SoCalHunt was back at San Jacinto Wildlife Area today, once more, to give the sweat line computer a chance this morning. So far we’ve gotten out once, just barely, snagging the last available morning sweat line spot. The other time we tried we were shut out.
I had again made arrangements to meet up with one of my regular hunting partners and we had hopes of getting out early since Saturday’s count was pretty good at good old SJ. It was also kind of important that we get on in the morning, as my buddy couldn’t stay the whole day so when we signed up on the sweat line list we crossed our fingers.
Alas it was not to be today. When the sweat line list was printed and taped up to the check station window we were disappointed to see we were 39th on the list. It was obvious we weren’t going to get on in the morning so my friend said his goodbyes and headed for home. I, however, had the day available and chose to stick it out and see what I might get.
As I knew I’d have to wait a while I headed out to Harry’s Café for a steak and eggs breakfast to sooth the pain of not getting on and, after that satisfying meal, it was back to the check station lot for a nap. As I drove up Davis Road the scenery looked especially nice with the clouds in the sky today. Maybe an omen of good things to come?
Around 8:30 I woke up and went up to the check station to wait. It didn’t take long for hunters to start checking in their morning birds. There were a lot of real nice straps coming up to the check station with many limits and near limits being checked in. One hunter even brought two snow geese up to the table, the first geese at SJ this year.
About 9:00 a decent blind came in and no one above me on the list wanted it. I was a little hesitant as I had hunted that blind once before this season and got skunked, although, if you’ve read my prior hunting reports this season, you know that I’ve been skunked for the season so far. I decided, since I was hunting alone again, to go ahead and take the blind since it’s an easy blind to access with a very short walk from the parking area. It has been, in years past, a good hunting spot and I have, in fact, shot limits out of it before.
So out I went onto the wildlife area towards my blind. I was set up and hunting by 9:45. Not long after occupying the blind a widgeon came in and circled the blind just out of range. I thought the bird would make one more closing circle but it apparently saw something it didn’t like and it pealed off any headed away, not offering a shot. A short time after that a small flight of shovelers came towards the blind. They were too high, except for a drake that came in much lower then the rest. I tried for the drake but, as seems to be my tradition, I missed the relatively easy first shot of the day.
The conditions were very pleasant at SJ today with mild temperatures and skies filled, off and on throughout the day, with beautiful cloud formations. (Several pictures below, since I couldn’t decide on just one as “the best”).
As always there were other visitors to my pond. The ever-present coots, who seem to be fighting amongst themselves continually, there were some ibis feeding on the shoreline of the pond and I even had a shrike come by to take a look at the area.
A while later I noticed some ducks swimming in the pond, getting closer to my blind. One of them came around the corner of the tules behind me and I stood to make the bird fly. It turned out to be a ring nick and, being a diver, instead of jumping straight up like a puddle duck would do, she started her takeoff run towards the stand of tules. I fired just as she made the corner of the tules and missed her as she took to the air, her low flight blocked by the reeds.
Now I’ll admit I was starting to get a little frustrated. This was my fourth hunt and I had yet to bag a bird. The worst start I’ve ever had in any season. I sat down to reflect and figured what the heck, at least I’m out here in the marsh. Things could be worse. I’ll eventually get something.
After a bit of reflection I decided to stretch my legs and walk around the small island my blind was sitting on. As I rounded the blind I saw a ring neck drake sitting on the island to the rear of my blind. I don’t know where he came from or how long he’d been there but, apparently, sitting quietly for a while allowed him to swim up to the island without his detecting me. When he saw me he jumped up and did his takeoff run across the water. I was able to drop him just as he lifted off and I finally had my first duck in the bag for the 2014/15 season!
With perhaps an hour to go I suddenly heard a duck landing in the water behind my blind. I peered around the corner of the blind and saw a hen ring neck sitting in the water not 5 feet from where the drake I had taken earlier had been sitting on the island. I stood and the hen jumped and did an identical takeoff run as the drake, with the same results. Two ring necks in the bag!
About a half hour later a pair of ring necks flew into the area. The blind adjacent to me fired at the birds as they passed their location, but they missed, and the pair headed straight for my blind at just about the perfect distance for a shot. I folded the drake with one shot but knew, by the angle they came in, that he would fall near the tules so I held off trying for a double so I could see where he landed and make sure he wouldn’t swim away. Fortunately he hit the water just beyond the tules and wasn’t going anywhere after splashdown. The hen circled, almost giving me a second chance for a shot, but she was just out of range. She continued down the pond and the neighboring blind was able to make good on their shot this time and down she went.
So, no further ducks came in range for the remaining half hour but I was pretty happy at that point. I’d finally broken the skunk and had three nice birds of the strap to take home today.
As the sun set I again packed up my gear and headed for home, much happier this time then the previous three hunts. It’s always nice to be out on San Jacinto but it’s also nice to bring home a few birds now and then.
Next week I’ll have to skip due to a family obligation but I’m hoping to be back at SJ in two weeks with both my regular hunting partners for another try at the sweat line. Maybe the forth time will be the charm on that too? We can only hope.