Everyone is talking about it, no one is immune to it, and someone put it best, “This season is the worst in recorded history so far.” Yes, the West Coast duck hunting season officially sucks.
Oh sure, the first two weekends of the season we enjoyed fantastic shooting on local mallards that were born and raised right here in the Sacramento Valley. But ever since then things have gone down hill fast.
The waterfowling season in Northern California and Southern Oregon is typically quite predictable as hunting seasons go. Because of the large tracts of farmed land, we grow a lot of birds locally that end up hanging around into the first few weeks of the hunting season, which usually begins the second and third week of October.
By early November, these local birds have either been harvested or get smart and learn where the closed zones are on the wildlife refuges and private lands. They enter the sanctuary first thing in the morning, frolic all day in the 60 degree California weather, and then promptly exit the closed zone at two minutes after shoot time at roughly 5,000 feet altitude. Their destination is the closest harvested rice field where they group into huge flights and enjoy an all-night food orgy. Absent large storms with wind and rain, they simply repeat this ritual day after day.
As early December rolls around, the winter storm fronts that blanket the Sierra Nevada mountains with feet of much-needed future Los Angeles water also bring major rain storms to the Valley. Birds that have been lounging late season in Canada, Washington and Oregon also begin to feel the chill and do what Mother Nature calls - - head south.
This is a double bonus for waterfowlers in Northern California because it brings in new, uneducated birds who haven’t been clued into the sanctuary routine by their brethren, plus it pushes those smart local birds out of the closed zones looking for better cover and more calories at all times of the day. BINGO! That’s when Sacramento Valley duck hunting is at its best.
The problem is, this year we’ve been hit with a double zinger instead. A record drought has severely restricted water deliveries to public refuges as well as private duck clubs and we haven’t had one cold front or rain storm show up yet. Not one. Oh, and to add insult to injury we are having famed Valley Tule Fog earlier and thicker than I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve lived here. Do you know the kind of ducks you see while hunting in Tule Fog? You don’t.
Our duck blind, which is in a rice club, is one of those that is being impacted by the lack of water. We are just now getting flooded up, which is three weeks late and we still have approximately five days to go before the decoys are floating. One of The Blind Mates went out over the weekend and summed it up this way,
“I went out this weekend and our fields are still dry. I sat down in the blind for a while anyway and after an hour just started feeling like a desperate dork. No ducks are going to land in a desert.”
I think that sums it up.
Last week I was starting to get desperate. Looking for a little hope, I emailed fellow waterfowler and outdoor blogger Terry who lives near the border of California and Oregon. I was hoping to get some good news, like Klamath was freezing over and the ducks have moved on. "Please, oh please, let her write that things are on the cusp of getting better," I thought to myself. Instead, here is what Terry wrote.
“Hunted in short sleeves two weeks ago. Still have Specks around and the Honkers haven't arrived from up north. Not even ice in the ditches yet.”
Ok, ok. I know, hunting isn’t all about the birds and the killing and such. I get that. I do enjoy heading out with The Boy or the The Hunting Partner and The Dog and watching the sunrise and listening to the red shouldered blackbirds wake up the marsh. But come on, when it’s been three weeks and you haven’t shouldered the gun (your brand new birthday surprise gun no less), it gets to you.
I just wish that this darn wonderful, warm California weather would just get the hell out of here and the cold, blustery, rainy, freezing storms would come knocking! Now THAT is why we hunt, eat, and live!