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Duck hunters undergo truth test

Frank Galusha, circa 2001, Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, Canadian Goose, canoe racks

Article and photos by Frank Galusha
10/12/13 -- Duck hunters (and those who hunt other wild game) are often heard to remark, “It doesn’t matter if I fail to get any ducks, I’m out there just to be in the outdoors.” Those who use that excuse to justify their pursuit had to prove it was true all over again on Wednesday, October 9th at the Ash Creek Wildlife Area near Bieber.

For several days prior, the weatherman had promised early season duck hunters what we all hope for in October: Foul weather. The tail end of a cold storm front would swipe across the northeast corner of the state early that morning bringing with it some rain, strong gusty winds and the always much-appreciated cloud cover against which flights of ducks are more easily spotted. Although the weatherman wavered slightly as Wednesday drew near, he kept his word. The first few drops of rain splattered against the windshield as I left the driveway at 3 a.m. and the wind was blowing hard.

Frank Galusha, outdoor recreation, Klamath, Duck hunters undergo truth test
Ash Creek Wildlife Area pond at sun up from the blind

Just four days before on opening day, 11 hunters had taken an average of three ducks and one goose apiece at this wildlife area, so even though I knew the ducks were only “locals” I was hoping for a good day of shooting. And Kohle, my black lab, who turns 10 in a month, needed an outing as well.

Of course the government shutdown had me worried. The Klamath Basin and Modoc National Wildlife Refuges were closed. That meant only Ash Creek and a few other public waters would be open so I was expecting a crowd, something all hunters dread. If the pond we select is surrounded by gun barrels, the day is always ruined.

Frank Galusha, outdoor recreation, Klamath, Duck hunters undergo truth test
Ash Creek Wildlife Area at noon

Sure enough, the first parking lot was jammed with vehicles when I arrived. I knew I was going to have a hard time finding a pond for myself, especially since water was also scarce. Abruptly, I changed my plans. Instead of rushing I would take it easy and wait for the first rays of light to give me some idea of where the other hunters had gone. I figured I’d hear lots of gunshots, which would tell me where not to go. That turned out to be a false assumption. While I heard a few shots in the distance there was no shooting nearby. So I waited until I could see decoys in the ponds or hunters and their dogs huddled in the tules. Eventually I got my bearings. A shot here and there, the sound of a duck call or a dog barking gave away the “enemy” positions, and I had just enough light to locate a small pond surrounded with good cover.

I threw out a few dekes, hunkered down and began to scan the sky. I heard shooting all around but the shots were widely scattered and seemed far off. No ducks flew my way. I saw only a few high flyers plus a pair or two sailing into ponds in the distance, so I just sat there, admiring the sunrise, the clouds and the snow-dusted mountains. Fierce wind gusts, 20 to 30 mph, quartering off my left shoulder were pushing tules in my face. The pond, covered with ripples was otherwise deserted. The wind had pushed my dekes out of sight and I couldn’t even see my Win-Duck, which was spinning wildly in the wind.

I stuck it out until noon before giving up. I saw only two other hunters and I doubt they got more than one bird each. By the time I got back to the parking lot it was nearly empty. I entered a zero on my hunt card, dropped it into the box and gave Kohle a pat on the head. It was a wonderful day, thank you, and I’m sure we got a passing grade.

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Website Design Photo Credits: thanks the following individuals for contributing photographs for use on our Home and Section pages: Anders Tomlinson of, Casey Allen of Bayside, CA; Jason Haley of Medford, OR; Steve Breth of Burney, CA; Tracy McCormack of Eureka, CA; Grant Thompson of Grand Junction, CO; Richard Bott of Shingletown, CA; Ron Loftus of Yreka, CA; Scott Caldwell of Montague, CA; Lorissa Soriano of Alturas, CA and the late Dave Menke, formerly with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

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