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Fogie

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Sculling

I’m not entirely sure what year it was when I went on my first scull boat hunt, but I do know I was hooked on it from that day forward. Although I can not remember the date, or even the year for that matter, I am of absolute certainty that it was John Hayden who piloted the boat, and the body of water was Lake Shastina. While coaxing ducks from the sky into a carefully set spread of decoys was, and still is, something I dearly loved to do, this was different. Sculling was a spot and stalk style of hunting, more closely associated with big game hunting than anything, and the challenge of glassing a bird, or birds, then sneaking across the top of the open water in order to get close enough to shoot them, was a thing that touched me deeply. Once engaged in sculling I knew I would never willingly stop.

There is nothing fast about sculling: it is slow, methodical, and meticulous. When you succeed, you did it right. When you fail, you did it wrong. Yes, there are circumstances that cause success, or failure, which you can’t control, but by and large the outcome of the chase is determined by the skill of the operator. On the water, you are alone. There is nobody there with which to discuss plans, or strategize. There is nobody there to help you make decisions. And, right or wrong, there is nobody there to take credit for, or to accept blame for those choices, except you. No matter what, you own everything that happens. I firmly believe that those who were born to scull not only accept that as their reality…they relish in it, and would have it no other way. Perhaps that’s why I love it so much.

Another aspect of the game I embrace is the solitude. Once you settle into the cockpit, and move away from the shore, you are alone. If you want to carry on a conversation you must have the ability to talk to yourself. Obviously with two hunters in the boat all that changes, but the overwhelming majority of my time spent under the oar has been alone. I have indeed conversed with my alter egos…yes, out loud…but normally all words are spoken only in my mind. You see sculling is very much a thinking man’s game. There are never ending possibilities, all of which must be considered before starting the sneak. Experience, calculation, physical conditioning, and weather observations are all “advisors” to be consulted with, and those talks are most often held in silence.

Sculling starts long before the boat ever hits the water. Seaworthiness is the top priority and is always addressed first. Next on the list is camouflage. Making the boat hide on the water means trying to paint it so it blends in with that particular water. Normally some shade of gray is the preferred color, but sometimes a green or brownish is in order. Most go with gray as it works in the majority of situations. I get a bit more elaborate with my paint scheme, but would probably do just fine with a solid color. I also coat my final paint job with semi-gloss clear as water is shiny, not flat. Aside from the single sculling oar, which propels the boat, I come equipped with a kayak paddle, a large sponge, binoculars, something with which to bail water, and a flotation device. I use closed cell foam pads to lay on, and my bow weights, which keep the nose of the boat down to the water line, are two pieces of railroad iron weighing in at 60 lbs apiece. Other than that all you really need is a gray rain jacket for “just in case”, your gun, and your shells. Simple…I like simple.


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Sculling isn’t a easy task. It’s an art form to get the boat from point A to point B with a single oar that slides in through the transom. Your task is to the move the boat forward, usually two to four hundred yards, across open water, and get to within thirty yards or less of creatures who survive by being aware of their surroundings, and who flee at the first sign of danger. Keep in mind that these creatures are not obligated to stay in any one place while you’re trying to get close. They are often moving, which means you are constantly changing course and always trying to keep the bow pointed directly at the birds. Sometimes you move the boat forward, sometimes you stop and wait, and occasionally you turn the boat sideways in order to “herd” the birds in a certain direction. There is never a “one size fits all” approach.

I was born a sculler. I’m convinced it has always been inside me, I simply needed to be placed on the right path in order to find the end of the trail.

My buddy does it on Lake Mojave with a Hobie pedal drive kayak...he could shoot a limit of seven greenheads/seven days a week in less than 20 minutes, luckily for the ducks he understandably became a bit bored of it and doesn't do it that often.

They are akin to park ducks and when jumped have to fly right at him due to the topography...just a bad setup for those poor birds on that lake.
 
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Mean Gene

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Gene, after reading your posts and Don Webster's book (Bury Me In My Waders), I feel I could be parachuted into northern California and do just fine. If not a limit of ducks, liberal limits are liberal, and plentiful...right?:joker

Had not heard of that book, but on your recommendation I just ordered it. :tu For 30 years I lived in a public land duck hunting Mecca, if you knew where to go in what conditions. That was the key. Now though it's nothing like it once was. Politics, lack of water and absolute mismanagement have just about killed it all. Sometimes I think back on what used to be and am torn between crying and wanting to rip someone's head off. Damn shame what has happened.
 

Mean Gene

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My buddy does it on Lake Mojave with a Hobie pedal drive kayak...he could shoot a limit of seven greenheads/seven days a week in less than 20 minutes, luckily for the ducks he understandably became a bit bored of it and doesn't do it that often.

They are akin to park ducks and when jumped have to fly right at him due to the topography...just a bad setup for those poor birds on that lake.

Hell, I'm not bored...send me his phone number. :l:l
 

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Lake Shastina

Just northeast of the town of weed, tucked in amongst the low, rolling, sage covered hills, is where you’ll find Lake Shastina. It’s official name may be Dwinnell Reservoir, but I have never heard any local refer to it as such. Created by a dam, it is supplied with water from the Shasta River and Carrick Creek using the runoff from the Eddy Mountains. In a normal year the lake is down to about 2/3 pool just before the opener, and slowly fills throughout the duck season. By doing that it allows for good duck food to grow in the moist soil area around the west side of the impoundment., then, as the water level rises, it creates vast areas of perfect feeding zones with very shallow water and abundant food. This in turn helps to hold large numbers of birds throughout the entire season. That happens about half the time, less so if there are drought type conditions, or an over-abundance of rain and snow during the winter months, but that slow filling is what us local duck hunters always prayed for.

At full pool the lake’s maximum depth is somewhere around seventy feet near the dam. The rest of the lake is fairly shallow with the deepest spots in the river/creek channels in the middle of the many coves. For the most part the water gets deep very slowly as you move out from shore, the exception being on the north side of the impoundment where lies the old Shasta River channel. I have walked off shore for nearly a hundred and fifty yards in some places and not been more than waist deep. The most dangerous aspect of this body of water is the wind, which can go from dead calm to forty miles an hour in a very short time. My wife was always leery of me sculling here because of that. I understood her concerns as low profile boats propelled by oar power only do not do well in windy conditions. I always watched the weather like a hawk, and I assured her that if I was ever caught in the wind, and away from the boat ramp, I would simply pull the boat up on the nearest shoreline and either wait it out, or walk out and return for the it later. I never had to exercise that option, but I would not have hesitated to do so.

For the decoy hunter Shastina was nice in the fact that the bottom was almost universally hard, and thereby made for easy walking, but it was challenging because there was no cover along the shore in which to hide. A layout blind worked well, stand up blinds to a lesser extent. Just under the water along the south side of the east side of the lake at full pool, or exposed during low water times, were a multitude of stumps. At certain water depths these exposed stumps made for great cover when sculling. One thing hidden under the water, and only ever visible during extreme low periods, were the remains of an old milk house. I remember one year, when the water was very low, the milk house was exposed, but the waterline was right near the base of what was left. I hunted it then with a couple of friends, and we actually used the remains as our blind, and even killed a few birds. I never saw the water that low again, although I’m certain this summer it was at that point (2021), but that one day was a memory maker for no other reason than we got to do something once, that we were never able to do again.

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There was only one public boat ramp at Shastina, and it was located at the south end of the lake. It was actually in a horrible location because when there was a south wind, and there was quite often, the waves would run straight onto the ramp, and either loading, or unloading a boat, would become impossible. At the east end of the lake, by the golf course, there was another ramp, but it was nearly always gated off, and I believe you had to own property in the Lake Shastina subdivision in order to use it. Across the lake, on the north shore, and just west of the golf course ramp, was another place you could launch a boat. The water was normally below what was left of the pavement of that ramp, but you could simply continue backing down to the actual shoreline and launch a small boat that way. That ramp was always gated off. Property owners in the subdivision were issued keys, and that was the only way to get through the gate to use that area. Although I was not a property owner, I may or may not have had a key to that gate, and that may still be the case…I can neither confirm, nor deny.

I didn’t often hunt over decoys at Lake Shastina, but I have done so, and have come away with a good many great days. When I did I most often hunted in Okie Cove, which was just on the backside of the hill next to the public ramp. A layout blind near the shore, three to four dozen decoys within fifteen feet of the edge of the water, and a twenty mile an hour south wind was almost a guaranteed limit every time. The other place I’d set decoys was in the Carrick Creek cove as the water was coming up and the center of the cove was just a shallow, narrow band of water. You had to hit that just right though as the rising water would only give you a week or two where the levels were just right.

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For me, where Shastina shined was as a lake in which to scull. Irregular shoreline, coves, ducks feeding in shallow water near shore, and a few islands, all made for a wonderful place in which to sneak the boat close to ducks and geese. On calm, warm days, after a storm, ducks would raft up in the open, tuck their heads under their wings, and go to sleep. This made for horrible decoy hunting, but for a guy in a scull boat it was pure heaven. I learned how to scull on this lake, refined it elsewhere, and then came back and turned it into an art form. I cannot remember a day where I went out here, and the wind allowed me to get in a full hunt, where I did not come away with a limit of ducks, and often times I added a limit of honkers. I took many people out for their first scull on Shastina, and I cannot begin to fathom the number of birds I killed there.

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Lake Shastina, one of the absolute treasures of my life.
 

Mean Gene

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Irongate Reservoir

Up past Hornbrook, a ways up the Klamath River, there’s a fairly large body of water called Irongate Reservoir. Before the dewatering of the Lower Klamath Reguge, Irongate would hold thousands of waterfowl during duck season. There were always puddle ducks there before the season started, and once mid-November rolled around you could count on the diver ducks to start showing up. What really loaded up the lake was when Lower Klamath started to freeze and the birds there were forced off the shallow water ponds. When that happened the ducks would come over Goosenest Mountain and take up residence at Irongate, as well as the next impoundment upstream which was Copco Lake.

Formed by a dam on the Klamath River, Irongate Reservoir was full of trout, bass, perch and crappie, and provided both wintering and nesting habitat for many kinds of migratory and resident waterfowl. There were many well known spots on this lake, such as Camp Creek, Jenny Creek, Fall Creek and Long Gulch, but there were many, many more with no names: known by a few, and in order to preserve their solitude, spoken of by none. Access to the north side of the lake was excellent as there was a paved road that ran the length of the reservoir, while the south side was a boat in proposition. The lake itself wasn’t very wide, perhaps a half a mile at most, but there were both long and short coves scattered generously throughout, and those provided the knowledgeable hunter with a multitude of places to sit and ply their trade. These days it has become a yearly duck desert, but even during its’ heyday it was never so crowded that you couldn’t find a place to be alone.


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The terrain was classic Northeastern California: hills covered by junipers and sage, and water surrounded by grass and tule patches. A time or two I have seen Irongate frozen over, but those periods were short lived, and even during the coldest time the far upper end of the lake around Fall Creek was always open to some degree. I don’t believe I ever saw a time when it was unhuntable. Depending on where I was going to hunt, the drive to get here took between one half, and three quarters of an hour. There were four good boat ramps on the lake, and the walk-in hunter could park most anywhere along the north road and just bail over the edge. As good as the decoy hunting was here for me, the scull boat hunting was even better as the irregular shoreline and tight coves made for excellent places in which to sneak close to resting or feeding ducks. Additionally there I have killed many, many birds by jump shooting, although with the somewhat sparse cover along the shore that was without doubt the hardest way to hunt it.

For whatever reason, the areas immediately adjacent to the boat ramps tended to be duck magnets, and I have killed untold numbers of limits nearly within spitting distance of all four, but there were walk-in spots that could far outshine those places. At the bottom of the picture at the beginning of this story, if you follow your eyes down to the water, you’ll see a dark green tree. Just past that is a small point of land that is not a thing that would stand out to most. But, for those of us who knew, that point, under the right conditions, was absolutely dynamite for divers. The problem was that unless you could boat into it, you had to park off the road above and skid your gear down the hill with flat bottom sleds. You would also then need a float tube to set the decoys off shore more than fifteen feet as the water dropped off there, and very quickly was over your head. At that spot I may have come closer to dying while hunting ducks than at any other time in my life, and didn’t even know it. A friend and I hunted it one day, each of us making two trips down the two hundred yards of slope to the water to get gear to the blind site. At the end of the day we each made two trips back up the hill dragging that same gear, as well as the two limits of ducks we killed. At the top of the hill, after my second trip up with the last of my gear, I was standing there resting, and out of breath. A friend from the power company drove by and stopped to see how we had done, and while I was talking to him he said, “You look kind of pale.” I explained I hadn’t been feeling up to par but not bad enough to not go hunting. Well, unbeknownst to me I was bleeding out internally, which may have been why I was so pale and out of breath. When I was even worse the next day, and couldn’t walk fifty feet on flat ground without nearly collapsing, my wife stuffed me in the car and took me to the hospital where I became a guest in the ICU for the next three days. Evidently I had lost over half my blood supply, and apparently that’s not an optimal situation, but hey, it was duck season, and that doesn’t last forever, so you have to go when you can.


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Irongate Reservoir was never a “classic” duck hole. There were no wind swept grassy flats, there were no clouds of mallards descending from the sky, there was no real marsh area; but for a guy like me, who had a full tool box, and enjoyed a variety of methods, it was a wonderful place to spend time. Sadly, if the current plan to remove the dams which form that lake and three others, comes to fruition, Irongate Reservoir will be nothing but a distant memory. To those who fantasize about the return of salmon runs in a river which even without the dams no longer holds flows to provide the water needed, the destruction of Irongate will be a thing to rejoice about. But for those of us who spent years on that body of water both hunting and fishing, that will be a day of complete sorrow. However, rather than think about the future that may be, I will instead remember the wonderful times of the past that once was.
 

Rangerbob

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The Last Day of the Last Season


By: Caller
2000

The Sheriff read the sign on the post at the entrance, "Quack and Shoot Duck Club and Farms, No Trespassing," as he turned into the lane. He recalled he had been here once before, ten years ago or so, he was still a Deputy then. He had responded to a call for assistance when one of the elderly members had suffered a heart attack.
There was four or five pick up trucks parked in front of the house as he pulled to a stop. He recognized all of the people standing in the small group talking. They were farmers who lived in the surrounding area. As he exited his vehicle Steve Deckard who owned the adjacent property approached him. Steve related to the Sheriff that he had come to investigate if anything was wrong when Shilo the chocolate lab of the owner came to his house and began to howl. Steve went onto tell the Sheriff that the dog and him had become friends in the past few years when he took over the farming lease at Quack and Shoot. He knew something was wrong because the dog never left area of the house without his owner. He had followed the dog to the duck marsh and found the owner in the duck blind. The owner had apparently died from a heart attack he thought.
The Sheriff peered into the blind and saw the body of an elderly man sitting in an upright position leaning against the wall of the far end of the blind. As he entered the blind he saw for dead mallard drakes hung neatly in a row on the wall next to the man. There was a Model twelve-shotgun leaning in the gun rack on the front of the blind with the breech open. He checked for a pulse and could detect none. The man was deceased as Mr. Deckard had stated. The Sheriff noticed a worn envelope protruding from the breast pocket of the mans hunting coat. Upon removing the envelope and opening it he read the contents of the letter inside.
It read:
To whom it may concern,
If you are reading this letter then you know I have enjoyed the last day of the last season of my life.
As the sole survivor of rights to the Quack and Shoot Duck club and Farm I request that you do the following:
Contact my attorney I.M. De Mann, In Sulfur Springs, Texas. As I have no living family.
He has specific instructions as to how to handle my last affairs.
Would you also take my dog Shilo to my neighbor Steve Deckard, they have become pals of sorts and I am certain Mr. Deckard will enjoy Shilo's company. Even though he says, Shilo is the wrong color.
Please close up the house and lock the gate when you have removed my remains. I will not be back to hunt in the marsh that I have loved for so many years. I have gone to hunt ducks with those friends who proceeded me in death.
Thank You
Gus Brown
Two weeks later as Steve was checking fence he saw the small airplane circle the distant marsh. He had observed this site before, nine times before, when each of the members and owners of Quack and Shoot had died. The plane would circle drop down over the marsh and distribute the ashes or some personal item of the deceased into the marsh. Steve reached down and patted the head of Shilo as the dog watched the plane descend over the marsh. Steve felt the warmth of a tear trickle down his cheek. He knew it was more for the dog than the man who had left him behind. He had not known Gus Brown well. They had met for the first time when Gus moved to the duck club four years ago.
Gus had come to Steve's house one evening and inquired if Steve would be interested in farming the club. Gus had Shilo with him that evening and Steve recalled the little brown dog was just a weanling puppy then. They had made their arrangements and he only saw Gus when he would stop at Gus' house to drop off a check or tell him that all the crops were in. Gus had stayed to himself after moving in. Gus had always invited Steve to come and hunt with him. Steve had always said he would, but just never seemed to find the time to go. There was always work to do on the farm.
Steve found himself with three strangers in Mr. De Mann's office. He was there in response to a letter he received requesting him to be present at the reading of the last will and testament of Mr. Brown. Steve listened as the will was read. He thought that he would receive ownership of Shilo formally and that would be it. Maybe there would be some stipulation regarding his continued farming of the club. Why else would he be summoned for the reading? He had thought.
He listened as hundreds of thousands of dollars were left to Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl. He didn't quite understand the legal vocabulary, but he got the drift of it. Those hundreds of thousands actually added up to millions by the time all the annuities had run their courses.
Then suddenly he heard his name being read. Mr. DeMann read that Shilo's ownership would be transferred to Steve, as he had guessed. Then he heard the most stunning news. He would be left the Quack and Shoot Duck Club and Farm in its entirety with two stipulations.
1. Any profits from farming the property would be shared on an annual basis with Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl. They were each to receive an equal share of the profits.
2. That Mr. Deckard was to purchase a duck call and learn how to call ducks. He was then on each Saturday morning of every succeeding duck season as long as he lived to take a different young man between the ages of 12 and 20 duck hunting on the property. That way Mr. Brown would insure that Shilo would get to hunt as long as he was able. It would further insure that Mr. Deckard would now find the time to accept the invitation to duck hunt that had been offered to him on so many previous occasions.
During the continued reading of the will Steve found out that Mr. Brown had been an orphan and the institution he had known as home would receive a large endowment if they furnished Mr. Deckard young men and boys to take hunting. Mr. Brown had spelled it out for them it would be a joint partnership between the heirs of his estate. D.U. and Delta would continue to propagate ducks, Deckard would learn to hunt them and the Orphanage would furnish the opportunity for new duck hunters to become exposed to what Mr. Brown had made into the passion of his life.
When Steve arrived home he explained to his wife and girls what had transpired at the reading of the will. He summed it up to them recalling the letter the Sheriff found the day Mr. Brown died. "Girls I guess I have become a duck hunter till the last day of the last season of my life."
As time passed so did Shilo. Steve continued to take young men duck hunting each Saturday morning. He found that he enjoyed the experiences with each of the young men. He reformed the club that had once been so active. The new members, however, had to each comply with the most important rule of the club. Each Saturday morning each member must take a young man or boy hunting. He had them sign a contract to that effect.

In his own way Steve perpetuated the dream of his benefactor. There would always be another duck hunter who would be there to hunt till the last day of the last season.
Caller
------------------
Call em Down!
I am Steve Deckard and I approve this story
Rangerbob
 

Aunt Betty

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That night we got attacked by a beaver.
I camp on a levee sort of.
Lake on one side. WMA on the other.
One year I set up and couldn't not smell all the beaver castor smell they obviously were using my camp to go over the levee.
One night a blind beaver kept running into the side of my tent. Milo went berserk until I opened the door and let him run a beaver off.
Not much of a story but there you go.
 

Mean Gene

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The world of waterfowling is often filled with hardships that must be undertaken in order to have a successful outing. Many times you must crawl out of bed long before the sunrise in order to arrive at your spot with enough time to get set up before the birds start to fly. Often this will be done when the weather is far less than optimal. At times you’ll have to hike in to your spot in the darkness, over uneven terrain, with only a headlamp for light. When you get to where you need to be you are often greeting by mud that tries to suck the ankles off your legs with every step. Sometimes you are alone in this endeavor, while other times you have a partner to assist. When hunting alone you are normally comfortable with what you have when you finally settle into the blind. When hunting with someone else you may have to do much more preplanning, especially if that person is a youth. I spent many days in the blind with my daughter Sarah, and of all the preplanning to be done, there was only one real rule that was never to be broken: don’t forget the snacks.

When we lived in Yreka, the Klamath River was one of my favorite spots to chase waterfowl. As with any body of water some spots were better than others. The good public spots were known to many, so I was always in search of places to go on the river that offered both good hunting and no people. I had a few of those, and normally did well, but the golden calf of spots, were normally on private ground. I found one of those one day while scouting, and in a round-about way I was granted access to it. With only three days of the season left I determined I would hunt it each day. The first two days were very good, and I killed my limit of ducks quickly. On each of those days, once I had my limit of birds, I picked up and left as quickly as possible in order to allow the birds who had not yet arrived a place in which to enjoy their day. I knew if I did that they would return the following day unaware of what was waiting. Those two days I hunted alone, but the third day, the very last of the season, I brought Sarah along to hunt with me.

In order to access the spot in which we would hunt, we had to skid our marsh boats down a short, but steep incline, load our gear, and row across the river to where we could set up under the willows. The current was easy, and the boats very stable, so there was no real danger in that. We did all that in the pre-dawn darkness, and while Sarah set up and brushed the blind frame, I set up the decoys. At the first hint of light we had settled into the blind and were drinking coffee. As shooting time arrived we had birds working up and down the river over the decoys. This particular day was a bit slower than the previous two, but there was enough activity to keep us occupied. There had been a very good number of widgeon frequenting our spot, but the bulk of them normally came in around 11:00. As the morning progressed, we picked away at goldeneyes, buffleheads, an occasional widgeon and redheads. Around 9:30 it got slow, which I expected, but by then we only needed three birds to finish our two person limit: and that’s when it started.

Slowness means boredom, and boredom means hunger. It was at this point that Sarah said, “Hey dad, what did you bring for snacks?” I opened the blind bag to dig something out, and suddenly realized the answer to that question was, “Nothing.”

Uh oh.

As I turned to her with that “deer in the headlights” look, we both knew this was bad. Really bad. Sarah wanted snacks. Now. RIGHT NOW! I tried to talk to her about how I was sure we’d be done soon, and just to hang on a bit longer. For some, that would work, but my beautiful daughter has the patients of an A.D.D. hyena. Immediately she got quiet and her face turned to the “I’m going to drown you” look, but I held fast. After all, this was the last day of the season, and we were only three ducks short of our limits, so why would any sane person just pick up and leave? At approximately 10:15 she said matter of fact, “Dad, I want to leave.” In those days, when she said something like that, it was not a request, it was a command. I talked hard and convinced her that if we gave it a bit longer we would go no matter what. At 10:30 she reiterated her desire to no longer be sitting on the river bank. I argued for just a bit more time. She said, “Okay, but at 11:00 we are done.” When arguing with Sarah you take what small victories you can, so I agreed.

At 10:45 a widgeon came in, circled low, and I shot it. Instead of falling into the water where the dog could easily get it, the duck was kind enough to fall into a thicket of blackberries. I told the dog to go get it, and she looked at me like I was insane, so into the briars I went. I found the bird, and only lost about a pint of blood from the cuts. At 10:50 another duck came in, circled, and I shot it. This one did not go into the thorns. Instead it fell and wedged into the fork of a tree branch about ten feet off the ground. I solved this dilemma by finding a long branch and nudging the bird until it fell into the oak leaves below. We then needed one more to fill the limits. At promptly 11;00 Sarah stood up and Said, “It’s time to go.” Well, a deal is a deal, so we got out of the blind. I told her to hold her gun while I picked up the decoys, and maybe another bird would come in. As I picked up one of the last decoys in front of me, a lone drake bufflehead came screaming up the river, and flew straight at us and the remaining six decoys. Sarah raised her gun, and waited until the duck was almost flying down her barrel, then pulled the trigger and dropped him ten yards away. Success! She was benevolent enough to allow for a picture before we headed back across the river. I remember that year not only for that hunt, but also the fact that in that season she killed the first duck, and the last.

And never again did I forget the snacks.
 

Mean Gene

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Fall Creek

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Although it lies many miles away, Fall Creek is the water supply for the town of Yreka. It’s crystal clear water flows into the head of Irongate Reservoir just down from Irongate Dam. This entire area is referred to by local duck hunters as simply Fall Creek. The name of the reservoir does not need to be mentioned, you automatically know where it is. Approximately two hundred and fifty yards south of that, and on the opposite side of this narrow portion of Irongate, the water gets shallow for about one hundred yards, and in normal years is bordered by tule patches. I have no idea what others may call the shallow area, but I always referred to it as The Flats.

Right where Fall Creek comes in there is a nice concrete boat ramp. It’s not large, perhaps twenty-five feet wide, but it’s perfect for launching a small craft, such as one of my marsh boats. Once gear is offloaded there is ample room to park your truck and still have it hidden by the willow trees on either side of the launch. Another wonderful feature of this ramp is the porta potti that’s always there and available. That may not seem like much to some, but it’s quite important at times: especially after a forty-five minute early morning drive while drinking coffee and eating a greasy breakfast burrito.

I had many ways to hunt Fall Creek. I could launch the marsh boat and go down and across to hunt the flats to set decoys for a variety of ducks, or I could go up and across and hunt the narrows and expect to shoot all divers, I could launch my scull boat and spend all my time in a four to five hundred yard long space and rest assured of killing a limit of ducks, or I could simply stand or sit on the downstream side of the creek entrance and pass shoot divers. I have hunted all of these ways, and seemingly always did well.

Turning up toward the dam, and into the narrows, was a late season diver hunting tactic. Here the water was deeper, perhaps 10 feet or more, so the decoys would require a much longer anchor line. The decoys were set near the middle of the slot, which was only about 50 yards wide, and then the marsh boat would be rowed to the east side, almost straight across from the mouth of the creek, and would be tucked into the tules. The boat itself was set up to act as a sort of layout blind, so I never really got out of it. The dog would lay down in the boat behind me and only get out to retrieve downed birds. This hunt only took place from the first part of December on, and all you were ever really going to shoot were buffleheads, goldeneyes and the occasional bluebill, but it was a very fun hunt. Your only real issue here was the cold you were hunting in. It was a fairly wet hunt, so I was always careful to not get the gun wet if I could help it. If you got water on the gun’s action, you could rest assured it would instantly turn to ice, and you’d be cupping your hands and blowing warm air on it to get it thawed.
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To hunt the flats, you brought along a large Jet Sled, loaded it with decoys, tied it to the back of the marsh boat, and floated it along behind you as you moved to the other side of the reservoir. In the pre-dawn hours, I would paddle across until I was within 20 yards of shore, then I’d slowly move down along the tule patches until I found my favorite hole, then nose the boat into the shore. I’d untie the Jet Sled and slide it onto the shore so it couldn’t go anywhere, then I’d turn the marsh boat around and drag it butt first onto the shore until the nose was just out into the water, but I had good tule cover on either side. I’d then float the sled out until I was about knee deep, and start setting decoys. Once the decoys were out I’d drag the sled onshore and around behind the tules to hide it. This too was normally a diver hunt late in the year, but you nearly always had at least a few chances at puddle ducks. When hunting the flats I also had the option of bringing a stool with me and setting it up in the tules so I could sit on it instead. Whether I hunted from the boat, or from the stool, had no real rhyme or reason, it was more how I felt that particular day.


I hunted out of the scull boat here a great many days. The road coming into the launch ramp was elevated above the water by fifty feet, so before I actually went down to the ramp, I would pull over and carefully glass the entire area. By doing this I could make a mental map of both where the ducks were, and what kind of ducks were present. Once in the water I could turn north toward the dam, and sneak my way into the narrows. I normally started this way, although at times the current made it challenging to move forward at any decent rate. By starting in this direction I could often get a bird or two, and the ducks down in the flats, who had seen me come in, would forget about me by the time I started back down that way. Hunting the more open area of the flats, I would just glass until I located targets, then attempt a pursuit. I don’t believe I ever did this without taking a limit of ducks home with me.

Sitting, or standing, on the shore near where Fall Creek entered Irongate was pretty much a lazy man’s game, but I wasn’t above that sort of thing, and indulged in it on more than one occasion. All you needed to do here was be next to the willows and wait for something to fly up or down through the narrows. It might not be “traditional” style duck hunting, but there’s worse ways to spend the day.

The thing I liked most about Fall Creek was the solitude. I hunted that place for well over 20 years, mostly on weekdays, and not once did I ever have anybody anywhere near me. Ever. I may not have been chasing the premier species of waterfowl there, but it was as close to a private hunt zone, while still on public water, as I have ever come. In my book that’s worth its’ weight in gold. These days the Fall Creek area is often devoid of ducks. It’s been that way for years, ever since the flyway changed, but in my mind it’ll always be just the way I left it.
 

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