Hunting the Silver Lining

•January 16, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Ah, the fickleness of fowl. To be a waterfowl hunter means throwing many parties where the guests of honor are no-shows. After hours of planning, booking the venue, arranging the party favors, sending out invitations – a large amount of effort and expense – you are too often sitting there alone, looking around, checking the clock until you finally realize: they’re not coming.

Socialites and party planners would crumble. But we hunters bravely press on, undeterred.

Of course, we shrug off the absence of ducks and geese and point to one good reason or another why getting up at 3am, driving for two hours, and sitting in the freezing wind all morning wasn’t a complete waste. We marvel at the sunrise, which is indeed a grand view that non-hunters rarely enjoy. We take time to get some really great photos of the dog. We’re mesmerized by some moment we wouldn’t have otherwise seen or experienced; a twilight pond is a good place for things like a hawk killing its breakfast or a finch landing on the barrel of a gun. We text friends or family on the East Coast, just so they’ll ask what the hell are you doing up at 4 o’clock in the morning?

In other words, we’re in constant search of a silver lining.

This photo of Schatzie was taken on a slow day when the ducks weren't flying...and ending up being featured in a magazine.

This photo of Schatzie was taken on a slow day – and ending up being featured in a magazine.

 

Yesterday’s hunt on a Wilderness Unlimited property was like that, a party that only Schatzie and I bothered to attend. It was a nice enough spot; flooded rice ponds just north of Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Since these places are in the Sacramento Valley Special Management Area, the white-fronted geese that tried to crash the party were out of season and so, not on the guest list. We watched them from the cold metal sunken blind on a dike between the ponds until around 10am, and then faced the fact that something we could shoot was not likely to show up.

Trudging the half-mile back to the truck, I realized I had no silver lining. The foggy morning had canceled the sunrise. All morning the scene and everything in it had been gray and brown and flat. There was no cellphone reception. Nothing noteworthy had happened. With a sour expression, I flung my muddy gear in the back, fed Schatzie and loaded her up, too. And hit the road.

Driving south on i-5, it was still rumbling around in my head that I couldn’t recall a hunt where there was not a single thing to say after the “but” in I didn’t get any ducks, but

And then I saw it. It was only for a few seconds; a great black beast to my left, speeding north:

Milo Yiannopoulos’ “Dangerous Faggot Tour” bus.

milo_bus

I recognized it instantly, and some quick mental fact-checking confirmed I wasn’t seeing things. I knew he had been at UC Davis for an event this past weekend (which was shut down by some protestors who – surprise, surprise! –  seem very opposed to anyone’s speech, ideas or beliefs except their own).

For those who don’t know, Milo is a very controversial, quick-witted journalist, entrepreneur and public speaker for the “alt-right.” He’s gay. And he a strong supporter of President-elect Trump. The contrast between those last two certainly makes heads explode.

Love him, hate him, or something in between, there’s no denying seeing THAT bus on a hunt is a very rare thing. So Milo, thanks for the silver lining.

Hunting Beaver Bay

•December 23, 2016 • 3 Comments
Sunrise on the bay

Sunrise on the bay

The water was obsidian as we motored across the bay with Captain RJ Waldron at the helm on Wednesday morning. There were four of us hunters – Erin, Jimmy, me and my hunting partner, Tracey. Twenty minutes later we pulled up to a distant shore and offloaded ourselves and our gear. RJ and his first mate set about deploying the strings of diver decoys while we brushed up the portable blind.

A short time later, shoot time was announced by distant gun fire. We didn’t have to wait long before our turn came; a black silhouette darted by low and from the left, and Erin and Jimmy ensured that our tally that day would not be zero. Then a pair zoomed in and were dropped by a four-gun volley the second they arrived at the sweet spot between the two strings of decoys.

The view from our blind

The view from our blind

As the morning brightened and a light breeze kicked up, we watched flocks crisscrossing our spot, a little too far or high for shot. But every fifteen minutes or so, a single or pair or more came within range and very few escaped. Though we each had a miss or two that left us shaking our heads, most of the ducks were dropped with just one or two shots. One flight of five lost four of its members. Of course, with sea ducks, down is usually not out, and follow up shots were the norm before RJ’s first mate JJ was able to motor over and net them.

Movement on the water between the shore and decoys caught our eye about mid-morning. I thought it was a muskrat. Someone else said otter. And then RJ jumped up and was suddenly stalking whatever it was as it swam along the shoreline. Moments later – BAM – and he came back to the blind with a beaver! The bay we were hunting had a name before we arrived, but for me it’ll now always be known as Beaver Bay.

Tracey and our surprise visitor

Tracey and our surprise visitor

Our communal strap grew throughout the morning, a mix of blue bills and goldeneyes. With the tally at 27 ducks, a final pair was spotted heading toward us. As they passed in front edging along the decoy strings, Tracey raised up and fired, bringing the hunt to a close with a 28th duck. It had been a glorious hunt – beautiful weather, good blind mates and hosts, plenty of ducks to watch and lots of close up shots, many with feet down. And one unexpected wood chipper in the bag.

I felt very fortunate. Not having had much luck in the Fish & Wildlife draw, getting picked for this California Waterfowl Association hunt was a very good thing by itself. That the hunt turned out so well, probably the best I’ll have this season, was a bonus. It was very generous of RJ and Jason Adversalo to donate this and other hunts to help CWA raise money.

From now on whenever I make the trek on the highways from my home to the bay area, it will bring back a great hunting memory as I look out on Beaver Bay.

Our group with the morning's harvest of Goldeneyes and Blue Bills

Our group with the morning’s harvest of Goldeneyes and Blue Bills

Grizzly Ranch

•November 20, 2016 • 2 Comments
There's some debate whether or not Grizzly Bay and Grizzly Island were so named because of the bears that once did live in the area. Early documents show it instead as Grisly, possibly suggesting other reasons behind the name.

There’s some debate whether or not Grizzly Bay and Grizzly Island were so named because of the bears that once roamed the area. Early documents show it instead as Grisly, suggesting other possible reasons for the name.

My duck hunting season began this past Saturday at Grizzly Ranch, a former private duck club now belonging to California Waterfowl Association. I got to hunt this beautiful property thanks to CWA’s hunt program, when the hunt’s actual winner couldn’t go and so as runner-up I moved into the top slot. There were several sons and daughters with their fathers at the morning safety briefing, which is always good to see. After a quick lottery we had our blinds and all headed out to the boat house where maps, walkie-talkies, and spotlights were handed out.

With Tracy Fremd, my neighbor and last year’s winner of CWA’s Artemis Award for her efforts to support women hunters, and my dog Schatzie aboard, we motored out to the blind. Those two had recently hunted together, when Tracey borrowed Schatzie for the opener. Lucky dog!

A rainbow appeared briefly between showers

A rainbow appeared briefly between showers

We set out the provided decoys and hunkered down in the island blind to await shoot time. The quacks and whistles around us faded as dawn approached, but even so, a beautiful sunrise on the marsh always makes the 2 am wake up call worthwhile. The ducks we did see were local and wary, and mostly skirted us high and wide. Still, it was nice to have ducks in the air, and to hope they would give us a shot. We dropped the only two that came within range, and while that’s not much of a strap, it’s gratifying when the number of ducks and expended shells are the same. The blinds around us had more action, and we hoped those were ones with kids in them as the distant silhouettes fell to their volleys.

Grizzly Ranch was a wonderful way to start the season. It’s a real gem, well maintained by CWA, and will gleam even more when the migrators arrive.

Tracey Fremd at the helm

Tracey Fremd at the helm

The Learning Curve

•June 13, 2016 • 2 Comments

Rangefinder101

 

I remember my first hunt  like it was yesterday. Excited and bursting with anticipation, I knew I was in uncharted territory. While much of life had become routine and void of surprises, hunting promised adventure, unforgettable moments, amazing vistas, celebrations of successes and facing up to – and learning from – failures. It delivered all that and more, and to this day still does. Hunting really is the last frontier, the last link to our ancestors, the last gritty tactile experience in a world fast slipping into interactive this and virtual reality that, none of which are truly interactive or real.

If you’re born into a family of hunters, lessons and learning come naturally. If you decide one day to take up hunting, like I did as an adult, the learning curve can be steep, compressed from years to mere weeks or months. And if you have kids or friends who see the great thing you’ve discovered and want to go with you, well, suddenly you’re in the role of teacher, ready or not. So I can sympathize with people who are inspired to venture into the hunting world but find taking their first steps a daunting task.

Fortunately, most hunters are willing mentors, with decades of experiences to share. Finding and connecting with these experienced hunters isn’t always easy though. One website has come up with a way to provide neophyte hunters with tips and advice on what to do, and not to do. Not just one expert’s advice, but many, including yours truly.

Check it out. There are some good lessons to be learned, that might flatten out your curve a little.

Outfitter Spam

•March 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Zenhunting doesn’t accept advertising. Sometimes I’ll mention or link to a product or service that I have personally used and can vouch for. Bottom line is, this blog doesn’t take money to promote something. Never has, never will. And it will never promote something I don’t believe in.

It was amusing at first when shady salesmen would try to sneak in plugs in the comments section. “Your blog story reminded me of the time I hunted with XXX outfitter at XXX Ranch…” or “I don’t know what kind of rifle you used on your hunt, but I just tested the new XXX custom rifle and it’s the best rifle…”

Yeah, nice try. More often lately, these scammers aren’t even trying to make it relate to a blog post. You all never see these, because they get marked as spam and ditched. But something about them, and the things they’re promoting, just bugs me. Especially because this is zenhunting.com, not stupidsoullesskillers.com.

Recently I’ve had a couple from a Triple S Wildlife Ranch in Calvin, Oklahoma. Never heard of it, but got curious and decided to do a little quick research.

Well, here’s your free advertising Triple S. Enjoy!

The Oklahoman

Tulsa World

The Company You Keep

•March 7, 2016 • 5 Comments

I hope the old saying you’re known by the company you keep is true, because Zenhunting.com is mingling with some big time hunting celebrities and websites these days. Targettamers.com just released their compendium of the top 59 hunting websites, and Zenhunting – last in the alphabetical order – got in right before they closed the door, at #59. It’s quite an honor to be in a pack with Bone Collector, Buck Commander, Pat and Nicole with Driven Hunter, the DU website, Field & Stream, Jim Shockey, Melissa Bachman, Mike Hanback, Outdoor Life, Realtree, and a lot of other great sites and personalities, including my favorite hunter, Steve Rinella from Meat Eater.

Happy to be on the list.

59_top_hunting_websites

 

What Real Men Do

•January 9, 2016 • 3 Comments

My fiancée Danielle informed me recently that she had unfriended someone on Facebook because they’d posted something about how real men don’t kill wild things, they take pictures. That she was offended on my behalf – though I was not aware of the post, nor would I have cared one way or another about this guy’s opinion – is one of a thousand reasons why I love her. She has my back. But I think too, she’s learned a lot about why I hunt, witnessed all the conscientious effort that goes into it, and not least of all, tasted the savory, story-rich results. So, on her own, she knows that her former friend is wrong and that, knowing both of us, there’s far more to real manhood than slogans and moralizing.

It did get me thinking. I’ve never, in all my years as a hunter, questioned the real man-ness of any guy who didn’t hunt. I’ve tried to explain why I hunt – explain, not apologize or rationalize – on occasion, but mostly to get people to leave me to it, not take it up for themselves. To hunt or not to hunt is a deeply personal choice. And never mind what a bunch of smug, picture-taking yuppies do to the environment versus the nearly invisible conservationist hunter.

So why do some people feel the need to tell us to trade our guns or bows in for cameras in order to join the ranks of real men? This particular former friend is an overly bouyant scuba diver, so clearly he’s stuffing some dead things in his gaping mouth, just not any that he has killed himself. Doesn’t that mean he’s maintaining real man-ness at the expense of some poor guy in the fishing fleet or butcher’s shop who’s had to sacrifice his real man-ness for the sake of this corpulent moralizer?

Forced to consider all this, I’m led to the question of what is a real man anyway? When did it become manly to eat from styrofoam and plastic wrap but not from an animal you have stalked, killed, gutted and butchered all by yourself? If left in the woods, would the photo-taking “real” man survive or the one who knows how to hunt for food? But that’s what these Facebook posters have put on the scale, not me. I think a real man pays his debts, supports his family, does right by others, builds and fixes things, respects others and in doing so, minds his own fucking business. Have I left anything out?

So I wonder what someone who thumps his chest with the claim of “I take photos, not animals” is truly, deeply, psychologically saying. My guess is he’s trying to change the equation to one that suits his absence of skills, for it takes none to order in a restaurant or pluck from the meat department freezer.

But I’m OK with that. I don’t care that some men in America wouldn’t last a day in the wilds. Not every guy can stand a post or gut a deer. I respect the ones who admit it. I am more than willing to share with those who can’t, or teach and encourage those who would like to gain the skills. Just know that when you try to declare your real man-ness  based on your inability or unwillingness to get your own food, those of us who can and do, we pity you. We see straight through to your deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. And not to rub salt in the wound, but I know a few women who put wild food on their table. So maybe it’s just about being real. Some can handle it. I don’t mind the ones who can’t. But the ones who feel compelled to make comparisons? They are the saddest bunch of all.

 

 

 
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