So just exactly how far is too far when it comes to pursuing your favorite hunting quarry? Today was, I think, getting very close to having officially crossed that line. Myself, The Hunting Partner, and His Uncle started the day like any other Fall weekend morning; up at 2:30am, off to the boat dock and out to our favorite duck lounge. We were actually looking forward to hunting in a closer location with 45 minutes less of a boat ride.
A typical early November day in Northern California was in store for us, which meant sunny and warm conditions. The temperature gauge in the truck confirmed this = 54 degrees. No jacket needed today. The other result of a blue-bird day is a serious lack of duck movement. The ducks are fat, happy, and lazy. Besides a small flurry at shoot time, it was quiet with good fellowship having to satisfy for today.
The area we were hunting was one we had been scouting for the last couple weeks. The difficulty is that the area is extremely large and rugged. It is basically flooded timber with water that is consistently at rib cage depth. A couple of deep holes and you’re tugging at the top of your waders to keep them from taking on water. At 6’1”, I am the guinea pig for testing areas that looked suspicious. It’s the curse I carry since the Hunting Partner and Uncle are, um, how do I say it gently, ‘less tall’ than me.
We had been scratching our heads earlier in the week trying to figure out ways to scout the entire area more efficiently. Walking was treacherous, and the area was so large that it would take all season to search for potential huntable areas.
Enter the idea that I think definitely qualifies as going too far in the annals of duck hunting. “How about we rent an airplane,” The Uncle inquired with the seriousness that only we could recognize. “Sure” was our immediate response. After a few telephone calls earlier in the week, we were all set to rent a plane and pilot to fly over the area. Today was that day.
After the slow morning, we wrapped up the hunting portion of our journey with a couple jump-shot mallards, wood duck, and a teal and headed back to the boat to the make our way the airport.
Arriving at the small country airstrip, we were greeted warmly by the airport manager and quickly introduced to Ed, a flight instructor, former military airman, and officially the person with the strongest southern accent I’ve ever met. We were each handed a one-page form and told, “Sign this. In case you die it says your family can’t sue us.” I think Ed was joking. I think.
We quickly dispatched with the final logistics such as confirming the price and how long we wanted to be in the air. Ed wrapped up his fight calculations including weight calculations and logging our journey.
We entered a large hanger and were greeted by a 1966 four-seater Cessna. Ed assured us that it was one of his favorite airplanes and this particular rig had been recently refurbished from top to bottom less than 300 hours previously.
After a brief pre-flight inspection we helped Ed push the plane out of the hanger and all climbed into our compact seats. Head sets on? Check. Seat belts fastened? Check. “Ok, let’s go flying,” Ed announced.
The engine burped and shimmied and soon enough we were cruising toward the end of the runway. Power up, brake off, and we were airborne tilting and shuttering in the light wind that met us head on. The day that was bad for duck hunting was beautiful for duck scouting. It was a crystal clear day to go flying and we were excited with anticipation.
“Ok guys, where we going?” asked Ed looking for his instructions. We pointed out the window and described the area with Ed confirming that he knew the right heading. Minutes later the plane was over the hunting area, slowing as much as possible and flying at the required 500 foot minimum height. Our radio chatter instructed Ed to fly around all parts of the area. He skillfully guided the small plane in large sweeping circles as The Hunting Partner and I clicked countless digital pictures in order to remember landmarks and hunting areas that looked promising.
We’ll use the photos later to match up with GPS coordinates located on Google Earth. Those coordinates will be used to find promising-looking areas at o-dark thirty on hunt mornings. Some will end up being as good as they looked from the air, others won’t hold birds and we’ll cross them off the list.
After approximately 40 minutes we confirmed we had seen all we needed and gave Ed the OK to head back to home base. Minutes later Ed was cleared for landing and he gently guided the plane down to a perfect three-point touch down. He pulled up to the gas station, yes there is an airplane gas station on the tarmac, and we all piled out with smiles and high fives from our brief adventure.
We went back to the office and The Hunting Partner offered up his credit card for settling up with Ed. “I’ll try and explain this to the wife later”, was the look he gave us. Better him than me, although we will be sure to split the charges three ways.
We shook hands with Ed, thanked him for his services and headed down the road toward home continuing to chatter about how fun the experience was and how we looked forward to experiencing the fruits of our efforts. We also talked about other places where we might want to hire an airplane and pilot in order to scout. On second thought, I did hear The Uncle inquiring with Ed about the cost of getting a pilot’s license. Maybe he could fly us over the most inaccessible places that hold all the ducks and we could parachute into our secluded spots! Yeah, that’s it, next time we bring parachutes! OK, maybe that’s going a little too far…