Archive for the 'Hunting Tips' Category

Keep it Legal – Keep it Clean

Since it’s about a month and a half until duck season opens here in Southern California I figured now would be a good time to go over some of the rules, regulations and common courtesies involved in the sport. There’s nothing worse than getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, and having Mr. Green Jeans scratching you out an expensive citation and ejecting you from the wildlife area while fellow hunters look on from the neighboring blinds. So, here’s some of the stuff you need to know, or for most of us, already know, but maybe a little reminder wouldn’t hurt so nobody “forgets” what they’re supposed to do.

First, and most obvious, is the season dates and limits. For the 2018/19 season in the Southern California Area (where San Jacinto Wildlife Area is located) the following regulations apply:
Ducks and Geese: October 20, 2018, through January 27, 2019.
Special Youth Hunt Days: February 2 and February 3, 2019. (San Jacinto’s Annual Youth Hunt will be February 2nd, 2019).

Ducks: Daily bag limit: 7. Which may consist of 7 mallards, of which only 2 can be female; 2 pintail; 2 canvasback; 2 redheads; 3 scaup. (*NOTE* – Scaup may only be taken November 3rd, 2018 through January 27th, 2019 – so be careful the first two weeks of the season once again. There’s always a few Scaup around SJ before their season opens).
Geese: Daily bag limit: 23 of which 20 may be white geese and 3 may be dark geese.
Possession Limit Ducks and Geese: Triple the daily bag limit.
Black Brant (Although a “sea goose” I’ll add this because occasionally a few seem to show up at San Jacinto): November 9, 2018 – December 15, 2018. Daily bag limit: 2 per day. Possession limit triple the daily bag limit
Ok, now that we have the most obvious out of the way here’s a few more we all need to keep in mind.

“Electronic” Spinning wing decoys (AKA – mojos) will be allowed from December 1st until the season ends (statewide) – non-motorized / wind-powered mojos are allowed all season.

NO LEAD AMMO!! This should be a no-brainer if you’ve hunted ducks within that last 26 years. The prohibition on lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting is a federal law and was phased-in starting in the 1987/88 hunting season and was nationwide by 1991. You might think that, since it’s been so long since the phase-in that no one needs a reminder of this. The reason I mention it is that even though California is phasing out lead ammo throughout the state for any type of hunting it still hasn’t been phased out altogether. We are currently in phase 2 of the phase-out of lead ammo in California and phase 2 states “Phase 2 – Effective July 1, 2016, nonlead shot required when taking upland game birds with a shotgun, except for dove, quail, snipe, and any game birds taken on licensed game bird clubs. In addition, nonlead shot required when using a shotgun to take resident small game mammals, furbearing mammals, nongame mammals, nongame birds, and any wildlife for depredation purposes.” So, if you happened to be out in the desert chasing quail last week and you’re going to bring the same sweatshirt you wore out there to go duck hunting this week make dern sure you thoroughly go through the pockets to make sure you didn’t leave a round or two of lead quail loads in there. Mr. or Ms. Warden won’t take the “oops, I forgot” excuse if the find any lead shot in your possession so make sure you don’t have any out there.

Sort of related to that is the shell limit. On any state wildlife area or federal refuge, you are limited to 25 rounds in the field. That’s not 25 rounds in the blind and another 25 hidden somewhere between your truck and the blind, that’s 25 period. If you really need more shells take the walk back to your truck, at least they allow us to keep some in our vehicles. In reality, there aren’t too many days you’re going to need more than 25 rounds. This is another good reason to check your pockets before you go into the field. You don’t want the aforementioned Warden(s) to check you early in the day and find out that, because you left 3 shells in your waders from chasing a cripple last week, you are in possession of 28 shells. Another big ticket.

Again, sort of related, make sure if you’re shooting a pump or auto-loading shotgun that is capable of holding more than two shells in the magazine make sure you have a magazine plug installed. You’re allowed three shells in the shotgun total, one in the chamber and two in the magazine. Don’t get caught without a plug installed in your shotgun while out in the field. Another big “ka-ching” if you’re caught.

Littering…(my pet peeve – the main reason for the “keep it clean” in this post title). If you brought in that candy bar, water bottle, ammo box or whatever assorted garbage you produce while in the blind, CARRY IT BACK OUT!! This includes your empty shotgun shells. Obviously, this stuff will weigh less than when you brought it in so there’s no excuse, (or actually there’s one partial excuse, which is to follow right here ->>>). Now I know, because it happens to me almost every hunt, with a modern pump gun or autoloader you’re going to lose a few shells. It can’t be helped as most of these guns throw the empties quite a way. But, please, make every effort to retrieve as many of your spent shells as you possibly can, plus any that you find that prior hunters missed picking up. Obviously littering is illegal, not only on the wildlife area but everywhere so just why would you even do it? A handy appliance for picking up spent shells is a shell stick. Here’s a link on how to build one, if you don’t want to bend over umpteen times picking up shells around your blind:

Skybusting. Please, just don’t. Skybusting or skyscraping is shooting at birds that are out of range hoping to get that one “magic bb” in the right spot to bring down the bird. I know it’s tempting, especially when things are slow, all you’ll usually end up doing is scaring away ducks that may have been starting to work a neighboring blind’s decoys or, worse, wounding a bird to fly off and die later on. Although there is no law against skybusting it makes you extremely unpopular with your fellow hunters so it’s not a good idea, unless you have stock holdings in an ammunition manufacturing business. 40 yards is about the furthest you should shoot at a duck. If you need some practice getting an idea of what a duck looks like at 40 yards take a life-sized decoy out to the local high school field and set it on the goal line and then walk out to the 40 yards line and look at it.

Excessive and/or poor calling. Another “just don’t” that’s not illegal but will PO your neighboring hunters if you “just do”. Calling properly actually takes some talent and, more importantly, practice to do correctly. I wrote a post on this a while back, so I’ll not rehash it here. Just click on the link below to read that post:

Parking. At SJ most of the blinds have specific parking areas. When you get you blind assignment in the morning (or later if you’re refilling) the SJ staff will tell you where to park. In most cases, these parking areas are for two reasons. First, to keep your vehicle safe. Nothing is worse than coming back to your truck and finding your windshield or the paint on your hood was peppered by shot sometime during the day. Second these spots are also designed so that as hunters come and go during the day it minimizes the disturbance of the other blinds in the area. So, park where you’re supposed to park to avoid the above problems.

Start/finish time. Start time, and finishing time, or legal shooting time, is posted at the check station for each day’s hunting. BTW – There’s an App for that! It’s called your cell phone. Set alarm times for start and finish times before you leave the check station. At San Jacinto the staff there also comes out into the wildlife area just before start time and blows an air horn at start time so there’s really no excuse to shoot early. Depending on the time of year and the conditions the morning fly off is sometime the only chance some hunters will get to bag a duck or two. If some, (yes, I’ll say it), Jerk shoots 5 minutes early it could ruin the hunt day for half the wildlife area, at least. It also tends to start a chain reaction of people shooting early as they think, since someone shot, that it’s now start time and their watch or cell phone is somehow set to the wrong time. It’s really the height of selfishness to shoot early just to try to bag a bird and thereby screw up everybody else’s hunt that day. Lastly, this one is illegal and if the Wardens catch you you’re done for the day with an expensive ticket.

So, that’s about it. The season’s just around the corner and it’s about time to pull the duck gear out of the garage and get ready for another season of duck hunting at San Jacinto. Hope to see you out there sometime.

The Shell Stick

As you probably know, if you’ve read some of the past posts here on the SoCalHunt Blog, one of my pet peeves is litter in and around the blinds and hunting area.  One of the biggest sources of this litter is the obvious byproduct of waterfowl hunting with a shotgun, especially a pump or auto-loader, empty shell casings.

Almost without exception (unfortunately) just about any blind I’ve occupied in the past several season after opening day has had some degree of empty shell litter.  In fact, it is such a rarity to get a completely clean blind that I will usually mention that the blind was clean upon my arrival in my hunting reports here on SoCalHunt.  As a consequence of the operation of the pump or auto-loading shotguns most waterfowlers use, empty shells get thrown all around inside and outside the blind.  The multi colored plastic of the different brands of shells and their shiny “brass” bases lend unwanted decoration to the hunting site.  (I put “brass” in quotes for a reason, I’ll explain later)  Now I can understand not picking up every single shell ejected by your gun.   It’s almost impossible to locate every one.  Some land in brush or bushes, some hit the water and float away before the hunter has a chance to gather them up and some get stepped on and driven into the mud before they’re seen so I’m not ranting against the hunter that might leave two or three random shells around a blind.  It’s the 20, 30 or 40 random shells strewn about that tick me off.

I always carry a couple of plastic grocery bags out to the blind with me to dispose of my trash and I always make it a point to clean up any other litter I find, including the masses of empty shells found all too often in and around the blind.  As the sands of time flow through the hourglass and my body, especially my back, ages, it has begun to become more difficult to bend over 20, 30 or 40 times to pick up someone else’s empty shell casings.  Yeah…I’m an old fart.  Anyway, I don’t want to stop picking up empties just because it makes my back a little sore.

The key to the solution to this is something that I discovered about most shotgun shells that some might not realize.  Shotgun shell “brass”, in most cases, isn’t brass.  Its plated steel.  I’m sure there’s exceptions but I have yet to find one that is actual brass.  Maybe if you found a real old shell it would have a real brass base but then it would probably be an illegal shell for waterfowl hunting as it would probably contain lead shot.

The reason this discovery is important for my solution is that steel is magnetic and brass isn’t.  Since almost all shotgun shell “brass” is plated steel it is magnetic.

So, here’s the solution…






I simply took an about 2 1/2 foot piece of broomstick and mounted a powerful “rare earth” magnet on the end of it.  I then wrapped some camo tape around the broomstick and, “Voila!”, a shell picker-upper.  Now I don’t have to bend over each time I have to pick up an empty shell.  The magnet is strong enough that I can sometimes pick up 4 or 5 shells at a time if they’re close together.

The magnet, which is the most important part of this devise, can be found at places like Lowe’s, Home Depot or Harbor Freight however most of these don’t have a hole for mounting them on a broom stick.  If you use this type you’d probably have to epoxy the magnet on the stick.  The one that I used for my shell stick I found on ebay.  Just search “rare earth magnet” on ebay and you should be able to find a few offers of round rare earth magnets with countersunk holes in them that are perfect for this use.   You can probably get a lot of 3 to 5 of them for around $6.

One more note on the magnet.  Be sure it’s a “rare earth” magnet as they have greater pulling power then a regular old magnet.  If you get a weak kid’s toy type magnet it probably will have problems holding the shells as you pick them up.

I hope this helps anybody who wants to keep things clean in the blind to make it easier for you and helps save your back.

Shotgun Shells – 2 ¾” – 3” – 3 ½” – Analysis

Many times, in many hunting forums, especially ones that deal with duck hunting, there seems to be a controversy regarding they type of shells used. And, not so much by brand, or even shot size (although you will get strong opinions on that too), but it is the length of the shell more then anything.

Since the advent of the requirement of non-toxic shot for waterfowl hunting many people who used to use 2 ¾” shells for duck hunting in the “good old days”, when we could use lead shot, have had to reanalyze their choices when it comes to non-toxic. Although there are some substitutes, such as Bismuth or Tungsten that come closer to lead shot in performance, due to their high prices most hunters in the marsh opt to use steel shot so I will concentrate on steel shot vs. lead shot in this analysis.

It has been said that you have to go up two sizes in steel shot to get near the performance of lead shot. The main reason for this is due to steel’s lighter weight per pellet. I won’t go through all the shot sizes but in this short article I’ll concentrate on a old time (lead days) favorite load 1 3/8 ounces of #5 shot in a 2 ¾ inch shell.

First we must compare the shot its self. #5 lead shot is 0.12 inches in diameter. Since we measure the weight of shot in grains we have to do a little math. One ounce equals 437.5 grains. In an ounce of #5 lead shot there are 170 pellets. If you divide 437.5 grains by 170 pellets you find that each pellet is 2.58 grains. If you do the math for #5 steel you’ll find that weighs 1.80 grains, only 70% of the weight of #5 lead.

Since, by conventional wisdom, you must go up two shot sizes to achieve near the same performance when going from lead to steel then we need to compare #3 steel shot. #3 steel shot is 0.14 inches in diameter. There are 158 pellets in an ounce of #3 steel shot. If you divide 437.5 grains by 158 pellets you find that each pellet is 2.76 grains.

Weight is what carries velocity. If you have lead and steel shot of the same size the lead will carry its velocity further as it weighs more then the steel of equal size. It is, for an exaggerated comparison, like throwing a rock vs. throwing a foam packing peanut of the same size. You know which is going to carry further.

Now, this is not to say we’re trying to stretch our shotgun’s range and become skybusters, what we’re trying to do is get near same performance out of steel shot as we used to enjoy from lead shot.

Now we need to look at shell capacity. You can stuff the same number of the same sized shot into the same sized shell but you’re not going to get the same weight. A load of 1 3/8 ounce of lead, about the most you can get in a 2 ¾ inch shell, will yield you 234 pellets of #5 lead to send downrange. Putting 234 pellets of #5 steel in the same shell will give you just less then an ounce of shot, there being 243 pellets of #5 steel in an ounce, so you’d actually be 9 pellets short of a full ounce of steel shot.

To get the same weight of steel shot in a shell you would have to put 334 pellets into the shell, 100 more then with lead shot. This takes a 3 ½ inch shell to achieve. For example, the offerings in Federal Speed Shok Steel Waterfowl ammo are the following, 2 ¾ inch – 1 1/8 ounce, 3 inch – 1 1/8 and 1 ¼ ounce and 3 ½ inch – 1 3/8 and 1 ½ ounce.

So, now that we know how much shot, weight wise, we can get in each length of shell, how do we figure which to use to get comparable performance to lead? We have to go back to the physical numbers again, since we’re going up two shot sizes to get the same velocity performance, or killing power, out of each individual pellet.

#5 lead 1 3/8 ounce (which, as a reminder, will fit in an 2 ¾ inch shell) contains 234 pellets. Since we now know that we need to go up two sizes in shot size to get the same velocity or killing power out of each individual pellet then we need to figure out how to send about the same number of larger shot out to meet your bird. 1 ½ ounces of #3 steel equals 237 pellets, just 3 more pellets then our #5 lead 1 3/8 ounce load.

Now, another aspect of steel vs. lead is that with lead loads the shot is relatively soft in comparison to your steel gun barrel. This always means that some of the shot would be flattened and deformed as it made its way through the barrel and choke. This always resulted in “flyers”, shot that would go slightly off course due to no longer being round in shape. With steel you don’t have this problem. The steel shot is approximately 3 times harder than lead and you should get very few “flyers” with steel. This actually allows you to step down your choke, as steel will give you a slightly denser pattern. Most recommendations are to use a Improved Cylinder choke for shooting birds over decoys, about 35 yards max give or take and then a Modified choke for anything further then that. Most don’t recommend a Full choke as it is a little tight for the steel shot that won’t deform.

There you have it. An analysis of steel vs. lead shot. I’m sure there will be as many opinions about this as there are shotguns on the Wildlife Area on an opening Saturday but when it comes down to it each hunter must decide what they feel gives them the best performance and what they shoot best to bring down the birds. Good luck, no matter what you decide to use come opening day.

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.

The Blind Bag

This is my blind bag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.  My blind bag is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.  (Apologies to the Marine Corps).

Well, maybe you shouldn’t take your blind bag this seriously but, in my opinion, it is an important piece of equipment.  Once you get into duck hunting you find that there are numerous small items that range anywhere from handy to have to downright essential and a blind bag brings all these items together in one handy place making them easy to find and easy to carry out to the blind.


Most blind bags are to one degree or another somewhat waterproof, at least on the bottom.  Many are designed around a rubber or plastic bottom piece where camo fabric is attached to build the blind bag.  This allows you to set the bag down in the bottom of a wet blind (wet, not flooded) and not get the contents of the bag wet.  Most blind bags have a carrying handle and a shoulder handle, which give you a couple of options of how to carry the bag out to the blind.

As I implied in the first sentence of this article, no two blind bags are alike.  We each have our own ideas of what we need out in the marsh and pack our blind bags according to our choices.  I’ve included a few photographs along with this article showing what I have in my blind bag.  I’ll go over each and share my choices of what I have put in my blind bag.  You may or may not agree with these choices but hopefully you will find this a handy “starting point” for stocking your blind bag.

My blind bag has three external pockets, a main internal area and a couple of mesh pockets in the lid.


Let’s start with the larger outside pocket, or rear pocket as you look at the front of the blind bag.  For me, this one is easy.  This is where I put my 25 shotgun shells.  Remember, when hunting a State or Federal refuge or wildlife area in California you are restricted to 25 rounds of non-toxic shot while in the field.  For me the easy way to do this, so that I don’t miscount, is a 25-shell belt.  It fits nicely in the larger rear pocket on my blind bag and by a quick glance I can see how many rounds I have.



Next we move around to the right side pocket.  In this pocket I keep all the calls I’ve accumulated through the years (although if you’ve read my articles before you know I don’t use calls all that much).  I also have a pair of reading glasses, in case I have to do something that requires me to see something close (since a lot of us older hunters can’t see nothin’ up close) and, inside a zip-lock bag in case it leaks, a cloth and some break-free to wipe down and lube the shotgun if necessary.


Moving over to the left side we find a roll of camo duct-tape, my wonderful (when its cold) Jon-e hand warmer, a bottle of aspirin, a slip-on shotgun sling, a couple of LED headlamps, a brush (to brush mud or dirt off the shotgun) and a battery back-up for my cell phone.


Moving to the main compartment of the blind bag we find the following.  Avon Skin So Soft (don’t laugh, it’s a great mosquito repellant), a can of Deet based mosquito repellant and a thermacell mosquito repellant devise.  Can you tell mosquitos are a problem in the marsh some times?  Also you’ll find the small fuel bottles and repellant pads for the Thermacell, a couple of bottles of lighter fluid to run the hand warmer (only reason there’s two is one is almost empty), some cord, a small bungee-strap, an extra decoy weight, a duck ID book and a waterproof cell phone case.  Also, kept in this area are my binoculars, which I missed getting in the picture (They’re in the picture of the right pocket but they go into the main compartment).  Also, in this particular bag there are a couple of small plastic pockets inside the main compartment that I didn’t pull out for the picture that have some extra batteries (for the head lamps and the cell phone back-up), some matches, a few band-aids and a couple of chap-sticks (which really come in handy when its windy).  Also, on the back of the lid for this compartment, which is not shown on the picture (but is shown in the picture of the rear pocket), is a couple of mesh pockets with a couple of camo head covers, a couple of pair of camo gloves and a spool of braid fishing line (which is what I use for decoy cord).


So there you have it.  As you can see there’s a lot of stuff inside a typical blind bag.  And, as I always say, I’d rather have it and not need it then need it and not have it.

So, You Want to Start Duck Hunting? (Part 3)

This is part three of a three part series on how to get started in duck hunting. In the prior post (part 2) we discussed shotguns and ammo.

Okay, now that you’re licensed and you’ve got your shotgun and ammo you’re almost done…NOT! Now you need to get the rest of the gear that will turn you in to a full-fledged waterfowler.

Next on your list should be waders. There are basically three types of waders, neoprene, rubber/canvas, and breathables. When I say waders I’m talking about full chest high waders, not hip boots. There may be a few ponds that you can get away with wearing hip boots but they are few and far between so you should get full on chest high waders. Even if a pond is only a foot and a half deep you can have problems with hip boots as, if you hit a soft spot on the bottom, you can sink a foot or so in the mud and once the water comes over the top of the hip boots you’re wet and (depending on the weather) cold for the rest of the day. I have had all three types of waders in my time. I have developed a preference for stocking foot waders as you can then tightly lace a pair of wading boots to them and you have no problem with the mud pulling the boot off your foot as I have always had in boot-foot waders. Lately I have leaned towards the breathables as, being I’m in Southern California, it usually isn’t cold enough to require the neoprene and its sometimes way to hot to be comfortable in the neoprene, especially if you have to walk any distance at all. With the breathables you can just wear long underwear and pants under them if you expect it to be cold. Expect to pay around $75 at least for a decent pair of chest high stocking foot waders (either neoprene or breathables) and an additional $40 or so for wading boots. If you prefer boot foot waders you might be able to find a decent pair for around $75 or so and not have to buy the wading boots.

Next is clothing. You should have the following, all in some type of camo pattern:

A long sleeve t-shirt, a sweatshirt, a jacket, some type of rain jacket (this can be a full on insulated rain jacket or a rain shell to just cover your other clothes to keep the rain off) a hat, a stocking cap and gloves. I tend to try and keep my camo patterns on the brownish side rather then the greenish side as most of the vegetation in the marsh tends to be on the brownish side of the spectrum. Check off season sales on this type of camo clothing, especially with some of the big on-line retailers. You can sometimes get some great deals if you hit the ads right. Expect to spend around $150 to $300 for this clothing depending on which sales you manage to get in on.

Now on to decoys. Decoys can be a controversial subject. There are many that think the more the merrier and then there are some that think less is more. For a start I’d say get at least a dozen. You can sometimes find good sales in the off season also. A good combo pack is the Avery Greenhead Gear puddler pack which gives you a nice variety of ducks for your decoy spread. Each puddler pack gives you 2 Pintails, 2 American Wigeons, 2 Green Winged Teal and cost about $35. Two puddler packs are enough to get you started and they’re great looking decoys. All you’ll need then is a little fishing line and a dozen 3 or 4 ounce weights (which, if you’ve ever fished, you might already have in the garage). The only other thing you’d need would be a decoy bag to transport the decoys in. You should be able to find one of those for about $10 or so. One tip on the bag. Take an empty water bottle and zip tie it to the bag. That way, if you drop the bag in the water it won’t sink and you won’t loose it.

Now on to calls. I wrote a post on calls a while back so I’ll just refer you to that. I’m not a big fan of calls unless you’re real good at it and it really takes a talent. Check this link for further on calls:

Seating is the next subject. Unless you want to stand up all day you’ll usually need something to sit on. There are some blinds that actually have seats in them already but, for the most part, you’ll need a seat to sit on. This can be anything from a 5 gallon bucket painted camo to a dove seat to a folding director’s chair in camo. Whatever you choose be sure it is either camo colored or some flat greenish or brownish colors. A decent dove seat goes for around $20. A bucket you might be able to find for $6 or $8 and then add some paint.

Lastly, what to carry all this stuff in/with? When you’re just starting out you can probably just carry the stuff in your hands and on our back. The bucket or dove chair (which usually has a pouch beneath it) can carry your loose items such as shells, calls, lunch and other assorted small stuff. The decoy bag can usually be carried on your back like a backpack and the shotgun can be carried in hand or with a sling over your back. The waders and clothing you’ll be wearing out to the blind. Later, when you fully caught the addiction and have accumulated all kinds of gear you’ll want to take out to the blind, you might want to invest in a cart for your equipment. One of the best I’ve seen is the Ducks & Bucks Cart Blind. I also did a review on the D & B cart a while back so I’ll refer you to that link if you’re interested:–-ducks-bucks-cart-blind/

So there you have it. The basics to get you started in duck hunting. Hopefully it will lead to a lifelong addiction, as it has with me, and I’ll see you out at the refuge from time to time.

So, You Want to Start Duck Hunting? (Part 2)

This is part two of a three part series on how to get started in duck hunting. In the prior post (part 1) we discussed getting licensed to hunt ducks.

Now that you have your license what’s next?

Well, next in importance is a shotgun. Without a shotgun you’d be a bird watcher out in the marsh so, what should you get for your duck gun? My personal preference is a pump action 12 gauge. My reason for this is mainly reliability and ease of use. Some people like semi-auto shotguns, as they don’t seem to “kick” as much and there are others that like a nice over/under double barrel. You might want to check at a local trap range and see if you can rent a couple different shotguns and see what your preference is. Another good source you might want to consider that could save you some money is if you have a local pawn shop that handles firearms you can sometimes pick up a used gun for cheap as well as checking out the consignment and used guns at the local gun shop. I’ll list a few of what I think are good starter shotguns for your consideration. Of course, the final decision is entirely up the the individual hunter and what he or she prefers and can afford:

Mossberg 500 – A very basic, pretty “bulletproof” pump action gun. They’ve been around for many years and work well. They can handle 3-inch ammo and are not too expensive. You can pick up a new 500 for around $280 to $300 or so. I have recently seen a deal at Big 5 for one of these that comes with 28 inch barrel with screw in chokes and another 18 inch barrel for home defense for about this much money. Many years ago I bought my son his first duck gun at a pawn shop and it was a version of a Mossberg 500 but is marked “New Haven 600AT”. I believe I paid about $125 for it from the pawn shop.

Remington 870 Wingmaster – Just take a look at the shotgun rack in any police car in the US and I’ll bet 99 times out of 100 you’ll see a Remington 870 sitting in that rack. These guys bet their life on these guns so you know an 870 is reliable. I’ve heard some of the newer “express” models aren’t as well made but I have no personal experience with them so I don’t know for sure. I do have a 50+ year-old 870 that used to be my duck gun. I mainly use it for upland now as it only handles 2 ¾ inch shells so when we had to go to steel I retired it from duck hunting. Most of the more recent 870s will handle 3-inch ammo and there are even a few around that they chambered for 3 ½ inch shells but they are hard to find. You’ll probably be looking at about $400+ or so for an 870. Another good one to look for used in a pawn shop or as a used gun at a gun shop.

Remington 1100 – The 1100 is a good basic reliable semi-auto. Of course, made by the same folks that make the 870. My preference is for pump guns so I have no personal experience with the 1100 but they have a reputation for reliability and, from what I understand, tame the recoil somewhat over what you’ll feel with a pump gun. Most will handle 3-inch shells although some of the older ones only took 2 ¾ inch shells. Again you can sometime find a deal on an 1100 at the local pawn shop or used at a local gun shop. 1100s go for around $500+.

Benelli Super Nova (or just Nova {older model}) – A newer style pump gun. These have a polymer stock and fore-end and come in black anodized or camo. Novas are a good reliable shotgun and will handle all ammo up to and including 3 ½ inch shells. This is what I use as my waterfowl gun and it works great. I don’t think you’ll see too many of these in pawn shops or on the used gun rack at your local gun store but they aren’t too pricy and you can walk out the door with a Super Nova for around $450 give or take a little.

As with all things, shotguns are a big personal preference item and these are just a few suggestions to get you started. Try some of them out and don’t be afraid of a used gun as most of them, especially the pump guns, are hard to mess up as long as minimal maintenance is done.

Now, the next thing you’ll need is ammo. What are you going to feed your shotgun? Of course, due to federal waterfowl regulations, you have to use “non-toxic” shot. This means steel, bismuth, tungsten or heavy shot. No lead! That’s a big ticket if you’re caught with any lead shot on your person or in you gear when you’re out duck hunting…don’t do it! Personally whatever I use I like it to be what’s referred to as “fast”. In other words I like mine to have a muzzle velocity of at least 1550 feet per second. I’ve seen some steel loads that have a velocity of 1300 fps or less. These, in my humble opinion, are too slow for reliable, kill shots on ducks. There are some newer non-toxic loads that have a velocity of 1625 fps or more. In the case of duck loads, as they say, speed kills. Steel shot will be your cheapest option and a box of 3” or 3 ½” “fast” steel shot loads will cost about $13 to $18. Other non-toxic loads (other then steel) can run anywhere from $15 to up to as much as $32 a box. A lot of these non-steel non-toxic shot shells come in boxes of 10 instead of boxes of 25 as most steel shot loads do, even with those afore mentioned high prices so you could be paying up to $3 a round or more for some of the more expensive types. As for shot size, personally I like #3’s. Lots of people shoot #4’s and a lot of people shoot #2’s. If there is a possibility of geese I usually carry a few rounds of BB or T size shot just in case.

Well, now that you’re armed and ready. In the next installment we’ll discuss the rest of the equipment you’ll need to get into duck hunting.

So, You Want to Start Duck Hunting? (part 1)

This will be a three part series on how to get started in duck hunting. To begin, of course, is part one.

So, you want to start duck hunting?

Are you nuts? You want to get up at all hours of the very early morning, battle sub freezing temperatures, wade through freezing water and two foot deep mud, sit in the rain and spend large amounts of money to shoot at a few ducks?

Okay, all kidding aside, there’s nothing like duck hunting and despite some of the above “hardships” those of us that have the addiction wouldn’t trade it for the world. If you’d like to join in with the addicted the following advise will at least get you started, hopefully for a minimum amount of dinero.

First of all you’ll need your hunting license, but, before you can get that you’ll need to take a Hunter’s Education Course and get your Hunter’s Education Certificate. By law you can’t buy a hunting license without first taking, and passing, a Hunter’s Education Course. There are on-line courses you can take, however, these require you to show up and take a 4-hour follow-up course to get your actual certificate. If that’s your preference just search “hunter’s safety course Southern California” on the Internet and you’ll find several. Probably better (in my opinion anyway) is to take a full 8 hour course with a Hunter’s Safety Instructor. You can find a list of scheduled classes through the Department of Fish and Game at the following link:

Some of these courses aren’t too expensive but expect to put out between $10 and about $50 depending on where you take the course. Every spring San Jacinto Wildlife Area offers the course for free, but that’s already happened this year. If you’d been checking SoCalHunt regularly you would have seen the announcement for this year’s course at San Jacinto.

Okay, now that you have your certificate next is the license. You can get that at any DFG license agent (AKA: sporting goods store, Walmart, etc.) or at your nearest DFG Office (check the DFG web site for locations). If you do get it at your DFG Office you’ll actually save 5% as they don’t charge you the license agent handling fee that the sporting goods and other “license agents” will charge. They will, however, charge you a 3% license buyer surcharge, although the “license agents” also charge this fee. Actually, right now, you may want to hold off on this step until just before July, or even just before duck season, as hunting licenses are good from July 1 to June 30, but you can buy them earlier if you’d like to. I’d at least get it before September 1st as that’s then opener for dove season, which is a good “tune up” for duck hunting. The cost for your license, and necessary stamps will be (from the DFG web site:

$44.85 – resident hunting license
$19.44 – California duck stamp validation
$ 9.21 – Upland game bird validation (just in case I go quail or dove hunting – it’s worth having for that option in case you don’t get drawn out of the sweatline bucket.)
$ 0.00 – Harvest Information Program (HIP) validation – (required to get a license – you’ll be required to take a short survey of your last season’s hunting. If this is your first license that should be an easy survey.)
$15.00 – Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp – (AKA: Federal Duck Stamp) – (This one you’ll have to get at either the Post Office or many of the “license agents” carry them as a convenience for their customers – you won’t be able to get this stamp at the DFG Office).

Therefore, according to the above, your total price to get licensed to duck hunt will be about $79.29 or, if you want the option to upland hunt, $88.50.

Also, one more thing, if you’re going to hunt a refuge such as Wister or San Jacinto you’ll need a type A one-day, two-day or season pass. I always buy the season pass as I go often enough to make that a really good deal. I hunted 17 times this past season, which figured out to $8.22 for each hunt day. If you were fortunate enough to be able to hunt every available hunt day at a refuge like Wister, which hunts Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, that would give you a potential 44 hunt days which would figure out to $3.18 for each hunt. (Of course, this was figured on last season’s season long pass price). The refuge check stations don’t sell these passes any more so you have to have them in your possession when you arrive on opening day or you will be turned away, even if you have a #1 reservation. Get them at the same place you got your license. Per the DFG web site the price for the 2012/2013 season pass is:

$150.69 – season long type A pass

The DFG license web site doesn’t list the prices for the one-day and two-day passes yet but last season’s prices were:

$ 18.00 – one-day type A pass
$ 31.58 – two-day type A pass

You can expect these will go up a little, probably around a buck or two.

You’ll have to do the math and see which permit(s) might be best for you based on how many times you expect to hunt during the season.

One last thing on the licenses and permits, all of them are available on-line at the DFG licensing sales web site at:

However, even though you can buy these on-line, if you do that you’ll have to wait up to 15 days to receive the actual license, stamp validations and/or permits in the mail before you can use them. Now, if you’re buying your license, stamps and permits a long ways out from the season, no problem. But, if you’re buying close to or after the start of the season waiting for them to come in the mail may constitute a problem. If you buy these in person at a “license agent” of DFG Office then you walk out with the actual license, stamps and/or permits and there’s no waiting involved.

Okay, that’s it for the first part. Now you’re “legal” so what’s next? In the next installment will discuss one of the most necessary items you’ll need when duck hunting…the shotgun and what to feed it (ammo).

Season Reminders for the 2011/2012 Waterfowl Season

On the eve of the 2011/2012 waterfowl season SoCalHunt would like to remind everyone of a few things for this year’s season, some if it old info everyone should know, some of it new info.

First and foremost DO NOT forget that you will need to purchase your 1 day, 2 day or season pass BEFORE you arrive at the check station. This is one of the big changes for this year. The check stations at all the refuges WILL NOT be selling any permits or handling any money. Your pass may be purchased on-line at the DFG web site, however, if you do buy your permit on line you have to wait for DFG to mail it to you. If you haven’t already got your permit then it is way to late to purchase it on-line for the opener tomorrow. You can, however, buy it in person at any of the DFG offices or “license agents” (AKA: sporting goods stores, Wal-Mart, etc.). If you do not have a permit when you show up at the check station tomorrow morning you cannot hunt and you will be asked to leave. Don’t blow a good reservation or a good sweatline draw just because you forgot to get your permit!

A little related note is in order here. If you’re going to San Jacinto they have, in the past, relied on change from permit sales to fill the 5-gallon water bottle on their counter with donations for the Junior Waterfowl Hunt at the end of the season. Since they are no longer handling any money this will dry up the source of this change for the bottle. Please, if you can afford it, bring a buck or two or three for the Junior Hunt bottle.

Secondly, regulations for the Southern California Zone (which will cover San Jacinto and Wister) is as follows:

Ducks (including Mergansers):

Season: From the fourth Saturday in October extending for 100 days. (October 22 – January 29)
Scaup: From the first Saturday in November extending for 86 days. (November 5 – January 29)

Daily bag limit: 7
Daily bag limit may include:
7 mallards, but not more than 2 females.
2 pintail (either sex).
1 canvasback (either sex).
2 redheads (either sex).
3 scaup (either sex).
Possession limit: double the daily bag limit.


Season (San Jacinto Area for all geese & Wister Area for Dark Geese): From the fourth Saturday in October extending for 100 days. (October 22 – January 29).
Wister Area (Special Management Area) for white geese only: From the first Saturday in November extending for a period of 86 days (Regular Season – November 5 – January 29) and from the second Saturday in February extending for 16 days (Late Season – February 4 – February 19). During the Late Season, hunting is not permitted on public areas (AKA Wister).

Daily bag limit: 8
Daily bag limit may include:
6 white geese.
3 dark geese.
Possession limit: double the daily bag limit.
During the late season, in the special management area, the daily bag limit is 6 white geese.
Possession limit: double the daily bag limit.

Shooting hours are ½ hour before sunrise until sunset. VERY IMPORTANT – ½ hour before sunrise is 30 minutes. NOT 35 minutes, NOT 38 minutes, NOT 41 minutes, NOT even 31 minutes. The legal shooting time for the area you are hunting will be posted at the check station – WRITE IT DOWN. Set you cell phone alarm to go off at the specified time if you can’t trust your watch or something. Just don’t shoot early. It ticks off your neighboring hunters, especially if they have birds sitting in their decoys, and you are subject to citation if the Warden happens to be in the area. Sometimes, during slow periods early in the season, the first few minutes of the day can make or break a hunt and its really disappointing to have someone ruin it just because they couldn’t wait 5 or 6 minutes until legal shooting time.

Along these lines is the subject of skybusting. Skybusting, for those that may not know, is shooting at birds that are basically out of range. 40 yards is about the maximum effective range for shooting at waterfowl, maybe 50 if you’re real good (which I am not). Can you down birds at 50, 60 or 70 yards? Yes, you can get lucky and get that “golden BB” in a bird and drop it but it’s a low percentage shot and, again, it’s a real good way to tick off you neighboring hunters, especially if the birds are working your neighbor’s decoys. Also, you are more likely to wound a bird and have it fly off to die later when shooting at extreme distances which isn’t good for the resource and not fair to the game we hunt. If you don’t know what 40 yards looks like go to your nearest high school and stand on the 40 yards line of the football field and see how far the goal line is from you. Maybe even take a decoy out there with you and put it on the goal line and look at it from the 40 yard line and see how big it looks and how good you can see the colors and the eyes of the decoy. Burn those images into your memory and then, when you’re hunting, imagine what that looks like in your mind and don’t shoot beyond that. Please don’t skybust. It may not be illegal but it is unethical and a real good way to have every hunter in the area ready to ride you outta there on a rail.

Also, don’t forget the 25 shell limit on the refuges. You can only have 25 shells in possession while hunting. Make sure there are no stray shells in your pockets or your blind bag or anywhere else. In addition, make sure that you have non-toxic shot (steel, bismuth, heavy-shot, tungsten) and NO lead shot in your possession. These are also a citable offense that Mr. Warden will take a dim view of either too many shells in possession or any lead shot in possession, even if it’s a stray shell in your hunting vest from quail hunting last weekend.

Don’t forget basic equipment such as, your shotgun, waders, ammo, decoys and what have you.

Well, that’s all for now. Here’s wishing everyone a great opening day and a great season to come. We’ll see you out there in the sweatline at 0300!

To Call or Not to Call? That is the Question. The Quack Attack.

Duck calling is a true art. It takes a modicum of talent to do it correctly. Not only that it takes a good chunk of time dedicated to practice to do it right. Some types of calls are easier to master then others, but there are some things common to all calls. Hunters that either have little experience or are miss-informed about the purpose and effectiveness of duck calls ignore many of these aspects.

First – Don’t call at birds that are already heading your way. If the ducks are already heading towards you the only thing you might accomplish by calling is to flare the birds away from your blind. A real talented caller may not spook the ducks but if they are already heading in calling won’t improve that. If the duck are already heading your way DON’T CALL. The only exception to this would be using a light feeding cackle as the ducks circle your decoy spread, and this is only if you know how to do it right.

Second – Don’t call at an empty sky. Calling into an empty sky, with no birds flying, will not magically make ducks appear. No matter how good a caller you are if the ducks aren’t in the air all your calling might accomplish is to annoy hunters in adjacent blinds. Not only because of the noise your making but especially because they will be craning their necks to see what you’re calling at.

Third – If you’re going to use a call, PRACTICE. Bad calling is worse then no calling. I will be the first to admit that I am not a good caller. Because of that I limit myself to a pintail whistle and, occasionally when the situation calls for it, a goose call (which is easier to at least call decently with then a duck call). There are many good DVD’s and even videos on youtube that you can find that will help you in becoming a good caller. This is the time of year to start practicing. Get a DVD or peruse youtube and practice as often as possible. Go to a local park lake and see if you can attract ducks with your call. When you get them swimming over to see who’s “talking” to them then you’re probably ready.

Forth – Call only at birds heading away from you. The real purpose of a duck call is to bring the ducks attention to your decoy spread. Once the ducks turn and see your spread and start in don’t call. Again, if you are proficient with it, the only exception would be a light feeding cackle as the ducks circle your decoy spread.

Fifth – Did I mention PRACTICE!

Sixth – If you’re not real good at calling you might want to try a pintail whistle. Some may not be aware of it but most ducks actually whistle instead of quack. Try a pintail whistle as it is not too hard to imitate pintail (of course), teal, and widgeon which are more prevalent in our Southern California marshes any way.

So, if you plan on calling ducks in next season go out and get a call and a good instructional DVD now so you’ll be ready in October when the season starts. Beside, you can have fun for about 6 months driving your wife or girlfriend crazy with your practice.

Rules and Regulations for San Jacinto Wildlife Area 2010/2011 Season

As a service to all heading out to duck hunt at San Jacinto Wildlife Area I will post the rules and regulations for the area.

Handicap reservations will be assigned to designated handicap sites only!

You MUST hunt from your designated hunt site or you will be removed.

No mechanical spinning wing decoys until after December 1st.

Bag limit:

Ducks – limit 7.   Possession limit is double the daily bag limit.

Of the limit of 7 ducks you may include the following:

Canvasback 1 either sex.

Pintail 2 either sex.

Mallard 7 but only 2 may be female.

Redhead 2 either sex.

Scaup 3 either sex (no scaup may be taken before November 6th).

In addition to the ducks you are allowed 25 coots.  (personally I don’t see what anyone would want one for)

Geese limit – 8.  Up to 6 may be white and 3 may be dark.

Black Brant – 2.  Only opened between November 13th to December 12th.


Reservation card holders will be taken first then a drawing for unused spots and refill will be conducted.

Each blind is allowed 2 adult and 2 junior hunters.

Last time to refill is now 1 PM (this is a change from the information published by Fish and Game, which was 2 PM – due to budget considerations).

No lead shot allowed.  Steel, bismuth or tungsten ammo only.  25 shell limit in the field.

Please pick up ALL trash and spent shells.

All hunters MUST check in and out at the check station.  Keep your entry permit card, issued to you when you checked in, with you at all times while in the field.

YOU MUST CHECK IN ALL BIRDS TAKEN.  Please bring all birds to the check station for DFG personal view before you leave.  Failure to do so will result in loss of hunting opportunities.

No jump shooting, no standing and shooting from the levees (as mentioned before you must hunt from your designated hunt site).  No skyscraping.

San Jacinto Wildlife Area is a type A wildlife area.  There is a $17.75 day use fee for adult hunters.  (or, if your hunt as much as I do a season pass, at $144.21 is a great deal.  That comes out to about $5.15 for each hunt day if you’re fortunate enough to be able to go every day.  Or, on your 9th hunt you’re ahead of the game).

No dogs permitted in the check station and dogs must be leashed unless actually engaged in hunting.


If you have any problems or concerns while hunting in the wildlife area  you can report the problem to the check station office at 951-928-0580.

Good luck and good hunting.

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