissing off other hunters, because there were no ducks in the air. We know, because when we stood up, we could see for a mile in every direction.

We traded food. Darren and Sarah brought about ten pounds of snacks with them. Alison brought a spicy trail mix. I brought mixed nuts and dried cherries, which no one wanted. (Sarah did, however, explain why everyone's least favorite nut - the Brazil nut - is always included in mixes. Something about being a superfood loaded with good nutrients.)

While we sat there chewing, I looked out on the water in front of us and spied a low-flying squadron of ducks. Six of them.

"Hup! Ut! Up!" I stammered urgently. "Those are ducks!"

The birds swung around Darren and Sarah's side of the blind so low that they never saw them through the dried flowers that lined the edge of our island. By the time I had my gun in hand and the ducks had gotten safely past Darren and Sarah's faces, they were a mile away.

"Had to be buffleheads," I said, explaining that it was my life's goal to kill a bufflehead so I could call myself Holly the Bufflehead Slayer.

As I was discussing the relative merits of eating buffleheads - not that I would know first-hand - the squadron returned for another Mach III swing past our blind.

"DAMMIT!" I shouted at them. That was so wrong.

If those little bastards were going to keep speeding past us with impunity, then we'd be ready for them. We all left our pit blinds and staked ourselves out at noon, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock on the island - all standing so we'd see them coming and get good shot angles, no human faces in anyone's way.

Nothing was going to get past us!

And unfortunately, nothing was going to come near us either.

By the time we admitted defeat around 10:15 a.m., an armada of floating spiders had created a network of webs between all of our decoys. Seriously. When we picked up decoys, we had to shake three or four spiders off of every plastic bird.

And they must've been active all over the marsh that day, because on the walk back to our car, we were busting through long strands of spiderweb non-stop. We were certain we'd look like cotton candy by the time we returned to our cars. It was the marsh's final Eff you! of the day.

Back at the car, we wiped the camo paint off our faces, packed our gear into our cars and gave each other good-bye hugs. Then I told Sarah something every duck hunter hates to say.

"At least we don't have any plucking to do tonight."

Oh well. The season is still young.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Shewee woman said...

Love the yoga photos, somehow I never really thought about doing that while duck hunting. But when I go this weekend, I will certainly be thinking about all of you and giggling to myself.

You have to experience the days with no ducks so you really appreciate when you do shoot them.

Hope you get your bufflehead soon!

Blessed said...

so those pictures fall under the category of "what happens in the blind stays in the blind..." except of course when there is photographic evidence :)

Sounds like you had a great duckless day in the marsh - not as good as a great ducky day in the marsh, but hey - if the birds aren't flying you might as well enjoy yourself!

Oh and I've seen the wave after wave after wave of ducks high in the sky before - it truly is an incredible sight.

Greg Damitz said...

Were you in blind 2?

Holly Heyser said...

Shewee woman: Yes, we definitely managed to entertain ourselves. And I'll probably never get a bufflehead. (What I really want is to be like a guy I heard about at Delevan: Went out to his blind, set up, flock of buffies comes in, he fires one shot and drops all seven - hunt over!)

Blessed: There will be photographic evidence forever because I never throw away photos and I already have backup copies, LOL! But Darren said it wouldn't be the worst thing about him on the Internet.

As for the waves, I've seen them with geese, when a huge flock gets up and begins moving over the refuge, but never with ducks. So spectacular! And in the absence of wind, you could hear the whisper of their flight. So beautiful!

Greg: Uh ... um ... maybe? Depends. Did you like the music?

Josh said...

A great story, and one with which I can relate! Thanks for making me feel normal again.

Last Wednesday out with the cousin, it was "that time Josh called the coot with his speck call."

The Hunter's Wife said...

So this is what goes on when duck hunting? Good luck to Sarah next time!

Josh said...

Also, re: your tweet on the Yolo Bypass aroma... obviously, I've grown up in the marsh, because whenever I smell that smell, I know it's Fall/Winter. It reminds me of Christmas, of birdwatching and hunting, and of the Primordial Deep from whence we arose.

Sure it stinks. But it's a good stink.

Holly Heyser said...

HW: Dang, now you'll never come out duck hunting. Between the R-rated duck call lessons and the lack of cupcakes, you'd've been very uncomfortable.

Josh: Great new quote! Don't feel bad - I almost speck-called a seagull. Yeah, we had lotsa gulls. Every time one would come over, Alison and I would invite them to the party.

"He-ey!" (Me, raising the roof.)

"Holla!" (Alison, being young and hip.)

And about that stink: I'm used to it too, but it was particularly pungent Sunday. Every time Darren went out in the water to rearrage our plastic decorations, he'd come back reeking and Sarah wouldn't let him back into the pit blind.

Ryan Sabalow said...

I got places up here where you could shoot bufflehead all day.

No one ever does, though. Kinda like shooting mudhens. I did have one day several years ago where nothing was flying up at Lower Klamath and I couldn't take it any more. I ended up shooting three in one shot.

A couple of my favorite moments of the last few seasons have been on days where I never fired a shot.

Watching bald eagles chase coots on the water or coyotes stalking into the decoys.

Flock after flock of sandhill cranes buzzing by with their ridiculous calls and even more ridiculous legs.

That one crazy swan that decided for two hours my decoys were the most amazing things in the world (it came back about nine times to circle them at 20 yards high).

Watching my pup snooze standing up, propped up against a frozen metal pit blind.

That one little bird that decided he didn't care we were in his tule patch, so he just figured he'd hang out with us.

That mouse that made a quick nest in my honker decoy bag. He got really mad when I evicted him at the end of the day.

Hunting is about so much more than killing.

Quackity Gal said...


I love the last line of your comment, "Hunting is about so much more than killing."

That last couple of weeks, I've spent more time explaining how amazing it is to be outside hunting, and it's not even about firing a shot. For example:

The warmth of the check-in trailer compared to the temperature drop right before sunrise.

The barely contained excitement of a dog, knowing that he's about to go on a hunt.

Watching your dog make his first pheasant flush outside of training.

slm313 said...

Holly you captured the day perfectly! Even with the lack of actual hunting, I had a great day. Watching the swan migration was incredible and almost made up for the funky smell. Decorating the pond, x-rated mallard call demonstrations, and the musical interludes made up for that early morning wake up call. I'm still smiling.

And Greg...umm.. yeah...I don't remember what blind we were in. There was smelled...and there were no must have mistaken our loony group of 4 for someone else :-)

Peebs said...

You guys are right some of the best days don't invlove getting game. The last Sunday Delevan was open last year the rain wind and Holly getting a "A" in my long time hunting buddie Don's book. Hauling my gear out after spending way to long hunting being so tired and then turning around and seeing a rainbow sherbert cloudy sunset. Holly doing a duck dance (didn't work)and Alison comming out of the field a duck hunter and in 20 min turning into a fashon model that they few guys in the parking lot still ask me about. It's fun to get birds but it isn't always the best.

Greg Damitz said...

There were some Buffleheads but mostly singles and pairs. The group of 6 or so that kept flying around were Ruddy Ducks. They used to be the number one bird of Yolo before the spoonies took over.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Holly, the buffleheads spend a few weeks on our pond every year. As long as we get permission from our neighbor to discharge a firearm within 500 feet of their house, we could literally hunt them from our backyard.

Stop by any time!

Holly Heyser said...

I don't know, Tamar, I'd have to get up really early to hunt at your place!

I actually may get a chance next week when Hank and I head up to Tule Lake for what's becoming our annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage. Hank got a buffie there two seasons ago - he had the luxury of seeing it a ways off, and it flew right at our boat. We also had the luxury of being nowhere near any other hunters, so a shot low across the water was safe.

One of these days!!!

The Writing Huntress said...

Nice read!!

My Blog is now more reader-friendly! (Hopefully)

Happy hunting!

Holly Heyser said...

Hey Hungry, thanks for stopping by! Folks, if you haven't checked out Hunt Like You're Hungry yet, please be sure to drop in.

Her latest post may provide some insight as to why we got no ducks on Sunday. The question is which one of us four hunters sinned?

SimplyOutdoors said...

I'm thinking I could definitely spend a day in a duck blind with all of you.

No ducks, but it sounds like you all were definitely having fun. And that's all that matters.

Holly Heyser said...

Nice thing about a slow day in the blind is being able to take pictures. Normally I won't set down my gun.

If you ever come out to Cali, we'd be happy to take you out in the marsh!

Paige Eissinger said...

What is it about yoga and women with guns? Loved the photos, Holly.