Sunday, December 21, 2008

They're Heeeeerrreee!

The first major storm of the West Coast has been a doozie for almost the entirety of last week. Record snowfall in Seattle, Oregon is frozen solid, and the rain/snow started falling in Northern California and stopped for just one day (Saturday). Loving this duck weather.

The storm has done the trick to stir up local birds, but more importantly it has brought new birds down from the North. The tell-tale sign of northern birds arriving on the scene is the remarkable number of Green-winged Teal and Wigeon that show up at the rice field duck clubs.

The storm that brewed all week dropping feet of snow in the Sierra Mountains and inches of rain in the Sacramento Valley started to break on Thursday night. For rice field duck clubs, catching a storm either on the leading edge or the trailing edge are typically the best. The sweet spot is after the heavy rains have yet to arrive or have passed, but the thick rolling clouds are still heavy in the sky and the wind is still-a-blowin'.

Friday was my day to test that theory. Now that our duck club has water, the Blind Mates and myself all decided to head out as the week-long storm was scheduled to exit the area Friday morning. If there were ducks around, this would be the perfect setup to lure them into gunning range.

Our theory proved itself once again as a brisk 15mph South wind and rolling mid-level clouds made shooting time look like midnight. With the Pintail limit at one, we would wait a few extra minutes until we could positively ID our quarry before pulling the trigger.

Within moments, a flock of 12 ducks set-up at 20 yards overhead with a distinctive whistle. "Wigeon!" was the call. The birds caught the wind and swept around the north end of the pond. After a few aggressive whistles they were convinced that comrades were foraging below and turned on a dime, heading back our way into the wind. They came right down the rice check with the confidence of birds that had never seen (or felt!) the gun. Within yards of the blind and as if on cue, the flock turned out over the the pond, then immediately banked back to the open hole in the decoys - feet down and reverse flaps pumping the air to slow their descent to the water.

"Take 'em!" was my call to the others. As we rose to our feet, the startled birds reared their heads and immediately began to backpedal their wing beat; trying as they might to gain lift under their wings.

"Bang! Bang!, Bang!, Bang! Bang!" reported our three smooth bores.

As the few remaining lucky fowl exited the scene, we each spied where our quarry had fallen in the pond. Five birds down, what a wonderful start to the day. And as predicted, these birds were fully plumed and looking gorgeous. Given their confident innocence in decoying and their full plumage, it was clear that these birds were from up North.

The action would remain fevered with groups of Wigeon and Pintail working the decoys in ways that builds confidence in your calling and shooting. With a limit of one, each of us took our time in looking for a big, beautiful Bull Sprig to harvest. Flock after flock would work the decoys and each of us took a turn pulling the trigger on the one we wanted. After that, we would take turns calling at the flocks to try and see who could get them to land in the decoys.

After an hour, two of us had shot our limit - each with six Wigeon and one Pintail. The third blind mate wasn't far behind with a very nice double on Wigeon to end his day as well. After sharing a few laughs I left a few minutes ahead of the others so I could get into the office for the day.

It was a very fun morning in the blind resulting in plenty of meat to throw in the freezer. Another storm arrived today, which is just in time to head out again in the morning with some very special guests. More about that later.

To my fellow Outdoor Bloggers on the East Coast who are dealing with far more extreme and dangerous weather, we're thinking about you - be safe.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great hunt. I've never tried duck, but after reading some of the recipes you guys post, I'm thinking I'd like it.

I'm glad the weather pushed the ducks your way, but I'd like it to stop snowing in my neck of the woods. I think we have enough now.

Terry Scoville said...

I'm happy you guys got some new birds in. What a difference that makes. As you noted, it is all froze up here in Oregon. Nothing left now but late season Honkers. Get'em while you can Jon! Cheers

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Nice one! I love wigeon, and pintail are probably the most consistently fat, delicious birds we get around here. Let's hope the last month of the season is as strong...