Perfect Kern

Just like in politics, I find waterfowling to be primarily a two party system. Sure, there are many times when we dabble in the rituals and passions of the other party, but deep down, each of us is one or the other. A goose hunter or a duck hunter.

My son is a card-carrying schneegansjager. That’s German for snow goose hunter. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool duck hunter. But I do enjoy watching him call in and bring down those Snows and big Canadas. And hopefully he enjoys hearing me say over and over again when we’re on a duck hunt: Damn I’m glad we didn’t have to put out 1,500 goose decoys this morning!

For me, hunting in a dry field is second best to a nicely-tuled pond with a cool breeze tickling the murky surface and ducks silhouetted against the overcast sky. And that’s exactly what I got to experience at Kern yesterday.

With a #15 rezzie in hand, I called up someone I had known for years online, but had never hunted with or even met. I’ve always admired Scott’s posts, especially the calm demeanor and logical mind that was clearly behind them. Scott goes by the online name Atwater and is a gifted taxidermist, which usually means a greater appreciation for the beauty and grace of waterfowl than the average hunter. Scott’s taxidermy website

Plus, I knew Scott knew Kern.

A long land march and wade through the dark waters brought us to our spot. The small, late-season spread went out in minutes, and then we waited for shoot time, talking and occasionally clicking on our headlamps to notify others of our claim. Scott’s dog swam happily in and out of the glow of our lamps, her nose poking into air filled with the thousand scents we humans know only singly as marsh.

The morning was slow but picked up as singles and pairs of Wigeon dropped out of the high fog, sometimes offering a shot, but usually not. Then the fog came lower, and we began hearing the small, pinched quacks of Gadwalls, with only rare sightings of the birds themselves. But Kern is that kind of duck hunting spot where it feels good to wait, and watch. The sense of time disappears with the sun. The bordering tules and tree lines become the edge of your world.

But then the sun usually returns, along with your sense of purpose.

Two gadwalls came in and BAAMM BAAMM, they splashed between the decoys. As a flock of Wigeon hovered above the reeds, camo’d gun barrels poked out and more ducks left the air forever. A mallard couple came in, cupped, but only the hen made it out. A big drake, and triple curled; he’ll be a tough mate for her to replace.

A flock of Redheads arrowed overhead at high speed. A lone Shoveler lowered himself unevenly in among the decoys, swam a bit, and left. More Shovelers whistled by above. And groups of Pintails, mostly in the yellow zone of air, between the green of a clean shot and the red of a Hail Mary. In a place like Kern, where it’s a long, long walk to the truck for more shells, the yellow zone always seems more orange.

A few lone ducks cut across the bluing sky from different directions, including some Cinnamons. Another Gadwall joined our strap. Mallards appeared over other ponds, out of reach, but Scott’s calling enticed a pair. Another drake went down, and we called it a day. Another great duck hunt to recall on those days to come, when the birds don’t fly, the breeze won’t blow, the pond isn’t as pretty, or the company as good.

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~ by zenhunter on January 10, 2008.

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