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Duck hunt gone awry

Article and photos by Frank Galusha
11/03/14 -- As I reported yesterday in my article about fishing the Upper Klamath, last week’s weather forecast was as fickle as any I’ve seen. Wednesday was to be a calm day with maybe a sprinkle in Siskiyou County. Thursday promised strong winds. Therefore, it made perfect sense to me to take a look at Butte Valley Wildlife Area and the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area which are open on Wednesday. From there I could go duck hunting at Lower Klamath NWR on Thursday.

As reported here my plans changed. I ended up hunting at Lower Klamath on Thursday, which turned out to be a complete bust. There was no wind as was in the forecast two days before and only a few birds flying but I did get the opportunity to hunt one of the Stearn’s units again.

marsh with ducks, photo by Frank Galusha
A view from Unit 4, looking northeast after the storm had passed. One Winduk is barely visible behind a tule in the center left. That’s the back of Kohle’s head in the foreground.

Unfortunately, I can’t hunt out of those pit blinds. I’ve never been willing or able to wade that far through the mud to reach them. The pits are also too deep (I can’t get my elbows above the rims comfortably) and they usually lack enough cover to hide my preferred means of access (my Sear’s SportsPal canoe) the same one I’ve used since 1980.

Long before daylight I was able to find a stand of tules close to the pit. The stand was almost big enough to conceal me, my Black Labrador, Kohle, and the canoe.

As I always do, I studied the unit carefully and watched the birds and their flight patterns. I had seen only a few spoonbills but I noticed they were shying away from the raised pit blind. I also picked out a better stand of tules in case I’d ever get the chance to hunt there again. I marked it on my GPS.

I stayed at the Merrill Motel that night and got almost 8 hours of solid rest and when I woke at 3 a.m. I took Kohle outside for a pee. When I opened the door I was smacked in the face with a 30 to 40-MPH wind. I had known rain was in the forecast but it was supposed to be calm. The storm predicted for Thursday was a day late so instead of going back to bed, I quickly got ready to get into the Lower Klamath “come” line. I arrived there first and got my choice of Unit 4 – but after that luck failed me.

marsh with ducks and hills in the background, photo by Frank Galusha
Stern’s Unit 4 Pit Blind is barely visible under the peak and just behind a patch of tules beyond my decoys.

The wind from the south was so strong I could not paddle against it. The wind blew my cap off but I speared it quickly with my paddle. It was wet but that wouldn’t matter as rain was coming. The cloud cover and darkness obscured the stars, the moon and the horizon. My GPS worked for a few seconds and then died. I was quickly blown way off course, which was clearly marked. In minutes I found myself pushed up against the northeast corner of the unit. I was really not far from my destination but paddling toward it was hopeless and my flashlight lit up only about a 75 yards. With all the tules bent down with the wind, it was hard to identify any familiar places. I had to get out and pull the canoe toward the southwest but I never found the pit blind, my previous blind or the spot I had picked out before.

I had lost much time. I could see daylight was less than 30 minutes away so picked out a stand of tules with the wind at my back, put out my decoys, hid the canoe as best I could and crawled in. I put up my portable blind, sat down on my gun turret – a cushioned, rotating bucket seat that gave me almost 270 degrees of visibility and shooting coverage.

The wind was still blowing fiercely and my Winduk spinning wing decoys were whirling madly. I knew more birds would be in the air – and they were. I saw dozens of flights but most stayed high and far away. One or two good opportunities got past me in the first two hours but other than a quick and successful shot at what turned out to be a spoonbill, nothing really came within range. Perhaps I wasn’t hid well but I noticed I was not alone. The hunters in the other units were only getting a few shots themselves.

Then the wind stopped and it began to rain, heavily at times. It kept pouring from just before 9 a.m. until I pulled out at 12:30 p.m. When I left it was still sprinkling and I had only two spoonbills. I had fired only six or seven shots. There were other species of birds flying but they remained just far enough away I couldn’t identify them. I saw very few large birds so I suspect I was seeing gadwall, widgeon and teal. I didn’t see any pintails.

duck marsh with reeds, photo by Frank Galusha, One of the ponds holding my decoys in Stern’s Unit 4 at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge
One of the ponds holding my decoys in Stern’s Unit 4 at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

I think my hunt went awry simply because there is too little water and too few birds on the Lower Klamath side. I heard a few more shots coming from Unit 6A. I’m sure the hunters were doing much better in Sump 1B on the Tule Lake side. Averages probably ranged from four birds to full straps.

Anyway, that’s exactly how it was. No hype or exaggeration! It was simply one of those days every unattached hunter gets to enjoy on public refuges. Yes, I said “enjoy” because despite all the hard work and tough luck, as Tracy Byrd wrote in the song The Truth about Men, which is doubly true about duck hunters, “You know it's gonna happen again!”

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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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