Rich and Poor

This season has been the kind where I don’t ponder the cost per duck. It’s too depressing. It would be in the hundreds. It would make a dinner of filet mignon and the finest wine at a five star restaurant – twice a week at least – look like the bargain of the century. A rice lease. Training for the dog. Sixty bucks in gas every trip. Time away from work. More equipment. None of it mattered; there just wasn’t ever much on the strap. Is there an emoticon for feeling poor, broke?

On the other hand, there aren’t enough stars in any restaurant’s rating to match the ambiance of a day on the pond. And even bad seasons have their way of making up for it all, with big surprises that more than compensate for all the long, disappointing duck-less days.

I had three such bonuses this year, when riches rose up around me or fell from the sky. One was a pig hunting adventure – won in a CWA drawing – that will be the subject of another post. Two others were hunts with old friends from my waterfowling days by the Salton Sea in Southern California, Craig, and more recently Matt.

The hunt with Craig was short on birds, but long on kindred spirit. We didn’t see or shoot much that day at Delevan, but what we did encounter – which began with the sudden appearance of a small flock of geese and ended seconds later with the big splash of a prized Tule goose – gave me a memory I’ll never forgot. That bar-belly beast waits in my game freezer for a date with the taxidermist.

Matt was with me on my first ever duck hunt many seasons ago. Hunting with him reminds me of that experience, when I waded in water for the first time, saw my first sunrise on a pond, and bagged my first ducks – three green-wing teal. How savory those cut up birds tasted, covered in Panko bread crumbs, deep fried, and dipped in a spicy mango sauce! And how pleased and proud my kids were, eating them; other dads put food on the table, but theirs had killed it himself! Matt will always be connected with that recollection.

I’m not sure whether Matt is my good luck charm, or if I’m his, but on his trips north to hunt together we are two for two. Last season we transformed what looked like a soggy cow pasture and a bottom-of-the-barrel rezzie at Llano Seco into an epic goose and duck slam. This season, with a #15 at Develan, Matt’s legendary mouth calling brought us so many visits from curious snow geese that we didn’t much care that specks were off the menu. Matt and his son Max called a few ducks within range, too. So while Sunday’s results were pretty slim according to the refuge staff, our pond was the exception with a 7 bird average!

Now, before the spot burning watchdogs start barking and the lazy lurkers start spreading the word, know this: The lottery is already overflowing at Delevan. Matt couldn’t get a spot on the refuge on Saturday. And the only reason we did so well was because Matt and Max hauled out a pond-full of snow floaters, full body decoys, shells, Silosocks, and silhouettes – in one of those carts that looks more like a trailer with handles, that serious goose hunters down at the Wister Refuge are known for.

Spread

The morning started off with the usual thunderous volleys in ponds around ours. We got the occasional shot at a passing duck, but it wasn’t until the sun started to light up the decoys that the hunt really started. Of course, most of the dark shapes that winged their way to us turned out to be specks. How quickly those birds get bold, or careless, when they haven’t been shot at for a couple of weeks! They glided over us, so low and slow we could compare and rate the black belly bar patterns, bird by bird in each flock. But then the ones we were ready for started showing up. Large flocks stayed high as they warily flew a circle or two over our spread, until at least one pair of eyes spied us in the sparse stand of tules – or a foam floater overturned by the breeze – and buzzed a warning to the others. Enticed by Matt’s repertoire of snow calls and methods, smaller groups were less lucky. The lowest or closest ones started to fall to our guns. A couple of times we were surprised by stealthy geese. Max got one snow that suddenly appeared floating just over his left shoulder. Another fluttered down into our decoys from the side while we were looking up at others in the sky.

I don’t know what my dog Schatzie expected of the hunt. Another day of snoozing and watching pond birds flit about? What she got was a workout, her small frame struggling to bring those big birds – some still with fight left in them – back to our hiding spot. By the end of the day, she’d retrieved 21 birds, the majority of them geese.

Young Max with his winter "Snow fall"

Young Max with his winter “Snow fall”

It was my favorite kind of hunt. Some guys like being done early with limits. I prefer the ones where just about the time you’re getting bored and the sky seems so empty, something appears, something happens. Suddenly you’re bolt upright, gun ready, calls ringing out, peering out from under a hat brim, trying not to lose sight of them. Maybe the new arrivals want to play, maybe they don’t, but break time is over and you’re back on the job again. Ours was that kind, all day. There will be a few more hunts this season, at my rice lease. But since my only two really memorable ones were on refuges, and not there, the hunt with Matt and Max could be the last really good hunt. But that’s okay. I feel very lucky to have had it.

~ by zenhunter on January 8, 2014.

2 Responses to “Rich and Poor”

  1. Thank you Neil for the kind words and memories. Your stories take me to a welcomed place. Keep in touch. Craig

  2. Thanks for being part of my season Craig.

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