SoCalHunt San Jacinto Hunting Report 12/28/16

Today SoCalHunt finally had a shot at a morning hunt at San Jacinto Wildlife Area.  One of my usual hunting partners had drawn a reservation so he, our other hunting partner and myself set up to meet at 0300 to claim our spot. We were hopeful for at least a few chances at some birds today as SJ, so far this season, has been pretty much a morning shoot.

With the recent rainstorm this past Friday night/Saturday morning Davis Rd. was a flooded mess.  Tom Trakes, Boss-man at San Jacinto, recommended earlier the evening before, on a Facebook post, that anyone coming out this morning keep to the center of Davis Rd. and use 4-wheel drive.  Fortunately, my truck is a 4X4.

Tom was entirely correct and we slogged through some muddy conditions driving up Davis Rd., some of the puddles (or lakes, depending on your point of view) were probably 8 to 10 inches deep!  There were a several non-4X4 trucks and other vehicles that made the trek to the check station and, as far as I know, there were no problems, but I’m not sure I would have tried it without 4X4.  It’s up to you if you want to try it.  As they say, pay your money, take your chances.  And it’s supposed to rain pretty good this coming Friday night so conditions will be even worse if you’re thinking about going this weekend. (check the picture I took exiting out Davis Rd. in the afternoon at the end of this report).

Our reservation was a pretty high number but at least it pretty much guarantees a spot for the morning hunt.  We were hoping, somehow, some of the better blinds might still be available when our turn came and when our number was called we decided on a blind that we figured was one of the better out of what was left.  We jumped in the truck and headed out to get set up.  Fortunately, the internal roads on San Jacinto are very well maintained by the SJ staff and are pretty hard packed so there was no trouble driving out on the Wildlife Area’s roads.  (This could change with additional rain though and could require hunters to walk-out to their blinds.  We’ve had to do it at times in the past).

We arrived at our blind and set up and then settled in to wait for start time.  An occasion duck could be seen flying by in the pre-dawn light as we waited for start time, a few even landing in our pond but leaving before the start time horn sounded.

When the start time horn sounded the shooting on the Wildlife Area seemed to slowly start but quickly picked up as the duck began to scatter.  About 6 minutes after start time a hen Green Wing landed in our decoys and my #1 hunting partner nailed her as she took off again.  Our first bird in the bag.

(I’ll call my partners #1 and #2 for clarity)

A short while later a flight of Bufflehead swung low over the pond and we all fired at the little flock.  Two of the little divers tumbled but landed just behind a thin row of tules near the blind.  My #1 partner quickly went to see if he could retrieve the birds, as we didn’t know if they were both down for the count, because they were behind those tules.  As he walked out into the pond, carrying his shotgun in case he had to finish a swimming cripple, two more Bufflehead came in from the opposite direction and partner #1 was the only one in position for a shot.  He fired at the quickly passing birds and hit both with one shot.  One crashed into the water stone dead but the other wasn’t hit hard and sailed a ways before dropping into the pond.  She started swimming and then tried to take off again and went around the end of a row of tules out further in the pond.  Partner #1 went after her but she was nowhere to be seen when he rounded the corner of the tules.  He searched a short time but no luck and then came back to retrieve the one that was confirmed down and then look for the original two we had downed.

When he got to the other side of the tules he was able to find one but the other was missing.  Those Bufflehead are tough little birds and are hard to retrieve if they’re just winged as they go in to diving mode and swim a long way under water.  Hate to lose any bird we’ve dropped but it happens.

The sun was rising higher and we enjoyed the sunrise as we scanned the sky for more ducks.  The recent storm had left a coating of snow on the surrounding mountains with the promise of more with the storm that is predicted for Friday night.

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Not long after this we noticed a DFW Warden driving the roads around the Wildlife Area, obviously checking for any violations he (or she) might observe.  The Warden turned down a dike of a nearby pond and spooked up a pair of Gadwall that had, apparently, been hiding there.  They flew straight towards our blind, right into the rising sun and we all opened up on them when they were in range.  I managed to center the drake in the pattern of my third shot and he crashed into the pond only about 15 yards out.  I collected the nice big bird and added him to the strap thanking the Warden for an assist on this one.

Just after this flurry of shots a Bufflehead popped out of the tules not far from where we had lost one of the earlier cripples.  This bird was obviously winged and my #1 partner was able to quickly hit her with a finishing shot, (although we didn’t know that at the time).  She ducked back into the tules and both my partners went out to look for her, one on each side of the row of tules, in case she popped out on either side again.  As it turned out they found her finished just inside the tules and added her to the strap.  Great that we found one of our earlier cripples.

We set back to wait for more opportunities to present themselves and it wasn’t long before a drake Shoveler landed in the decoys on my #1 partners side.  He had the only shot and was able to make it good, adding a Shoveler to the strap.

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A while later I noticed a beautiful drake Pintail landing in the pond adjacent to ours.  He was well away from any blind and I guess he figured it was a safe spot. Maybe 20 minutes or so later something spooked the Sprig and he flew towards our blind.  When he was in range we all fired and my #2 partner nailed him and he crashed into the pond.  My #1 partner, who was nearest the blind doorway, graciously went out and retrieved the Pintail for him.  The bird was a beautiful mature Pintail with a very long “pin” and was in prime condition.

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After a short while we heard an adjacent blind firing and looked in that direction to observe a pair of Shovelers flying low and coming right at our pond.  When they were in range both my partners fired and the drake folded and splashed into the pond.  The hen appeared to be hit but, sort of, landed at the edge of the pond and tucked into the brush on the side of the dike.  Both of my partners went to retrieve the birds and, of course the drake was no trouble but the hen required a search that lasted nearly 10 minutes but they didn’t give up and found her to include her in the bag.  I don’t know for sure who hit which bird but we credited my #1 partner with the hen and #2 partner with the drake.

Things finally started to slow down some more and about 1 PM we decided to pack it up for the day.  A great hunt, finally, and 9 birds on the strap for the three of us.  Pretty good considering how slow thing have been for us so far this year.  We found out later that the average bag for SJ today was 1.49 ducks per person (which you probably already know if you read today’s hunt results report on the SoCalHunt blog) so we doubled that with a 3.0 average for the three of us.  Apparently, we got lucky and found the “spot” today and, also, between the three of us, we didn’t miss too many, which always helps.

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We checked out and headed for home, very satisfied with the results today.  Hopefully we’ll be back soon for more of the same.  Maybe we’ll see you out there.  Oh, and as promised, below is a picture of Davis Rd. as we left the area today.  Remember it’s supposed to rain Friday night and assuming it does things will be worse than the picture below.  If you’re going this weekend please use your judgement and use caution, it seems even worse in the dark and the road is pretty rough below the surface of the “ponds” on the road.

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