Monday, December 26, 2011

One Last Widgeon

The day after Christmas I had planned a duck hunt with my friend Josh, and then he informed me that an old hunting buddy of ours, Todd, was in town from Utah, so that made it final. We got up early in the morning and headed out to the river to set up the decoys hoping that the wind would not be blowing this week. The forecast was calling for a high pressure system to move into Arizona creating deep blue skies, and a gentle morning breeze, not exactly good duck hunting weather. As the sun started to make its presence know, it was apparent that birds would not be moving near as often as usual. Birds that we did see have been in the area for quite some time, in that they were more decoy shy, aka, educated than in previous weeks. Fortunately Todd was able to capitalize on a high flying Ringneck drake early in the day to avoid being skunked.

Todd with Ringnecks

Pair of Drake Ringnecks
After some time with no birds flying Josh decided to go see if he could jump shoot some birds down river from us. Some time later we heard several rounds of shooting, hoping that Josh had connected on some birds, I said maybe some will come our way. We prepared for ducks to arrive, but they never did. Josh returned back to the blind to tell us he had dropped a pair of Ringnecks. As the sun started to heat up the desert we decided to head for home, I thought I need some good pictures to post on the blog and we have an extra now to take them. So we packed the decoys into their bags and proceeded to take some pictures.
Whos Standing in a Hole

Is that A Duck Coming in
Having hunted ducks for many years now. I sat my gun to the side in a safe location, but still ready to go. We took several pictures when 10 plus ducks appeared down river. A quick dash to the gun then two steps to the river and I was good to go. As soon as we were set, one of the birds cupped up and committed to the duck hole. This bird was on a wire, and as I whispered don’t shoot, don’t shoot; I could see it was a nice drake widgeon. I won’t claim to be trying to get this duck solely for me, but funny enough that is how it worked out. As I went to call the shot it saw me move, it flared, I fired and the pictures tell the rest. This bird is a beautiful bird and will probably end up mounted on the wall as well as the dinner table. In the end it was a great day hanging out with friends and hunting ducks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Water Fowling with my Son

As a young boy I remember some of my first duck hunting trips were with a friend whose older brother had a dozen decoys. At age fourteen we would catch a ride from his mother out to his grandma's house. From there it was a mile walk down to a farm pond were we would set the decoys and wait for the occasional visitor to the pond to drop in and feed. We never had anyone show us how to shoot at moving birds, so if the ducks didn't land on the water we came home empty handed.

I had a chance this Saturday to take one of my twin boys out hunting with me, and the two of us had a chance to shoot at ducks. He had gone out twice before but the hunting was poor. After some of the success I've had this year he wanted to come out with me, and I readily agreed. We set our decoys out on the water and as the sun came up, the ducks started to slowly move. We had a duck come into the decoys early that provided him his first duck in his life. About a half hour later he downed his second duck, I sat there and thought at fourteen I would have been so excited to have two ducks in one day. As the morning wore on the wind picked up so we moved to a different spot on the river.

A lot of ducks for hunting with someone who had never harvested one before
Once we settled into the new spot had about an hour left, so we put out two decoys in the small pond and took a seat and waited. It wasn't long before a flock came by and he dropped #3, shortly after #4 went down, followed by #5. At this point I had stopped giving him all the easy shots and put him on a level playing field with me, birds came in I called the shot and we let it fly. As we were about to leave a flock landed down river from us, I told him we would wait and see if they came up river toward us, after about ten minutes something spooked them and up the river the came I told my son to shoot. He fired one shot at the lead bird and it and the bird directly behind it crumpled and hit the water. Wow! What a way to end the day a double on a single shot and a limit of birds to boot. He is off to a great start in water fowling, and I look forward to many more days hunting with my son.

My Son and Me
(P.S. see this photo on Rig' Em Rights Fan Photos on facebook and Like)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Perfect Fall Day for Duck Hunting

Perfect Fall Day
 I was reading a story the other day on Mysteries Internal Worth One Thousand Words; or, Life Abbreviated. (great read) and thought about how good story telling affects each reader differently. It gives us the chance to paint our own pictures from the experiences that each of us has been through. Unlike Erin, I am not the best story teller so I like to combine photos with my stories. The photo above represents a snapshot of my hunting experience from Saturday morning. I have been asked why I like to hunt ducks, there are many reasons for this, but mostly I enjoy being outdoors, on the water, and I’m definitely a morning person.

This morning found me up hiking in the dark before the sun came up. I was excited about the day and left the house earlier than normal. The air was cold for the desert, lining the cactus with a thin layer of frost. A cold front had just blown through the state and I was hoping it had brought ducks with it. The work of setting up decoys in the predawn was keeping me warm, and as I neared the end of my task I noticed some small snow crystals floating in the headlamps light. Once the decoys were placed and I had settled into the cattails. I checked the clock, twenty minutes till shooting light. Sitting on the edge of the water motionless, the cold started to creep in through my hands and face. The first rays of light started to appear I heard a flock of divers coming down from the lake, the wind of their wings like the sound of a distant jet as they passed over me. After another ten minutes it was time to shoot, and right on cue a flock swung past the decoys, after a single call, they turned around and cupped there wings committing to the decoys. I knew after firing two shots it would be a special morning as two drakes hit the water.

Desert Duck Hunting
After an hour of exciting calling and shooting, I had one bird left to reach my limit. I sat there and just listened to the sounds around me and noticing the display of colors as the clouds broke up the suns rays. The leaves on the cottonwoods had begun to turn a brilliant yellow. The tamarisks had taken on the orange of winter and the cattails were a transitory green tan. This mixed with patches of deep blue sky and heavy gray clouds made the river a beautiful location to be. This is something even with pictures and words that should still be experienced by everyone. It does not matter if it is with a shotgun or fly rod in hand, or from a bicycle or hiking boots. Being outdoors at these magical times of the day and seasons are what recharge us, the activity is just the excuse to get there.
Limit of Divers

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Afternoon Walk

I had a few hours Tuesday before thanksgiving and thought I might as well spend that time hunting ducks,instead of doing chores around the house. So off to the river I went to try walking around and doing some jump shooting. It has been my experience that the ducks on the river don't move around much in the afternoons. I walked into my favorite hole and found some ducks sitting there, three shots two ducks, good start. I continued walking on for another hour until out of a thick stand of trees I jumped a small 2 point muley, he bounded off about 40 yards, then stared me down until I moved on. As I moved on along the river I shot a several ducks with not much success, As it was getting late I circled back to my starting point where I shot the two ducks. To my surprise there were ducks in the hole again. After a short stalk to the waters edge the ducks jumped with the same results, three shots two birds. This made for a great way to spend and evening

Afternoon Walk

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Suprising Start to the Duck Season

When I was a teenager I always knew I would live close to rivers and marshes where I love to explore, hunt and fish. Time and life have a funny way of changing youthful dreams. I have lived the last 20 plus years in one of the drier states there is. The desert is a beautiful place to live and contrary to popular believe there is water here. The Salt River has a series of four dams that store water for the use of the greater Phoenix Valley. This water combined with mild temperatures then provides the end of the line for many ducks migrating south for the winter. Two weeks after the season opener and higher than normal temperatures (i.e. 100 plus Fahrenheit), and more importantly, early morning soccer games, I finally had a chance to get out and hunt ducks. I am usually very good about having everything prepped and ready to go weeks in advance, not so this year. So late at night I rigged decoys packed bags looked for shells until late into the night. All of this was done thinking that the weather and water levels would make for a not so good hunt.
Morning arrived and we headed to the river for the start of the 2011 duck season. As we pulled up to the parking spot, there were already three cars parked. I hoped that they were there to fish, but as we got closer to the river, it was apparent they already had a spread of decoys in the water and were ready to go. I have hunted the river for a lot of years and have plan B and C always ready to go. So plan B was a small spread of 9 decoys, and then wait for the ducks to be pushed in front of us for pass shooting.  As shooting light arrived it was obvious I had made the right call on plan B, ducks came into the first parties decoys, shots were fired the ducks retreated back up the river to us and I shot the first duck of the season at about 15 yds. I thought this is a great start to the season but that ended up being the best action of the morning. I dropped one teal across the river after that and my hunting buddy Josh missed an easy one I sent his way. As the sun came up the temperature did too and we cleaned up the decoys and called it a day.
Packing up gear I told Josh I would be heading down river to scout a few other spots that can be productive ,so we split up and I headed down the river a couple of miles. The lower section had even more hunters there, I don’t recall a year when there where so many people hunting the river. Scouting along the river I carried my gun in hopes of possibly jump shooting a few more ducks. Heading across river through a large stand of cattail I was not disappointed when a teal flushed in front of me giving me a great shot which I took advantage of. Upon retrieval of the bird I was shocked to find out I had just harvested my first Blue Wing Teal. I have hunted ducks for 30 years and have only seen a hand full of them, all of which was well before the season opener. This is one of the joys of being outdoors, the unknown adventure that stirs the soul and imagination to reveal new secrets on every outing no matter what our experience level.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall Break Part III

They next day we got up and headed out for the day my twin boys had been waiting for, squirrel hunting with their 22’s. The excitement they had was interesting to witness they don’t typically get too excited about going out to hunt anything but this was different. As we drove down the dirt road toward Winslow AZ. Looking for a good spot we finally saw a small canyon with heavy stands of pine trees in it. I wondered if we would really see any squirrels at all not knowing the area that well. As the boys loaded clips to put in the 22’s I heard a squirrel calling just below us, then saw him scamper across a log. From that moment on it was four hours of nonstop hunting, stalking, shooting and a few squirrels put in the game bag. Everyone took plenty of shots, everyone got a squirrel, and we all had a great time.

If you want to get your kids out on a hunt that is fun, has plenty of challenge mixed with great odds of success, you may want to try out squirrel hunting.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall Break Part II

Canyon Creek
On day two of our campout we decided to head over to Canyon Creek to try our fishing luck there. The reports that I had received from several people had said fishing was tough with the water flowing low and crystal clear. As we drove into the canyon I wondered why I hadn’t made the trip before, it is not your typical rim canyon with narrow walls and tight fishing quarters, and it was opened with a creek running slow down the center off the valley. There are several open meadows throughout the canyon definitely a place I will revisit.

Canyon Creek Riffle

OW Ranch

The Start of Fall in Rim Country
We unloaded all the fishing gear and rigged up poles to fish. My twin boys were not as excited to fish and took off just to explore the canyon and see what was around. My oldest and I made our plans and hit the river. The reports I had received proved true and fishing was extremely difficult. I saw only three small trout the whole morning and recived zero intrest in any flies that I sent their way. After a while we called it quits and fish some where else. I found Canyon creek to be challenging, I haven’t been shut down like that in a long time, not sure if it was the day I was there or the season. I will be back next spring and would like to head out with someone who has fished it to learn a little more. Overall we had a good second day in the mountains.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall Break Part I

Small but Feisty
With school out for fall break, it seemed only logical to head to rim country with my kids for a few days of camping, fishing, and hunting. We left mid-day and headed up to Payson to start with a little bit of fishing. We started with Tonto Creek just east of town. This is a heavily fished creek due to easy access and that it’s heavily stocked all summer long. We had the stream mostly to ourselves seeing only two other people fishing. The fishing was slow with only a few small bows feeding. All of these fish where caught in the shallow riffles.

More of the Same

Small Frye


We had a good time and my oldest boy caught the most fish by far. The pheasant tail nymph continued to be the fly for Tonto creek. The big pools where the stocked fish hang out were all empty making it tough on my younger kids, but they still had fun. After an afternoon of fishing we headed to camp for some food and relaxation around the fire. That night we fell asleep to the sounds of coyotes howling and elk calling.
(to be continued)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tonto Quail

Desert Canyon at Sunrise
It has been awhile since the last post due to a packed fall break. So I am going to start with quail hunting on Saturday the 8th. After the previous weekends shut out we went to a completely different location, one of the nice things about Tonto forest is there are thousands of good places to hunt quail. We picked a canyon off the side of a busy dirt road at sunrise and started to hear quail calling right out of the car. A few hundred yards later the first quail flushed, I mounted the gun, took a shot, and the bird went down. My friend Josh yelled great shot; nope he's running on the ground. After a 10 min search through the cholla, we lost that bird. This left me wondering if I was in for a repeat of last week’s hunt. We moved on up the canyon and heard several more quail, but never saw any of them. After looping around the backside and coming down another canyon we split up to cover more ground. I continued to hear birds and jumped two more both of which I missed.
The Prickly Stuff

After an hour of this I hooked up with Josh to plan what are next move would be. He had ended the streak by getting the first bird of the season, and this showed some promise. We talked, planned and then set out through some flatter country. We both felt that the quail were holding very tight in the cactus and we needed to slow down and take our time. After a short walk we thought we heard one move in some brush, we moved around the brush for 30 to 40 seconds when the bird finally got nervous enough to make a break for it, 2nd quail down. We tried this again only 40 yards from there and bird up, shot bird down. This time I wasted no effort in racing in on the downed bird and actually found this one on the ground. Finally I felt the relief of getting the season started.

First Quail of the Year
We did this for another half hour but the sun was really starting to get hot. We managed to get one more bird out of the morning, but we have figured this area out for the early season. A lot of the birds where in small coveys and were holding very tight. Good luck to all who head out to hunt.
Quail Country

Mornings Harvest

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

0-1 Quail Opener

Only Picture from Quail Hunt
 The quail season opened up this weekend, and it started out with a big goose egg. At first light we hit one of my favorite spots, always a productive location. I should have known it would be a rough morning, when after just one picture the camera flashed low battery unable to process picture. So putting the camera aside I continued hunting the washes with my boys, and Josh and his son. We put in almost two hours of hiking without seeing a single bird. This is a wash that typically we are able to find three or four large coveys. After several miles we jumped a rooster and a hen, I knocked the rooster down, but missed the hen. When I went to retrieve the rooster all I found was a long line of feathers and no bird. That was all the action we had for the opener slow start to the season. This weekend I will have the camera charged, and I will find some birds.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Outdoor Kids

Outdoor Kids
 Just received my copy of "Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids: A Guide to Getting Your Kids Active in the Great Outdoors (Fox Chapel Publishing, September 1, 2011)" The book was sent to me through the Gear Review Opportunity at the Outdoor Blogger Network. I have already started reading this book, and hope to write the review in 2 weeks, with the open of quail season two days away,free time becomes a precious commodity.

It's Tuesday Night Again

At The Table
Well Tuesday night has come again and I headed down to Bass Pro Shops in Mesa for the monthly fly tying class. Just walking into the store feels like you are heading into the great outdoors, specially here in the desert were the temperatures bake everything. As you enter the fly shop in the back corner of the store it is separated from the main floor by a another door and a transition from concrete to wood floors. This makes for a quiet and secluded location to tie flies. The table we sit at holds six people which makes it a friendly environment helping the discussions flow freely. As always we talk more than we tie almost like a good card game, but I always seem to learn some new technique to use in my fly tying. This Tuesday was no different, it challenged my fat fingers to no end. I have tied 100's of flies that I use regularly like the Elk Hair Caddis, Pheasant Tail nymph, Hares Ear nymph, Leaches, and AZ Wanderings Mini-Hopper. Never have I thought of fishing a damsel fly let alone tying one, but we tackled that fly tonight. It was interesting to learn how it is done and then but those practices into motion. There is one thing for sure, my fly tying is getting a lot better by tying with others in a group atmosphere.

1st Damsel Fly

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids

I would like to thank Fox Chapel Publishing for a great oppurtunity to read "A book by award-winning author Eugene Buchanan" "Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids: A Guide to Getting Your Kids Active in the Great Outdoors (Fox Chapel Publishing, September 1, 2011)" This oppurtunity was offered by the good folks at the Outdoor Blogger Network. I will be reading this and then writting up a review for all. If you haven't been on Outdoor Blogger Network, go there to find so fantastic blogs on all of the great outdoors, (Just click link on side bar). Also check out all of the offerings from Fox Chapel Publishing at there website. I am so excited to read this book, will keep everyone posted on it's arrival.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thunder and Lighting

We headed out to our dove field Saturday afternoon on a spur of the moment hunt. All day the sun had been beating down on the valley heating things up. Clouds on the northern horizon had started to form midafternoon into big white pillows. As we left the house I thought “are we going to get rained on before the evening ends”. As we approached the field so did the rain storm, and getting out of the car we took some heavy rain drops. As we stood watching the rain drops come to an end we wondered if any birds would fly. Shortly after the rain stopped we saw several birds pass over our favorite spot, so we loaded up and headed out.

Superstition Mts.
As I settled in to my favorite spot I thought of what a beautiful evening it would be, the cloud cover had hid the sun and the rain had dropped the temperatures into the 70’s. I had my camera back today after my wife used it all last week; I hoped to get some good pictures.

Storm Clouds Moving Out

Once the doves began moving, I had the feeling it would be a good evening. The first bird that flew from the left to the right went down with one shot.

Another one came from the same direction and I hit it on the second try.

After missing a bird behind me I had a third bird fly the same direction as the first two,
and it was brought down with a single shot.

After getting three birds in five shots I was feeling pretty good about the hunting action. My friend Josh was also getting some good opportunities at birds. On this evening he had three of his kids in tow to enjoy the evening. As we continued to shoot birds, we watched as the storm circled us off in the distance. Every now and then the thunder would slowly roll across the fields bringing the promise of more rain. As I continued to shoot a big gust of wind kicked up several birds in the distance, they started heading our way. As they approached us I hit one of them, followed that up with a miss, but doubled on the third shot. When the shooting is this good it doesn’t last long, with only 23 shots fired I had filled my daily limit.

An Evening of Fun

After cleaning up around me I headed off to see how Josh and his oldest son were fairing. They had shot several birds and were having a good time. It is always nice to see outdoor traditions passed down to the younger generation. As the sun set, the storm was getting closer. The lighting was lighting up the eastern sky as the thunder echoed across the fields. We drove home to the light show having enjoyed a special evening of dove hunting.

End of a Hunt, Start of a Lifetime

Labor Day Dove

Dove hunting in the desert is best pursued in either the early mornings or late afternoons. The birds are flying to or from their roosts in predictable patterns. In fields where there is active agriculture, or better yet a dairy, the birds will be more concentrated. The problem with hunting these areas on Labor Day is it tends to concentrate the hunters also. This year was no exception, so the early risers get the premium location. With this in mind I woke my three boys early enough that we were the first ones to the field, choosing the best spot from which to hunt.




The birds began to fly just after legal shooting light and it was game on. I got off to a quick start by connecting on three birds with my first few shells. My boys on the other hand got off to a slow start burning through the stack of shotgun shells. Doves are fast flying missiles and can be tricky to hit, but the boys where having a great time trying. My partner in crime when it comes to hunting, Josh, once again was shooting lights out. At this time in the morning I came up with the concept of how well one shoots, is to take the amount of birds taken divided by the amount of shells used. A good number would be in the 2s mediocre the 5s and poor the 10s. While I have shot in the 2s before I am more of a 4.5s kind of shot. The problem for me this year though was the cost of supporting three boys who were definitely in the 10-12 range and getting a lot of birds.

Marc AKA Tonto Rambling
While this arbitrary system of shooting skill is fun for badgering friends, (Josh claiming to shoot in the 2s opening day?), it is not what dove hunting for me is about. I enjoy getting out with family and friends and just talking. The smell of gun powder burning in the barrel.  Seeing the sunrise over the mountains. Meeting new people who enjoy the outdoors and the realization that fall is just around the corner. To everyone who hunts dove good luck. To the rest of you get out there and try this early hunting season and see just how fun it can be.