Ken Barnes photo

Steve Barnes, left, and Steve Merlo are shown with a nice bevy of beautiful Harlequin ducks taken during a hunt in Alaska.

Unless you are a waterfowler, you probably don't know that there are two distinct types of ducks in North America: Puddle ducks and diving ducks.

The first inhabit shallow waters mostly, and feed by tipping their bills into these waters, or feeding in pastures and fields. The divers are usually found on big bodies of water, such as large lakes or rivers, and dive up to 20 feet for feed. Here in the valley we have an abundance of puddlers, like mallard, teal, and pintail.

The most common divers across the nation are canvasback, redhead, and bluebills. But then, there is one more group that belongs with the diving ducks...sea ducks.

Found on both coasts of the U.S. they are mainly scoters, old squaw, goldeneye, and eiders. For years, my group of hunting buddies and I had thought about trying to go somewhere to bag some of these really beautiful birds. Twenty years ago we finally made it happen.

After flying into Anchorage, Alaska, we rented a van and drove down the peninsula to the town of Homer. We then took a short, 15 minute small plane ride to an island and the town of Seldovia.

Our group consisted of myself, Steve Merlo, Adam Stull, Rocky Lacertoso, and my son, Steve. We were met by our guide, Buck Brown, and settled in for the evening at a great lodge. Buck told us there were plenty of birds in the area and we would be hunting in isolated small bays and coves.

The daily limit per man was an amazing 15 birds each, and he assured us that he had people that would relish any birds we did not eat ourselves.

When I considered doing this article, I thought it might be interesting to let each of the people involved in the hunt tell about one of their memories they had during the hunt.

Since we lost Merlo in 2016, I will fill in for him with a tale he and I laughed about more than once. . . The guide dropped us off on the shore of a cove, and after putting out a few dozen decoys, left to go scouting. We immediately had numerous birds start working us.

Mostly Barrow's Goldeneye, but quite a few Harlequin ducks. The guys were dead on, and it wasn't long before we had a huge pile of both of these birds. When the guide returned and saw what we had managed, he let out a yell, "Oh my God. Don't shoot any more Harlequins. Please!! I have clients fly in here just to try and bag one for their collection of mounted birds, and you guys are stacking them up like cord wood."

We understood, because that particular duck is a beautiful dark purple color, with some black and white highlights.

They were part of the daily limit, but we knew what he meant so we stopped tacking any more. . . Now, Steve Barnes:

"As a young boy growing up in the 1960's, I would read my dad's outdoor life magazines about hunting and fishing all over the world. I don't remember the exact day my dad called and told me, 'We're going to Alaska,' but I know the next two words out of my mouth were 'I'm in.'

Fast forward to the first day we are hunting and the guide drops us off on a rocky shoreline with three strings of Goldeneye decoys about 20 yards in front of me and a milk crate to sit on. As we got out of the boat I asked, 'Where's the blind?'

The guide let out a little laugh and said 'just sit there right next to the water and you'll be fine.' We may have sounded like his usual bunch of amateur hunters, but he'd soon find out we were anything but! I'd been raised building blinds by probably the greatest natural blind builder of all time — my dad, and this was not right.

We settled in, and it turned out he was right. We didn't need a blind. But before the first shot was fired, the boat departed and the quietness set in, unlike any I had ever experienced before or since. I looked in awe on the beautiful mountain peaks, the trees, the bay in front of me, and realized that a childhood dream had come true — I was in Alaska."  

Editor's note: Part Two of this column will run Friday, May 4th

Ken Barnes is a record setting shooter and longtime outdoorsman from Kern County. Email him at with comments or column ideas.

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