The Golden Ticket

I don’t know when I first put in for Little Dry Creek on the season long application. It’s probably been nine or ten seasons of checking that box, along with other Northern California refuges like Delevan, Sacramento, and Colusa, most of those when a draw meant an eight-hour drive from South Orange County.

My youngest son Griff or I would get the rare draw – a slow two-duck Sunday at Colusa and an epic stormy day at Delevan when a Eurasian Wigeon and a dozen other ducks fell from the sky and the wind spinner left its stake and flew two ponds over. But mostly we were content to hunt Wister near the Salton Sea. And those hot, stinking ponds produced a lot of indelible moments, especially in the go-go years when ducks and geese were swirling around us even as we were fetching ones we’d just downed.

A Wigeon double for Griff at Delevan in 2005, just after the storm passed and the sun came out.

A Wigeon double for Griff at Delevan in 2005, just after the storm passed.

Still we yearned for a shot at Little Dry Creek, the rare jewel, whispered about, glistening in the distance out of reach. Even hard-to-get San Jacinto and Kern draws would pepper our season, but never a nod from LDC.

Fast forward to 2011: my move up north and three seasons of checking all the boxes for all the refuges – Grizzly, Gray Lodge, Delevan, Sac, Llano Seco, and more. Cards came for every one of them. Except Little Dry Creek. Until this fourth season. But not just any draw for LDC; the golden ticket.

Then rain came, days and days of it. Roads closed, refuges closed. I watched the muddy water in my backyard creek rush past and imagined my long-awaited golden ticket floating away on it, tossed in the chop, torn by the rocks, the words Little Dry Creek and #1 reduced to a stain.

Finally the weather changed and the rains stopped. Glenn Underwood posted optimistic news about roads drying and refuges opening, including LDC. The refuge staff told me things looked good for my Wednesday hunt and the gleam returned to my golden ticket. But a new dilemma emerged; who to invite along on my reservation.


I called my Southern California friend Matt (mouthcallinmatt), someone who’d proven to be a good luck charm on two previous Northern California hunts, including a high number draw at Llano Seco when Matt’s legendary calling skills and super-sized cart full of decoys turned a wet cow pasture into a place the geese couldn’t resist. But Matt couldn’t make the trip. So invites went out to the big posters on the refuge forums. Big Daddy Gaddy’s “I’m all in on that” added one, and #1wingnut left the river to fill up the card.

Conventional wisdom seemed to be that the #1 draw takes blind #1. But a check of the sheets had better things to say about a different blind, so that one became our pick. Yellow cards in our pockets, we headed out to our designated parking lot, with me wondering if LDC would prove worth all those years of waiting.

After a long haul out, we got to our mud island surrounded by tules. Decoys out, dog situated in her hut, a little blind material up to block the wind and the ducks’ view, we awaited shoot time and listened as dark shapes whooshed by low and all around us. Mike and Dan sipped their coffee and I downed a Monster, a habit I picked up from all the years of hunting with Griff. Then the “chime” of distant shots announced the time.


Mike was the first to bring one down, a big beautiful greenhead and our only mallard of the day. Then Dan and I started in on our mixed bag of wigeon, gaddies, pintails and the occasional speck. The morning flight filled the sky with birds; flocks of ducks zooming by below skeins of snows and specks. It was almost but not quite pass shooting as small groups skirted our island, and we thinned them by one or two whenever they came closer than surviving this migration would allow. Of the thousand that made it safely to the closed zone only yards beyond our spot, three limits of ducks and a few geese did not.

Most of them were retrieved by hand; after the first few, the dog refused to go in the water. At first I chalked it up to Schatzie going from a kennel in the garage, per the ex-Mrs. Zenhunter, to the soft indoor life of sleeping on our bed that the fiancée encourages. But then I saw Mike’s bright red hands after he reached in the water feeling around for the spinner’s missing leg and couldn’t really blame her. I wonder if she misses the swimming pool temperature of ponds down south.

It was the perfect day, with great hunting partners and birds all around, to get ready for even if they didn’t wing our way, or just to watch. A few times of facing or looking the wrong way when something whizzed by right overhead, as usual. And memorable shots, like Dan putting two shots into a speck as it tried to catch the wind’s express elevator up, then a long moment before his gamble on a third shot – this one dialed-in – brought it down. Good, too, were the duck and another speck that crashed on our island with muddy thuds. Best of all, for me, was that last duck on my strap, a pintail that fluttered in and seemed to pose above the decoys, until a single dose of #2s peppered that beautiful chocolate head. That was an image that I want to keep crisp in my mind in the years to come. Especially since it was exactly like my last shot and last duck of the 2005 season, another hovering pintail, on that unforgettable Delevan road trip with Griff.

Like that Delevan hunt, the day at Little Dry Creek was worth the hike, worth the cold. And well worth the wait.


~ by SpeakingZenaphorically on January 3, 2015.

7 Responses to “The Golden Ticket”

  1. […] Source-Page: “” […]

  2. Thanks for sharing. Some how the article reminded me deeply of my first few hunts over here in central new York. A cove in the finger lakes tucked in a blind or on the river and creek sides locked into a ground blind. Thank you for sharing.
    I’d also like to share my blog. Not much yet but one day your sure to find something useful and interesting.

  3. Neil, your words reflect the passion you have for the outdoors. Glad you had an awesome trip.

  4. Thanks Craig. It was an amazing hunt, especially after a nerve-racking week of waiting and wondering if LDC would re-open in time for me to use my golden ticket!

  5. those are some nice catches ya got there!

  6. Neil, met you at jen and marcos party on Saturday. Really enjoy your blog very well written . Hope we can stay in contact and do some hunting this season, Eric the

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