WONews READER REPORTS
Reader Report by Vince Crudele/WON Field Reporter
SAMI HOWARD with her 1st snow goose of the hunt, brought to the blind by labrador retriever "Colt." WON PHOTO BY VINCE CRUDELE
WILLOWS — The success of a hunt is measured in many ways. As a sportsman, I can recall my past hunting adventures that were successful because of an abundance of game, a buck with exceptional antlers and the harvest of an unusual trophy (my blue goose, a mallard-pintail cross shot at my duck club last season and seeing bearded hen turkeys come to mind). But what truly makes a successful hunt for me now is when I am fortunate enough to share the hunt with youngsters — and do they enjoy the experience.
With that goal in mind, when I received a text message from my buddy's daughter asking me to take her and her cousin on the post season youth waterfowl hunt, well, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.
Barney Howard of the Outboard Motor Shop in Oakland, his daughter Sami and his nephew Chris Oliver were waiting for me when I arrived late Friday evening at the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge. After handshakes, hugs and some friendly chatter about the past few weeks of slow waterfowl hunting, Barney and the kids helped me load and secure my two decoy carts with our required gear.
Back in the pre-season I advised our regular readers about refuge gear. I followed my own teachings and was able to haul 60 duck decoys, a dozen floating speck and snow decoys, a dozen Canadian full bodies and a half-dozen full body specks. The kids were going to have a convincing spread to entice ducks and geese in close.
We waited for our number to be called and selected blind 7 (the same one we had last season for this very same hunt). The carts carried our decoys, plus our packs, shells and the kids’ shotguns easily, making the pre-dawn hike to the blind fairly easy.
Arriving at the pond, Chris and Barney went to work setting duck decoys and goose floaters while Sami assisted me with the 18 full bodies around the blind tanks. Birds were moving overhead and the crisp morning air was a welcome "cold." Finally, it felt like duck season!
At shoot time, the ducks were coming in fast from every direction. The kids missed a few fast flying greenwings at close range. Ok, settle down, I said to my young wing-shooters. "Moose," my eldest lab and his younger brother "Colt" were scanning the skies for birds too, ready, watching, hoping for a downed bird.
Chris was up, the Benelli Black Eagle 12-gauge swinging as he fired at a crossing duck. The bird rolled at impact and splashed down hard 35 yards out. The Labradors were off, and seconds later Colt returned with a drake ringnecked duck. We were on the board!
A hen teal was approaching from the south. Sami was up, her little Mossberg 20-gauge pulling through the fast target....Boom! The little duck did a complete flip and crashed just 10 yards from the blind. Moose fetched her duck and a collective congratulation sounded out for Sami.
Snows! At my call, they turned, the lead gander answering me. Get ready kids!! I called continually. The snow geese cupped and began gliding in from the west. Chris was intensely following the flocks approach. TAKE THEM NOW!! Chris connected on his first shot, took a lead and swatted the bird again. The lead snow crumpled and splashed down dead. "Moose" beat his younger brother to the bird and retrieved it to me. I glanced at the beautiful bird and was pleased to see something I did not expect.
"Chris, you are officially lucky today" I stated. "Your goose is BANDED!" His smile appeared from behind his camo face paint and we high-fived a few times.
THE VERY FIRST banded bird for Chris Oliver. The youth hunt was a great experience for Chris and all the other kids out at Sacramento Wildlife Refuge. WON PHOTO BY VINCE CRUDELE
Next was a hen gadwall, then a drake sprig. Another gadwall, a drake.....Sami had snows coming up on her side of the blind! I called frantically, the flock coming up fast. Barney was holding Sami's shoulder to signal the shot. The snows were even with the blind now, 30 yards up and out. Sami rose up and fired. The 20 booming away on the closest bird. It wobbled, turned south and cupped for the far end of the pond. I jumped out of the blind and marked the area it crashed into 200 yards away. Sami was worried. She didn’t want to loose that goose!
Barney took "Colt" and headed for the mark. Make me proud, "Colt" I was thinking, while trying to cheer up my favorite young sportswoman. A few long minutes later, Barney reappeared at the far end of the pond, snow goose in hand!! I will say it again folks, ethical hunters use gun dogs!
That goose was lost without a good dog, period. Train your dog, hunt your dog and have faith in your dogs retrieving ability. "Colt" knew why he was going out away from the blind. Barney and I both use the term " hunt dead", and Colt understands that. He was trained with "Ruger, Moose, and Spot", his older pack mates and again, proved to all of us his value in the marsh.
The kids burned through shells. Barney and I each made a trip for more back at the truck (Why does DFG limit the kids to only 25 shells?). We had 10 ducks and 2 geese now. I had brought out "Spot," my 14-year-old Brittany on my last shell run. It had warmed up and Sami had hunted over "Spot" during earlier pheasant hunts, so I wanted to let him retrieve some birds for her and Chris on this hunt.
We were enjoying a snack when I spied a small flock of Ross's geese winging by. Call maker Matt Pierce of Los Banos had made me one of his custom goose calls and I deployed its high-pitched squeaks and yelps towards the little white birds. The whole group waved and flipped side to side. Welcome to the pond, its about to get interesting! Chris and Sami stood when the Ross flock was directly overhead. Four shots rang out, 1 bird falling on Chris's side. Sami's 20 sounded again a moment later and a lone Ross began to wobble. "Spot" was up and watching, locked onto Sami's bird. Both geese fell and were feet up dead 50 yards out. The Britt was off, ahead of his chocolate lab pursuers. "Spot" retrieved Sami's goose, while "Colt" and "Moose" each had a wing of Chris's bird. Awesome!
Sami and Chris harvested the remainder of their duck limits and it was time to pull decoys. Walking in, Sami turned and said "Thank you Uncle Vince, we had a great time!" I choked back a tear, smiled and said "Anytime young lady". The image of Sami and Chris walking down the levee with heavy duck straps, 2 bouncing labs and a Brittany intent on finding a rooster on the way in is still here, framed like a picture in my mind. Success, well it just does not ever get any better than that!
Remember, WE owe the next generation of hunters the best of memories in the field. Do your part and take a kid hunting or fishing soon. Your greatest hunts will be because of their smiles, their success, their stories retold and that is the greatest reward.
CHRIS OLIVER OF Redding and Sami Howard of Walnut Creek with their limits, and some geese, from blind 7 at Sacramento Refuge. WON PHOTO BY VINCE CRUDELE
WON FIELD REPORTER Vince Crudele and Chris Oliver. It's all about the camo face paint!!!