Who Ya Gonna Call? Skybusters!

There are two things that I know that anyone who has hunted any public refuge or wildlife area in California has experienced. These two things can disrupt a hunt and ruin what could potentially be a great day of hunting. Both are rooted in selfishness, narcissism and an utter disregard for fellow hunters, as well as, in the case of one of them, a disregard for the rule of law.

What are these two things? They are early shooting and skybusting.

Early shooting is shooting before legal start time. The legal start time for waterfowl hunting in California is one half hour before sunrise. The Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) publishes a chart on their web site and in their printed regulation books showing what legal shoot time is for various areas throughout the state. In addition, the legal start time is posted each hunt day at the wildlife area or refuge check station. Also, at least at San Jacinto Wildlife Area, and I’m sure its done at other wildlife areas and refuges, the legal start time is announced at the morning briefing.

So, now you should know what the legal shooting time is for your area for the hunt day you’re on. How do you keep from shooting early? Well, maybe first I should talk about why you shouldn’t shoot early.

First, it is against the law. If a DFW Officer catches you shooting early it’s a big ticket and who wants to pay a big ticket, and possibly loose hunting privileges for a season? Second, its just down right rude. Here we all set in our blinds, ten minutes before shooting time. Ducks are filtering in to our decoys and we can hear the rustle of their wings and the muffled splashes as they touch down inside our decoy spread. All we have to do is wait ten minutes and we can hope up and potentially drop 4 or 5 birds between us for a great start to our hunt day. The clock ticks away, 9 minutes, 8 minutes….BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! from two blinds over and all the ducks sitting in the decoys take off for parts unknown. Because one person couldn’t wait 8 more minutes no one else on the refuge gets a shot at the many birds that were, (key word WERE), sitting in their decoys. And, unfortunately, this seems to be infectious, as once one person opens up others feel that its okay for them to shoot too. During a slim season, such as last year, sometimes the only good opportunity during the day to bag a couple birds is at start time but, because one person is so selfish and so desperate to kill a duck that they blow the opportunity for everyone else.

Now, as I asked before, how do you keep from shooting early? Personally I think the best way now a days is to set the alarm on your cell phone. Pretty much everybody and their brother has a cell phone now and there are two good things about that, clock-wise. First, the time on the cell phone is set by the cell phone provider signal so it is accurate. Second, as I mentioned above 99.99% of the cell phone I’ve seen have an alarm app. So, if start time is 6:25 am set your alarm on your cell phone for 6:25 am. “But”, some say, “won’t the alarm going off scare the birds off my pond?” My answer to that is that the multiple shots going off all over the refuge a millisecond after start time will be scaring them much more then the little “beep, beep” of your cell phone alarm.

Here’s a link to DFW’s Shooting time chart for Southern California for the 2014/15 season:


Now, on to skybusting. Some call it skybusting, some call it skyscraping in short it is consistently shooting at birds that are out of range. I say consistently because we all make errors in judgment and distance once in a while, but doing it over and over indicates a problem. Once again, as with shooting early, this practice is rooted in desperation to kill a duck and basic selfishness along the lines of “if I can’t shoot them then no one else can either”. There are guys out there that are pretty good at longer range shooting and can consistently drop birds at 60+ yards but they are few and far between. There are also guys that will tell you they have dropped ducks at 100 yards, and, its not a lie, they probably have. However, the 100 yards shooters are relying on an old technique called “the golden BB”. The “golden BB” is that one pellet that happens to hit the bird in a vital area, such as the head, and brings it down when, under normal circumstances, due to the distance, the bird would usually escape due to the loss of shot velocity not inflicting a debilitating wound. Once a shot pattern gets beyond 50 yards or so it starts to spread so much that it is possible for a bird to fly right through the center of the pattern and not be hit by one pellet. What’s worse is when the bird is hit by only one or two pellets in an area that isn’t immediately lethal. What happens then is the bird flies off only to die somewhere else from blood loss or inability to escape a predator due to the injury. A good rule of thumb is to try and keep all your shots within 40 yards, 50 on the outside. At 40 yards you’ll still have a dense enough pattern to knock the bird down, usually killing it in the air, if you center it in the pattern. The part of skybusting that effects other hunters’ hunt is that when people are shooting at high flying birds they are scaring them out of the area and not giving them a chance to work anyone’s decoys where they might come in for a good lethal inside 40 yard shot. Skybusting will not endear the offender to anyone on the refuge as they are preventing anyone else from having a chance at the ducks which, if left unmolested, might very well drop into someone decoys.

Sometime inexperience is the reason for skybusting. People will shoot at high birds thinking they are in range just because they haven’t hunted that much. If you are weak on judging distance the following might help. Take a standard sized decoy out to your local high school football field some Saturday or early evening. (don’t use a jumbo-sized decoy it will throw you off). Place the decoy on the goal line then walk out to the 40-yard line. Turn around and point your finger at the decoy and look down your arm, as you would down the barrel of your shotgun. This will give you an idea of what a duck look like at 40 yards. A word of caution here. I recommend looking down your arm at the decoy because it would probably not be a good idea to take your shotgun out on a high school football field and point it at the decoy. Your local law enforcement would probably take a dim view on that so use your arm, or may a broomstick at most if you have to have a prop. The idea of this is to get an idea of the size of a duck at 40 yards. You might want to do this several time over the course of several days until you get a good idea of what 40 yards looks like.

Bottom line on all this is I know, in most cases here, I’m probably preaching to the choir but hopefully this will dissuade a few people from doing one or both these two things. If everyone cooperates, which is essential on a refuge or wildlife area with their close together blinds, everyone will have a good productive hunt.

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