Two novice duck hunters shoot their first limits

I woke up before 2:45 am more cranky than usual. In my second hunting season, I was taking my friend Kevin on his first duck hunt at a high pressure public refuge I had never been to. Amanda, my mentor, was sick and released at the last minute. We were on our own.

We arrived at the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area two hours before shooting time. But after we parked, I could already see dozens of hunters’ headlamps flashing at us from across the marsh. I hoisted my pack full of duck carts and we hit a toboggan trail at a brisk pace. Amanda had dropped me three pins with potential spots, but they were all taken. Kevin and I continued down the dark path. Twice, we got out into the swamp, bumped into other hunters and had to get back on the trail.

“How much longer?” Kevin asked.

“Not much,” I said, hoping it was true.

Deep in the shelter, we found a small pond with some cover. The sky was already turning purple. We wiped our gear on a piece of alkali bread and hurried to remove the baits. But by the time I fired up my brand new spinner, the morning flight was underway. The Suisun Marsh echoed with gunfire.

The cover was so sparse that I removed my swamp seat and sat directly in the water. Kevin, who was perched on an overturned bucket, quickly shot at a bird that passed quickly up and away – and to my surprise, dropped it. I ran after the cripple and finished him. I then handed it to Kevin and shook his hand. His first duck was a Drake shoveler, almost fully feathered. I was relieved and proud. Everything after that was a bonus.

And there were many bonuses.

The birds appeared out of the fog and dove right into our spread. Kevin continued his hot start and rolled three more ducks in a row. I couldn’t hit anything at first – until something finally clicked. Then I couldn’t lose. By mid-morning, I had five ducks in hand—two short of a seven-bird limit.

duck hunter in California
The author is all smiles after shooting his first limit of ducks. Sage Marshall

Kevin’s shooting eventually went cold and I had to start borrowing him shells. (California housing regulations allow each hunter only one box in the field.) By the time I was down to my last two shells, we each had six ducks and were too cold and wet to think about going back to the car to get more ammo. However, I was intent on getting my first public land boundary. So when a spoon drake latched onto his wings and swooped towards us, I took my time and released him.

I gave the last shell to Kevin and we waited until a group of ruddy ducks flashed around the pond. Kevin and I had both whistled for some reds earlier in the morning, but he drilled one that passed 20 yards from our heads. Two borders. We bumped into fists.

“That was probably the best day of hunting of any kind that I’ve ever had,” Kevin said.

“And me.”

That night when I closed my eyes for the first time, I saw the outlines of ducks, wings folded, gliding toward us. My alarm was set for 2:45am

Best of 2022 is a series of stories from the editors about their favorite moments of the past year on the field or on the air.

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