One thing that is motivating me right now is a little, but rapidly growing bit of black and white fur with plenty of freckles by the name of Jack. He is our third English Springer Spaniel and the first that we obtained in his puppyhood. He is following in the pawsteps of Rainy who is a remarkable 16 years of age, and Gus who is five. If Jack is even half as good in the field and in the house as they have been, he will be a terrific addition to our family, and frankly, he already is pretty good little guy who loves the water and swims like a furry little fish. With the hot and muggy weather we have been experiencing, Jack is spending a lot of time in the pool, sometimes lounging on the first step with his head just out of the water alligator style, and other times swimming laps for recreation and exercise.
You will note the dogs have not been mentioned in the hunting log because it has just been a little too hot to include them. We’ll all be happier when the temperature and humidity drops.
September 2 – The dove season opened yesterday and for the first time in a long time I didn’t make it. This was due in part to the Aztec game and Sky Show the night before and the winds and rains that hit and were continuing to hit Imperial Valley. Norm reported driving through flooded streets in water 18 inches deep just to get back to his hotel room on the eve of the opener. Hours later he called to say that he, Randy and Fred had hunted the airport trees and basketball court homestead for triple limits as the east side of the valley was spared by the storm. Jeff was the only hunter at the club and managed a limit hunting in the sunflowers at the north end of Pond 1.
Encouraged by the report from Norm, Jeff and others, Jeff, Dave, Tag and I headed for the club on Veteran’s Day with Dave towing his buggy. Jeff set up in the sunflowers while Dave and Tag hid under the salt cedar one third of the way down Dike 1. A sore shoulder from the previous day cut short Jeff’s hunting effort, though he did have the good fortune to watch as a dark color phase bobcat stalked his Mojo Dove. Dave picked up six birds from his location on the dike.
I had a great set-up in the mesquite triangle north of the cabin, which is normally one of the better spots at WWDC. I had a Mojo Dove on the ground, Jerome’s tree overhead and about a dozen decoys on the branches of the dead mesquite. Despite the quality of the set-up, the shooting was pretty slow and I didn’t help much by missing my first five shots. I then went 7 for 14 the rest of the way with my 28 gauge, including a nice double. I finished with six mourning doves, a collared dove and pissed myself off by missing some easy shots on whitewings that kind of loped in. It was 98 when we left and very muggy.
September 3 – I have to give my self credit for being off to a good start by hunting two days in a row. Miserable with the heat and humidity at home, I decided it couldn’t be much worse at the ranch in Mesa Grande. I arrived around 4 and after seeing a good number of birds on the power lines and in the dove weed along the shoulder of the road. Accordingly, I decided to hunt the water trough in the Payton Field.
I parked near the Indian rocks and lugged my gear for a quarter mile up the dry arroyo. I set up two Mojos and a dozen feeders on stakes in the ground, then placed my bucket next to the blackberry bushes. I didn’t have to wait long as within ten minutes the 25 cows and late season calf that greeted me at my truck decided it was time to get a drink. They not only obscured my decoys, but they also licked and kicked over most of them. As I walked among the cows trying re-set the decoys, two of them headed over to my seat bucket where one of them began licking the barrel of my gun. Since it was resting on top of the swivel seat, it began turning in low circles. I reasoned that if they could figure out how to take off the safety and pull the trigger there’d be trouble, so I wiped off the cow slobber, packed up all the gear and headed back to the truck in order to relocate to the pond. Along the way I saw a handsome and very dark bobcat probing the rocks in search of a careless ground squirrel. The pond has treated me well in the past and with its barbwire fence is handier for setting out the decoys. I placed a dozen or so along the top strand on both sides of the lower gate, put a Mojo on the ground near a patch of dove weed and another on the north gate post. I assembled Jerome’s dove tree, attached three decoys and erected it on the south gate post. With the decoys in place, I needed to find the best location for my bucket, which was next to the dam’s spillway.
I turned around slowly on the seat to survey the situation and found that it was perfect except for the fact my truck which was only 60 yards distant and with the doves expected to fly soon, I was not inclined to go back and move the truck out of the line of fire – I’d just have to be careful or pretend that an idiot other than myself had peppered the truck.
At 6:30 the doves began to come in and I got every one of the first five birds to arrive with either the first or second shot. One of them got up and walked away, requiring a third shot. By this time, Mat had arrived, adding a second truck to be considered in the line of fire and chiding comments when I missed. There was a bit of payback when he offered to retrieve a bird that I’d dropped in the pond. Fetching a fishing rod from his truck, Mat began casting in an effort to snag the bird which never worked out as several times small bass grabbed the lure before it reached the dove. Finally, the lure lodged in some cattails and Mat broke the rod while trying to pull it out.
By sunset the dove had quit coming in and legal shooting hours had ended. I walked to the other side of the lake, pushed the boat into the water and rowed toward the dam where I managed to find and retrieve the downed dove. After pulling the boat back up on the bank, I laid the dove on the spillway which already held seven of its brethren and got to work picking up and packing my decoys. When I put away my 28 gauge and vest I found that ten shells remained in its pockets – indicating that I’d fired 15 shots for eight doves, including a nice double for the second hunt in a row.
I closed the gates and headed up to the ranch house where Norm scolded me for being late as dinner was over and Kathy had already reached her two drink limit. Nonetheless, I was rewarded with an ice cold vodka tonic that I finished off while we traded stories about body parts and bodily functions that no longer work like they used to.
With 15 doves now in hand, all gutted, plucked and looking like Barbie-sized Thanksgiving turkeys, I’ll make them up Dutch oven style, cooking them slowly with some white wine, onion and mushrooms after browning them, and serve them over wild rice with a mushroom gravy. Can’t wait!
September 9 – Hot and muggy weather along with an ill-fated Aztec game have kept me out of the field, but things cooled down a bit by Monday and I decided to head back up to the ranch for the afternoon. I brought along two additions that worked out and one that did not. Bringing the .22 was a good idea as there was time and plenty of ground squirrels to capture may attention until the doves made their evening flights into the dove weed around the edge of the pond. Bringing Jack on his first hunt worked out well, but including some fishing gear did not, but I’ll explain that later.
With a few squirrels out of the way, I drove to the pond and immediately set up some decoys: a dozen on the top strand of the barbwire fence, four on my “tree,” and a pair of Mojos and a Flapper on the ground. With rattlesnakes in mind I leashed Jack cautiously walked him around on his first visit to the ranch. Since I didn’t know how he would react to the shotgun, I placed him in his kennel under the tailgate of the truck which I parked a bit more out of the way than I had the week before. After sitting on my seat bucket for about 30 minutes and with the sun still a little high in the sky, I figured it would be another hour before the doves would start coming in, so traded my shotgun for a fishing rod and began to make a few casts from the channel that leads to the spillway. By the third cast, two doves had come in from the west, passed over my bucket, buzzed my dove tree and lit in the oaks 80 yards up the fenceline. After a few more casts, a pair came in from the east, whooshed over my head and landed briefly on the fenceline before continuing west to the tall dead tree in the old Indian cemetery. I’d traded reasonable shots at four doves for a four inch crappie and a five inch bass. What a dope.
Trading the rod for the shotgun, I returned to my seat and waited….and waited. I pulled a cold Pacifico from the bucket, only to realize that my key ring bottle opener was in the truck. I returned to the truck, gave Jack a scratch and some water and watched two more doves pass over the bucket as I dejectedly made my way back to it. I sat down and waited. The bottle was long empty by the time a dove came in and I dropped it as it passed over the decoys on the fenceline. Two sailed in from the east and I missed them both. Missed another than snuck in from somewhere before hitting one attracted to the Mojos. It was pretty much hit and miss for the next 30 minutes until sunset. Three doves were dead on the ground and a wing-tipped bird was walking away up the slope, a perfect opportunity for Jack. I returned to the truck and brought him up slope, dropped his leash and gave him the command of “find the bird.”
About that same time, the bird flipped into the air, exciting Jack who was on it quickly. Grasping it in his mouth he came back toward me, but when it appeared he was going to run past me in an attempt to keep the bird for himself, I managed to step on the leash and spin him around. Jack sat down at my feet and allowed me to remove the bird from his mouth. Nice job Jack!
We then walked down slope to the area where the other birds had dropped and were visible to me. Walking Jack past them, he caught their scent without any urging from me and picked them. Still leashed, I guided him back to me and took each bird from his mouth accompanied by a pat on the shoulder and well deserved “good boy.”
I returned Jack to his kennel while I picked up the decoys, bucket and rods and returned the assortment of gear to my truck. It was now long enough past sunset that the bats were out in the largest number I’ve ever seen at the ranch and feeding with enthusiasm on the insects that were emerging from the lake and surrounding sedges.
Checking my vest, I found that I’d fired 16 rounds – more than I’d thought – for four doves. Jack had performed well in his duties, me not so much, but it was still a great day and a beautiful evening. Stopped by the ranch house for a visit and a spicy Bloody Mary was soon handed to me.
September 11 – Jeff and I went to the valley and I made the decison to take Jack. We hunted onve of the old homesteas sites close to I-8 and found good action from around 9 to 10 as the birds came back to roost. I shot the 20 gauge Winchester Model 96 fairly well, especially after I switches from 7 1/2’s to 9’s. Birds came in well to the Mojo and I managed a limit in one shell short of a box. The better story was Jack who did a nice job for such a green pup on only his second “hunt.” I’d dropped a very visible pair of doves in a bare field and he poked around for a few seconds before spotting one of them and taking off in dash of gangly legs. He promptly picked up the bird and as he started back, spotted the second bird. Perplexed, he ran to the second bird, sat down next to it and looked back at me with the first bird still in his mount. I encouraged him to return with a “fetch ’em up,” and he dropped the first bird, picked up the second, ran and sat down at my feet. He easily relinquised the bird on the command to “give,” and then headed out for the other bird that he had dropped, resulting in another nice retrieve.
I gave him one more opportunity in the open field and he did just fine and with plenty of puppy enthusiasm. One shell left in the box means I took 24 shots and I’m pretty satisfied to take a limit with a box of shells which is probably about average for me as I can do a little better and sometimes a lot worse.
September 12 – Dave and I returned to the homestead area. He brought Tag who was sporting a nice new haircut and I brought both Gus who needs one, along with Jack and my 28 gauge. There were few birds early, but again they began trickling in to roost after 8. Once again I went to smaller shot size in the form of some Double AA 9’s and was pleased with the result, although I struggled a bit longer than Dave to finish my limit. On a negative note, Gus becomes very anxious sitting next to me when I have a shotgun in my hand. Much like in the duck blind, he seems to always be trying to crawl into my lap. I love Gus as he has been a terrific pheasant dog who can really pound the ditches.
On a positive note, the pup seems to have a better disposition for quiet patience based on what I saw on this dove hunt. He made several very nice retrieves, but at some point decided the doves were his doves, rather than mine, so we’ll have to work on that. I got a little confused on the count, but I think I fired around 30 shot in the process of collecting a limit and losing several birds that sailed into nearby fields that were either wet or posted and we simply couln’t find.
This will probably stand as my last dove hunt for the first portion of the season
September 14 – Got a call from Jeff who wanted to make one last trip before the first portion of the dove season ended, and Jack the pup felt the same way. Called Dave and he, Leslie and Tag decided to meet us down in the valley. Since the area we have been hunting is a roosting area that the birds come into after feeding elsewhere, it was nice not to get up at 3:30 a.m. Rising instead at 5:30 made me a tad fresher for the rest of the day.
Far fewer birds came in, which was understandable considering that we were hitting this same spot for the third time in four days. Jack and I set up under the caddy corner tree while the others settled into the homestead lot.
We all had something to work on. Dave needed to see if his freshly repaired Benelli semi-auto would finally work, and it functioned flawlessly as he picked up his limit with 19 shots. Tag wanted to work on his retrieves of birds downed in the tall grass, and he was perfect – so the combination of Tag and Benelli turned Dave’s scowl into a happy face.
Leslie wanted to practice with her camera – and she did.
Jeff wanted to have some more experience in the field – and he did.
Jack needed some more experience in the field – and he got it. Two days earlier, and after doing a nice job of retrieving and delivering a couple of doves to hand, Jack figured he should be allowed to keep a couple for himself. Dave suggested keeping Jack on a long lead and slowly pulling him back so that he had no choice but to bring the birds back to me. It was good advice as it worked well on three sight retrieves of birds that went down in the open, and two scent retrieves of a bird that went down in the alfalfa and another that got hung up above his head in a bush in the ditch. A second bird that went down in the alfalfa was never recovered despite a lot of effort on our part. Another bird fell into the end of the ditch which was filled with household trash and I picked it up rather than send the pup into that mess. Jack is barely six months old, we’ve had him for just a little more than a month and I’m very pleased with the little guy and the way he is coming along.
I was even reasonably pleased with my shooting. I switched the chokes in my 28 gauge Franchi from Improved Cylinder and Modified to Cylinder and Improved Cylinder and went seven for 14 including a string of misses near the end. Since I was out of the Double AA 9’s, I was shooting some 8’s that I’d reloaded.
The first portion of the dove season is now definitely over for me, so it is time to clean, sort, re-pack and put away the two big storage boxes I fill with decoys and warm weather hunting wear.
The next orders of business include the annual re-painting of some coot decoys, checking the rigging of dozens of duck decoys and a few hours spent digging out and restoring my blind before the start of the waterfowl season now a month away.
October 19 – The 2013-14 waterfowl season opened and I joined my four fellow Whistling Wings Duck Club (WWDC) members at our man-made swamp near the Salton Sea the night before for dinner, libation and merriment of a sort. The morning came and there were plenty of teal and spoonies buzzing around, but not so many pintail which are our bread and butter duck. I took three spoonies and a pair of cinnamon teal but did not keep track of my shots which were too many.
October 22 – Made a quick trip to Mesa Grande to visit friends a Bloomdale Ranch. Headed over to the pond which was loaded with mallards and managed to drop a big greenhead which I proceeded to give to Mr. Whipple on my way home.
October 28 – November 11 – Not much to say about this trip that has not been said in my entry above. It was a great trip that included a few days of hunting first in Montana and then nearly a week in North Dakota. I didn’t keep track of the roosters shot, but did manage to get my first Hungarian partridge, as did Ryan.
November 19-20 – I will write more about this later, but it was a fine mid-week trip to Imperial Valley that included pheasant hunts sandwiched around a visit to WWDC and Wednesday morning duck hunt. Met Dave and Jim Tuesday afternoon in a Bermuda grass field east of El Centro where we put up a total of five hens. Dave and I then proceeded to Bonds Corner where the dogs flushed two hens and an arrow weed rooster. I missed a very tough prayer of a shot at the rooster.
Enjoyed carne asada cooked over mesquite at the club along with an adult beverage or two. We took our seats on the porch for an evening duck show that never happened. Got up in the morning and reached our blinds well before shooting time. Not many birds on the field, but a bit later the pintail came back to the club as they always do. A hen responded to the call and decoys and hung 20 yards above me like a balloon making for an easy shot. A drake spooked by Bob came from the opposite direction and took too long of a look at the dekes, resulting in the same fate. I was two for two until a greenwing went by and reminded me that I am not that good of a shot: Bang, bang, shit! Jack did a fine job retrieving the two pintail for me.
On the way home, returned to the Bermuda grass field with Dave and Bob and we again disturbed the hens. It was hot and Gus was gassed. Figured I’d head out to survey some ditches (IID) is doing way too many ditch “improvements” in the I-8 area requiring the identification of some more suitable coverts. Decided to work toward Camacho’s for lunch and on the way found a rooster resting in the same ditch where Russ and dusted feathers two seasons earlier. After a great lunch and visit wth Rosie and Tommy I decided to take a look at the border ditches and it was a great notionthat produced one more rooster, two that were missed and some heart-pounding hen flushes. I’ll write more about this afternoon.