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Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Good news, bad news

Duck Hunting
So, how’s that waterfowl refuge draw system working out for you?

Well, here we are in the last month of duck season in California, and so far I haven’t talked to or heard from a single waterfowler who doesn’t believe this is the worst duck season they’ve ever seen. And that includes hunters who have been duck hunting here for 40 and 50 years in some cases.

So, I am so very happy that I didn’t get a blind this year! Turns out the area I hunted last year didn’t have water for much of the season, if at all, and almost all the clubs dependent on water from the Sacramento River were cut off from their water supplies back in November due to the water shortage, so their season was cut way short — if they had one at all. Two of my friends never got water for their duck clubs at all this year.

The weather has been beautiful, which means it’s been terrible for duck hunting. There were just a few days of wind that worked well, but other than that, no storms and no fog. The birds are happily working huge grinds in specific areas of the valley where there isn’t any hunting, and on the closed portions of the refuges.

Our old “fall-back” saying that the birds will “feed out the refuges soon” and begin moving around just isn’t holding water, is it? They’re holding tight, except for nighttime excursions to the rice fields. And, even our reasoning that the birds are all sitting on unhunted flooded rice doesn’t seem to work anymore, either, because there are literally thousands of acres of rice land — usually flooed — that are now dry, so the birds should be concentrated elsewhere, right?

Well, I think they are. On the refuges. The closed parts of the refuges. So that leaves about the only game in town being the refuges or hunting with waterfowl guides.! And, as with last year, the refuges are certainly shooting better than most private clubs that I’ve heard about.

So, with no duck club, this year I decided to “go all out” and apply for a whole bunch of refuge draw applications. I figured if I put in hundreds of draw requests, I would at least get drawn once a month or so, right? Hell no!!! I can’t believe how difficult it is to get drawn for a refuge!!!

I put in for every Saturday and Wednesday on Delevan, Kesterson, Little Dry Creek, Sacramento, Sutter and Yolo refuges, a total of 160 draw applications! Cost was $214. I bought my hunting license for $46, a season-long pass to the refuges for $155, my state stamp for $20, federal stamp for $15, and with the $214 for the applications, I had $450 into duck hunting this year. Not much compared to the $3,000 or so I’ve been paying for a pond every year, but I thought it would be plenty to get me on a refuge hunt every now and then.

How many times have I been drawn so far? Twice! Once for Kesterson, and once for Delevan. And with the current weather, I didn’t shoot one single bird on either refuge. Okay, I have to admit I am not attacking the refuges now like I did when I was in my 20s….I only take 3 dozen deeks out, and I don’t stay all day long anymore, but I’m still a damn good hunter, camo up well and I’m still a good caller.

My “blind” on Delevan turned out to be a barren island that wasn’t even an island, the water level was “too high,” they said later at the check station, and there was 6 inches of water on what was supposed to be an island. And no cover at all! The near-zero temperature that morning didn’t bode well for staying out a long time for me or my 12-year-old golden, “Kody”, and after the first shots on the clear and calm day the sky was barren of birds within an hour of shooting time.

There’s only another 3 weekends to go until the end of the season, and that’s not a lot of draw opportunities for my averages to improve beyond the 2 times I was drawn, out of 160 applications. So, my friends, just a word of warning. It takes some deep pockets to spend enough on applications in hopes of getting out hunting more than just a few times a year on the refuges. For me? At $225 per hunt on a refuge, with zero birds to show for it, I’m going to spend my money on hunting with waterfowl guides from now on. I would have most certainly shot more birds, spent about the same amount of money, and not had to work nearly so hard or be so frustrated.

Some times you have to just look realistically at the averages and figures and costs. And while spending a couple hundred bucks for one day in the blind with a professional guide may seem like a lot of money, in my book the value, results, enjoyment and saved time and gas money makes up for it.

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