Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday for hunters: A special offer for my readers and my new hunting store

Hunters deserve some Cyber Monday love too, so here's what I've got for you today:

First, I'd like to invite you to shop at my new online store. In it you'll find 32 hunting-related items that I absolutely love, ranging from ammunition to duck calls to hunting clothing.

Almost everything you'll see there is exactly what I own, though I've had to make substitutions for some items that I couldn't find at any of my partner stores (, Cabela's and Gander Mountain are the companies that handle your orders).

Second, if you're into out-of-the-ordinary hunting-related art, I'm offering huge savings on all photos at the Wild Right Under Your Nose: 40 percent off your first $100 worth of photos, good through Thursday.

The photos are detailed portraits of feathers from a variety of ducks, ranging from the beloved drake mallard (above) to the much-maligned (but beautiful) drake spoonie.

The gallery also includes that stunning find that blows hunters' minds: the drake gadwall smiley face feathers. These are real duck feathers, not a Photoshop trick - you can read the story behind them here.

There are also a few super close-up ant photos - yes, ants - because I'm weird and they're cool photos.

Photo orders are fulfilled through Bay Photo, which produces high-quality prints protected with outstanding packaging.

To get your discount, used coupon code CyberMonday. And to answer the question that everyone asks - what finish I prefer on photos - the answer is lustre.

Happy Cyber Monday!

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hooked: Ten novice hunters get a taste of duck hunting

I knew it had been a great weekend when we got to the end - the part where we take group photos.

Ten women had gone through Delta Waterfowl's first California Women's Duck Hunting Weekend for novice hunters: two days of waterfowl instruction, followed by a mentored hunt in one of two sweet private clubs in the legendary Butte Sink.

It had been a slow hunt day. Participants had gotten anywhere between zero and three ducks apiece at clubs where limits by 9:30 a.m. are the norm. There wasn't much shooting going on anywhere in the region. But at the end of the hunt, everyone seemed excited and giddy anyway.

So when I was taking the obligatory group shot at the end of the day, a bunch of them mooned me. It was hysterical.

You didn't think I was going to show the whole picture, did you?
We need a lot more of this going on in hunting. Not the mooning, though I do think that takes the camaraderie to a higher level. I'm talking about intensive programs to train adult novice hunters.

If you're not born into a hunting family, you lose out on an awful lot of steady instruction, mentoring and example-setting that can only take place over many years in childhood. Adults who want to start hunting - and I don't know about where you are, but in Northern California, there are a lot of them - need help to get up to speed as quickly as possible to get them hunting regularly.

There is no reason this can't be replicated anywhere in this country, so after the slideshow below, I'll explain what this involved, and whose help made it happen. Take the bull by the horns, hunters. You can make this happen where you live too.

What the weekend entailed: A wild-game dinner; instruction in firearm safety, shooting, public land hunting, duck plucking and dressing; and a mentored duck hunt. And how could I forget the swag? There was beaucoup swag.

Who provided the framework: This event was part of Delta Waterfowl's First Hunt Program. (In fact, here's how it came about: Last year I read about a women's First Hunt in Delta's magazine, which is my favorite waterfowl magazine, and I emailed my friend Tori, one of the editors there. I said, "Hey, if you ever want to do that in California, I'd be happy to help." Bam. Done.) Click on that First Hunt link if you want to see some of the outstanding materials Delta provides.

Who deserves major credit: Hands-down, Judy Oswald did serious heavy lifting to make this happen. Judy's got a lot of experience with mentored shooting and hunting events because she's founder of Kids Outdoor Sports Camps. The folks at Delta knew Judy, and once we all got connected, the planning was carried out by Delta Director of Waterfowler Recruitment and Education Scott Terning, Judy and me.

The people who made it happen and what they brought to the table (in the order they appeared)

Red Bank Outfitters: Red Bank is a giant lodge on an even more giant ranch just outside of Red Bluff at the far northern end of the Sacramento Valley. The facility is gorgeous. The women felt like they'd checked into summer camps for grown-ups when they explored the main lodging room, with beds all over the place on the first floor and in the loft, a giant wood stove and a lounge area. Red Bank is owned by Brian and Shellie Riley, who were terrific hosts.

Ric Gould: Ric is the cook, manager, guide, repair guy and shooting instructor at Red Bank. He wowed the women with a wild duck dinner on the first night, kept us well-fed all weekend, and even hauled in a flat-screen TV for me to use for a PowerPoint presentation I did on public-land hunting.

Il Ling leading shooting session
Il Ling New: Il Ling lives in Northern California and teaches at Gunsite in Arizona. She ran the firearms safety session and shooting instruction and the women loved her. Case in point: Do you remember Rachel, the woman who wasn't sure she liked hunting after going through a weekend of hunter ed followed by a pheasant hunt? She is a lot more sure now, and she credits Il Ling's excellent instruction for that change.

Jake Hampton and Josh Null: Jake and Josh are guides and shooting instructors at Red Bank, and they helped out with the shooting instruction.

Jeff Smith teaching duck ID
Jeff Smith: Jeff is the hunt program coordinator at Cal Waterfowl, and he ran the waterfowl ID and waterfowl calling sessions. You'll see in the slideshow above that the women got a big kick out of his waterfowl calling lesson. Can't imagine what he said to make 'em laugh like that.

Karen Fothergill: Karen is a California Department of Fish and Game environmental scientist who oversees the dove program and the Game Bird Heritage Program. I met Karen two summers ago at a training session required for people who want to band mourning doves, so it was great to see her again. She ran the plucking-and-gutting demonstration, which the women really appreciated. When you've spent a lifetime buying cellophane-wrapped bird parts, you really need some help figuring out what to do with an intact animal.

Larry Gury's swank duck palace.
Hunt club owners Jim Yost and Dave Steiner of the Little Dry Creek Farms duck club and Larry Gury of the Closed Zone Farms duck club, and hunt mentors Mark Koller and Eric Pack. These guys went above and beyond to provide a great hunt for all the women. After they hunt they fed us and gave us tours of Gury's club, and even served us cake that Eric had made just for us!

And let's not forget the swag...

Huge thanks to:

SHE Outdoor Apparel, which donated a pair of its new women's waterfowl waders, which were given to the recipient of a random drawing of participants. SHE also provided hunting fanny packs, hats and Hot Mocs beanies and scarves. SHE President Pam Zaitz was a super enthusiastic supporter.

Cabela's, which sent $20 coupons and hats.

Judy's KOSC, which donated waterfowl backpacks.

Cal Waterfowl, which donated duck calls.

And of course, Delta Waterfowl, which donated hats, calls and duck identification and First Hunt handbooks, in addition to providing organizational support.

* * *

See? Isn't it amazing what happens when you bring together a bunch of people who are passionate about hunting? Because of all these contributions of time and goods, ten women walked away with training, experience, useful gear and some fantastic memories.

As we all went our separate ways after the hunt, two of the women followed me to get to the highway they needed, and I reveled in the scenery on the drive, knowing that they were seeing it with new eyes, just as I had  five years ago: Scanning the skies to examine every bird; looking at the land and seeing not "farm" or "weeds," but "habitat"; doing a double-take or three when passing that rice farm that's ALWAYS covered with ducks, geese and swans in the winter.

With any luck, we'll do this with a whole new batch of novice hunters next fall.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

California hunters: While you're busy hunting, who's going to bat for you and your rights?

It's easy to get discouraged in California about the state of hunting laws and regulations. Hunters are a tiny minority, the Hollywood mentality rules and the Humane Society of the United States often gets its way (not to mention obscenely fawning media coverage).

One thing I am grateful for, though, is the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance. COHA was formed by California Waterfowl in 2006 to lobby on behalf of the hunting community, and it now enjoys the support of literally dozens of the state's hunting organizations and businesses.

When I need to know what's going on with some hunting-related policy matter, I call my friends at COHA, and they never let me down - they're always on it.

A proposed ban on hunting on levees in Sutter County? Hey, that would've sharply curtailed my cottontail hunting in wildlife areas along rivers there! COHA was on it and the county agreed to modify its proposal to allow hunting on the wildlife area-side of the levees.

Teaming up to fight poaching? Hell yes. COHA sponsored a bill this year to increase penalties for serious poaching violations, including when poachers intentionally target trophy game outside of the regular season, hunt without the required tag or stamp, hunt with spotlights, hunt over bait or waste game meat. Violations like this are the scourge of hunting, and I'm proud that COHA is taking a stand against them. Now if we can just get the Legislature to go along with it - the bill is stuck in an appropriations committee.

How about water for ducks? Yep. COHA was on that, too. Another bill in the Legislature this year would've imposed a charge on water suppliers, including a charge based on each acre of land irrigated for agricultural purposes. This fee could be a strong disincentive for landowners to maintain waterfowl habitat on their land. This bill - happily, in this case - is also stuck in an appropriations committee, due in part to COHA's efforts.

COHA also lobbied against long-gun registration, which, unfortunately, was signed into law this year after previous attempts failed when they reached Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk. (Yep, with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in office now, California has one-party rule again. I'm really not a fan of one-party rule, regardless of the party, and this is one reason why: Dumb things become law.)

I've got literally 14 pages of bills and proposals that COHA lobbied on - you can see details for yourself here. You know where I'm going with this, folks: Lobbying ain't free. If you hunt in California, you need to support the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance, because whether you know it or not, COHA is already working for you.

Most hunters I know hate politics and I get it - it's a frustrating business. I used to cover it when I was a newspaper reporter and editor, and I really don't miss it. But if you don't want to get involved personally, please at least support the organization that's doing it for you.

And after you've clicked here to make a donation (like I just did), please send a link to this post to your friends who hunt and ask them to do the same. While we're all busy hunting ducks, turkeys, pigs, bears or whatever, COHA will be hard at work preserving our rights to keep hunting.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

I am dumb, and other lessons from the marsh

Me, not looking at ducks
Now that I'm in my sixth season of duck hunting, I've developed this tendency to think I've got it down, like I'm the grande dame of waterfowling or something.

On Sunday, though, I got a big, fat reminder that I still have a lot to learn.

My buddy Charlie and I were hunting at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, and it was not a great day. We were not on the "X" that morning, and it was growing more sunny and still by the hour - the kiss of death for good duck hunting. Before long, the flight had petered out so much that most hunters had abandoned the marsh.

Not me and Charlie, though. We are insane.

After watching birds carefully avoid our decoy spread, we decided it was time to abandon the dekes, so we moved to an area the birds seemed to be flying over a bit more, taking nothing but our seats, our guns and our calls.

A couple birds came near me, and while they weren't as close as I like, I was feeling desperate, so I wasted a couple shots on them.

"That was dumb!" I yelled to Charlie as the ducks zoomed away unharmed.

Then a big group of wigeon flew over Charlie's tule patch and he knocked down two of them. I charged over to help find the one that wasn't DOA, and after we'd recovered both birds, we decided I should just stay there.

It wasn't too long before a trio of mallards appeared in our airspace. We started calling to them furiously, and they started circling our tule patch counterclockwise.



On the third circle, I knew they were getting close, and I hid my eyes under the brim of my hat, cranking my eyeballs as far to the right as I could so I would see when they'd be close enough.

Bam! Duck down.

But I hadn't shot. They hadn't come into my field of vision yet. It was Charlie's bird.

I fired two shots at one of the two ducks making a hasty retreat, missed, and got grumpy.

When Charlie got back into the patch with his duck, I worked through my failure out loud.

"I always worry about flaring them with the glare off of my glasses," I told Charlie.

"Someone told my my sunglasses were doing that once, but I  just don't believe it," he said. He has a point. If the sun is hitting water, you can be guaranteed that light is flashing off of it somewhere.

I moved onto my next excuse.

"I worry about flaring them by moving my head too much," I told him. I've always been told that the best camouflage is holding still, so I always try to hold my body and head still, and I miss out on a lot of shots because the ducks are too far away by the time they re-enter my field of vision.

"You notice how I am constantly moving and keeping my eyes on the ducks?" Charlie asked.

It's true. When ducks are working, he is off his seat, crouching, and rotating on his feet, keeping his eyes and body facing toward the birds.

"Yeah, but I don't want to flare them."

"Well," he said, "it doesn't do any good to call them in if you're not facing the right direction when they're close enough to shoot."

Oh. So that's how it is? You mean, you're telling me that 2 + 2 actually does equal 4?

Yeah, it was that obvious. Duh. Charlie rotates to keep facing the birds. Charlie is a way more successful duck hunter than I am. Therefore, rotating can't be a bad tactic. He probably flares some, but he's also getting ducks I would never get.

I never got another chance Sunday to mend my stupidity and try it out - we didn't get any more ducks circling us.

But hey, there are 83 days left in the 2011-12 duck season here. And plenty more time than that to become the grande dame of waterfowling. Check back with me in a couple decades on that.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My first duck hunt of the season back at Delevan: Why five amazing accomplishments weren't enough

Buy this decal here.
At least five amazing things happened on my first duck hunt of the season back at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday.

1.  I discovered my new workout routine – going up and down stairs in a six-story parking garage a few days a week – turned out to be great preparation for walking through ankle- to hip-deep water in waders. I’m usually sore after my first rigorous duck hunt; this time I’m not.

2. After five years of duck hunting, a first: I managed to take a leak in standing water. Guys do this all the time, but it’s a lot harder for women because we have to pull our waders all the way down and squat. I figured out how to do it without getting the inside of my waders wet. I tell you, it was a freakin’ miracle.

3. My calling didn’t suck. I got lots of ducks and even specklebelly geese to make mid-air U-turns and head back my way. I know it’s much easier to call birds earlier in the season than it is later, but it’s still gratifying when they respond like that.

4. On a windless sunny day – the kiss of death to good duck hunting – I successfully used my jerk rig to attract ducks’ attention from great distances. I’ve had the rig for a while, but this was the first time I could see that this was THE reason they were coming in.

Now, dear readers, did you notice anything missing from this list? Yep, you got it: Good shooting. That’s what was missing.

I missed and missed and missed and missed and missed. I may have gone through nearly a whole box of shells before I got my first duck of the season – a drake spoonie – and while I managed to bring in a couple more, I should’ve had a double limit for the amount of shells I went through.

It was easily my worst day of shooting in three or four years.

But this leads to the fifth amazing accomplishment of the hunt: I managed to keep a good attitude throughout most of the shooting debacle.

This is huge for me. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a bad habit of sulking – if not getting outright pissed off – when I don’t do well. I’m not proud of it; that’s just the way it is.

But duck hunting, more than anything else, has shown me vividly that bad attitude poisons your chance of turning things around.

So on Sunday, I smiled a lot, told my buddy Charlie how happy I was to be back at Delevan, and cracked jokes about what I must’ve done to incur the wrath of the hunting gods this time. I’m pretty sure it was the Stinky Butt Gadwall post, in which I wrote that I was going to be more selective about the ducks I shoot – a sure-fire way to anger the hunting gods, making them wreck your shooting until you give in and humbly take spoonies.

Which I did.

Keep your spirits up, and soon you’ll get the amazing shot that will turn things around, I kept telling myself.

It lasted right up to the last five or ten minutes, which is when I realized I wasn’t going to get that shot. That meant I’d be going into my next hunt in fear of continuing the streak.

Fear is bad. Huge risk of self-fulfilling prophecy. Crap.

So for the next few days, I’ll be trying to figure out what went wrong.

Maybe the adjustable comb on my stock was out of proper alignment? I’ve already adjusted it.

Maybe I was lifting my head off the stock? I’ll practice gun mounts in the mirror, re-imprinting on my memory the feeling of my cheekbone pressed hard onto that stock.

Maybe I’m overthinking my shots? The only cure for that is a surprise shot – something that forces you to shoot without thinking. I kept hoping for that on Sunday, but I didn’t get it.

Or maybe I just need to get my mind right about it. Maybe my five amazing accomplishments actually were enough. Maybe this is just one of those periodic cosmic reminders to be grateful for what I have.

I can live with that.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011