After the recent death of my hunting partner for 40 years and close friend Steve Merlo, I hope I get a chance to repay for all the great stories he wrote about our times together.
A few years after we first met, he asked me to teach him how to blow a duck call the way I did. I was using a Yentzen double-reed call at that time, so I loaned him one of my extras.
He used to call me after driving home from work at Lost Hills and ask how it sounded, because he would practice while driving on the freeway.
Some years later we were in a duck blind in the Tulare Lake Basin in a slough we called “The Oxbow.” A dozen mallards began to work our decoys, but very reluctantly.
Normally, we would call ducks no more than three or four minutes, and they would either commit or fly away.
We worked these birds for at least eight or nine minutes, with me giving feed chuckles and Steve giving soft greeting calls. Then we would switch.
Finally, they committed, and we were seconds away from shooting when a series of shotgun blasts further down the slough rang out from hunters we did not know were there.
The ducks shot straight up into the air and were headed south.
I thought it senseless to continue calling, but Steve kept at it with a series of pleading “come back” calls.
“You’re wasting your time,” I said. “Give it up.” But he kept at it. Suddenly at about 300 yards, the ducks looked like they hit a wall and made an abrupt U-turn and headed back to us.
We both went back to calling for another eight to 10 minutes until the wary birds came in on a final approach.
We raised and shot, taking out six drakes with six shots.
As I exited the blind to retrieve, I said to Steve, “Where in the world did that magic note come from?”
He replied, “Barnes, if I knew that I would have been using it years ago!”
RIP pal. I will miss you.