The Beginning of The Addiction – The First Time

Since we’re pretty much all under “house arrest” to one extent or another I figured I’d take a ride in the way-back machine and relive my first waterfowl hunt, the beginning of the addiction.

The exact date is lost in the fog of time, but it was somewhere around December 1975.  I’d been hunting a couple of years by then, but I’d only hunted upland game.  My one and only shotgun at the time was a 20-gauge Ithaca 37.  My dad wasn’t a hunter, nor was he a fisherman but, to his credit, he never tried to block me from developing a love for both these outdoor sports.

At my work at the time one of my coworkers, who was sort of a mentor to me, was also interested in hunting but had even less experience then I did.  As we talked while we worked and at lunch breaks, we’d many times pour over the Western Outdoor News, which I think was either a quarter or thirty-five cents back then, and we would read the reports of the waterfowl harvests at the Wister Wildlife Area.  There were often pictures in WON of the hunters and their straps sometimes showing limits of pintail, which had a seven-bird limit back then, along with limits of Snow Geese, which I believe was three back then.

Well, we were impressed.

We talked it up and decided, “Hey, we could do that!”  So, a plan was formed.  One Friday afternoon we would drive down to Wister and bag us both a limit of ducks and geese.

Of course, some preparation was necessary.  Neither of us had any waterfowl equipment.  My buddy had some fishing waders and he already owned a 12-gauge but all I had was my little Ithaca, no waders, no camo, no proper ammo, no decoys.

I was a duck hunter extraordinaire already…right?

I hit the sporting goods store at Puente Hills Mall.  Yes, they had a sporting goods store there at the time, and they even carried guns, ammo, and hunting gear.  In fact, some may not believe this, but a few years later I bought my deer rifle, a Remington 700 7mm Mag, at the JC Penney’s Store at Puente Hills Mall.  Can you imagine what would happen nowadays if you walked out of a major mall with a boxed rifle under your arm?  Nobody gave that a second look back then.  But, let’s get back to the subject of this story.

Anyway, as luck would have it, they were having a sale on decoys, so I picked up a dozen pintail decoys.

I also picked up a couple of boxes of 12-gauge #4 lead shot.  Yup, that was long before the lead ban.  Also, I picked up a pair of cheap vinyl stocking foot waders. I had a pair of high-top sneakers at home to cover the stocking feet.  Last was the state and federal duck stamp to add to the hunting license I already had for upland hunting.

Of course, by this time I was about out of money and I still needed a shotgun because the little 20-gauge I had wasn’t going to cut it for geese.  Even though back then, you could walk out of the sporting goods store with a gun in five minutes, unfortunately, you still had to pay for it.

Here’s where another friend came to the rescue, or actually his father came to the rescue.  His dad owned an old Winchester model 1897 shotgun.  For those unfamiliar with the Winchester 1897, it was the second pump-action shotgun designed by John M. Browning in, of course, 1897.  They were produced until 1957 so I’m sure this one wasn’t 78 years old, but I’ll bet it was a good 40 years old at the time.  After explaining my situation with the upcoming hunt, the old 1897 was kindly loaned to me.

So, after borrowing from my fishing gear to rig the decoy anchors we were fully armed and ready for our trip.

My hunting buddy picked me up on the assigned late afternoon in his Dodge two-wheel-drive pickup (this will be important later in the story) and we headed down to Wister.  After an approximate four and a half-hour drive, we pulled in off of highway 111 and into the check station parking lot.

We got our names in the lottery for the sweatline draw and waited with great anticipation to see when our ping-pong ball would drop out of the bingo ball cage.  As I recall we were drawn not too far from the top and so headed for the truck to attempt to get a little shut-eye before the wind-up alarm clock went off at 0300 for us to get back to the check station and pick our spot.

As we slept..sort of…the constant tick, tick, tick of the wind-up alarm clock seemed to get louder as the appointed alarm time approached.  Added to the excitement of the first duck hunt I don’t think either of us got more than a half-hour sleep total.

When the alarm finally rang, we jumped out of the truck and headed up to the check station to pick our spot.

Since we had no idea what we were doing, when it was our turn to pick our hunting spot it was kind of an eeny-meeny-miny-moe situation.  So, after picking our hot-spot and paying for our day passes, which you bought at the check station in those days, we grabbed a map of Wister from the check station counter and were off to our big waterfowl adventure.

The wind was blowing hard, maybe 30 mph or so and the sky held broken clouds.  There had been no rain, and it wasn’t threatening any, just those big puffy clouds blowing across the sky, hiding and revealing the moon and the star as they wind hurried them along.

We got down to the crossroad that would lead to our hunting spot and turned left off of Davis road.  As we drove down this road, we saw a sign indicating that our parking spot was coming up soon and, near as we could tell, we had to transition over to the adjacent dike to enter the parking area a couple hundred yards down the dike.  Just after we started down the dike, we noticed a puddle of water on it that was probably five feet across covering the top of the dike.  It appeared that the adjacent pond had just overflowed onto it.  Being Wister newbies we didn’t give the puddle a second thought and charged right through it in my buddy’s two-wheel-drive Dodge pickup.

Of course, if you’ve ever been to Wister, you probably know what happened.  Yup…we sunk her right down to the axle in the middle of the puddle.

We didn’t have a shovel, not that it would have done much, and, apparently, we were the last ones headed out to that particular hunting area as no one else came up behind us that might have helped.

After about an hour of pushing from either end of the truck and attempting to use one of the hubcaps as a makeshift shovel, we concluded that we’d have to walk back to the check station to get some help.  All the other hunters were already in their hunting areas and setting up so it was a long walk with no prospect of a ride.  Now, remember this was well before cell phones so the only way we were going to get help was the payphone on the side of the Wister Check Station.  As we walked towards the check station, we could hear whistling wings above us and make out ducks flying back and forth above us in the gathering light.  When start time rolled around about a hundred shotguns opened up all over the wildlife area and we could even see an occasional duck falling out of the sky as the hunters connected with their prey.

We finally got to the check station and called the Auto Club for a tow.  I guess they don’t do this any more down at Wister or maybe it was because we were just in a puddle and the area was generally dry, but we managed to get the auto club to come out and pull us out of the puddle.

Once we were free, we jumped back into my friend’s truck and managed to get to our parking spot without further incident.  We were generally covered with mud and the truck was too, inside and out.  When we finally got our limited gear out to our hunting spot it was about 8:30 am.  We’d missed the best shooting of the day, however, the wind was picking up even more and the Snow Geese were beginning to fly.

We quickly threw our dozen decoys out and basically just hunkered down on the dike near the hunting spot stake and waited for whatever might come along.  We didn’t have to wait long.

Several times flights of magnificent Snow Geese flew right over us fighting the strong wind, just seeming to hang there in the sky not 30 yards above us.  We fired and fired yet nothing fell.  Occasionally we could even hear shot drumming off the wing feathers of the geese, yet they didn’t come down.  Either the #4 shot didn’t have enough oomph or the wind was blowing our shot strings way off course.

Finally, on one of my shots, a “golden bb” broke the wing of one of the Snow Geese and it nosedived into our pond with a huge splash.  I quickly set the shotgun down and “ran” (as much as you can run in Wister mud) to claim my prize.  I thought it was dead as it hung limply as I carried it back across the pond, but it was apparently only stunned by the hard splashdown.  As I approached the dike it woke up and began to beat me with its wings and scratch at me with its claws.  The only thing I could think to do was to stumble the last few steps to the dike and bash its head on the barrel of the old Winchester.  That ended the fight.

So, finally, I had my first waterfowl and my first goose.  It wasn’t long after that my buddy was able to also scratch down a goose except his was actually dead on splashdown and didn’t fight him when he brought it back.

After a few more unsuccessful shots on the geese by both of us, things started to slow down and I thought I’d take a short walk down the dike just to stretch my legs.  I got about 75 yards down the dike and just as I was about to turn around and walk back to our hunting spot a drake pintail jumped out of the brush near my feet.  It didn’t fly very well and, looking back, I believe now that it was probably a cripple that escaped in the morning shoot, but I was able to connect on it and also harvest my first duck.

We hunted a little while longer, but the ducks were no longer flying, the wind had slowed down, and the geese that were still flying were now flying well out of range.  We finally called it a day at about 1 pm.

So, that’s it.  That’s how it started.  I’ve been chasing them for 45 years now and hopefully will be doing it a while longer.


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