Today, once again, SoCalHunt headed back to San Jacinto Wildlife Area to try our luck at the sweat line computer. This morning I had my usual hunting partner along for what, hopefully, would be his first hunt of the season.
We had high hopes of a good hunt, as there had finally been some weather, it having been raining pretty good since yesterday. When we arrived it was raining lightly off and on and the skies appeared very dark, promising more rain to come for the day. Two weeks ago SJ had a great average take per hunter with over 4 birds per hunter being taken. Those numbers had been falling in the subsequent hunts since then but we had hopes that the weather meant some new migrants from up north had arrived.
We penned our names to the sweat line list and waited for 3:30 to roll around to see what the results would be. It looked like a lot of the reservation holders had come out today so it was important to get a low draw on the sweat line list. Shane took the list inside at precisely 3:30 and a couple minutes later was posting the results of the random computer drawing on the check station window. Number 8! We where good to go for a morning spot.
When our turn came at the check station desk we opted to take a blind, well, maybe in this case I should say a pond, which neither of us had hunted before. This pond was one of a very few at San Jacinto that doesn’t have a set blind and hunters that take it can hunt in a variety of spots within that pond. We had heard that some hunters had done well here in the last few weeks and figured we’d give it a try. We jumped in our truck and slowly drove down the slippery, muddy road to the hunting area.
We unloaded our gear and guns and began the trek to our hunting spot. We walked down the dike slipping and sliding in the mud as it caked up on the wheels of our decoy cart. This pond has a very high dike around it so once down inside the dike you are kind of isolated from other hunters in the vicinity. Once we got near the area we were going to hunt we concluded that it would be nearly impossible, due to the high dike on this pond and the slippery mud, to get the loaded cart down to our actual hunting spot. We pulled our gear out of the cart, left it on top of the dike covering it with a camo cover, and then proceeded to slip and slide and fall on our butts a couple times transporting the stuff to our “blind”.
We decided to use a large bush on the shoreline as our blind and my partner proceeded to set out the decoys as I set up the “blind”. It was about 20 minutes to start time when we were finally ready to go.
At 6:04 we heard the SJ start horn and it was game on. At least it was supposed to be. It was still very dark, due to the rain clouds, and we didn’t hear the first shot until about a minute or so after the start horn. At first there were only a few shots heard but more hunters started firing in the next few minutes. It was, however, a very slow rate of fire compared to most other start times we’ve experienced. In our pond it was really slow, as we didn’t see any ducks to shoot at for several minutes. We had a few teal zip in low that didn’t even give us a chance to shoulder our guns before they were gone and a couple flights of ruddies, doing their best to imitate the teal, swing by too but we didn’t even try for them.
About a half hour after start time a hen shoveler came dropping out of the sky, landing gear down and wing cupped right in front of my partner. He was able to knock the bird down and collect his first duck of the season. Not long after that we had a couple more teal swing by low and I managed to get a shot off at one of the flights leaving the pond but to no effect. Maybe a half hour after my partner collected his spoony another one came over at extreme range and I tried a shot. I’ll admit that this bird was probably just outside of what I usually consider in range, which I realized after I shot, but perhaps I misjudged because of the dark cloudy skies. We all blow it once in a while I guess, even with the best of intentions.
A short while later another shoveler hen dropped in towards the decoys. I fired at the bird three times, hitting it with my final shot. My buddy also shot at the bird as I fired my third shot and she sailed over the dike behind us, obviously hit. My partner, being closer, jumped up to try to find the bird, coming back with it in short order. Even though she looked like she might be a swimmer by the way she went down he reported she was dead on the water when he found her. My partner said he though I had shot the duck even though he had fired about the same time as my third shot but that really doesn’t matter, we’ll call that one a team effort.
Not long after that the clouds began to clear a little and patches of blue shown through. We were treated to a nice rainbow and hoped that it would herald a “pot of gold” for us duck-wise. Well, it was a nice though but was not to be. The shooting on the wildlife area slowed down substantially to almost nothing and only an occasional bird was seen flying out of range. I had one more opportunity as a little hen bufflehead landed at the far end of our decoy spread. She was initially out of range but, after a few minutes, decided to leave and flew towards our blind. As she crossed in front of the blind I tried a shot but I was a little behind her and she escaped clean. So, after waiting around a while longer to see if things would pick back up we decided to call it a day, especially knowing that we had a lot of mud to clean up and a complete takedown, cleaning and lubricating of the shotguns to prevent them rusting due to the rain.
So we picked up our decoy and gear, collected our two ducks, and bid good by to San Jacinto again planning to be back soon to give it another try. Maybe we’ll see you there next time.