Ken Barnes

With nothing flying on his own pond, Ken Barnes managed this nice bevy of Mallards bagged on a friend's club.

Well, just two days of waterfowl season left. But for me, it all ended over 30 days ago. I'll get to that in a minute.

Let's talk about the season overall first. Last year at this time I said it was the worst ever for me up to then. Sixty-six years of hunting and I did not think it could be that bad.

I was wrong. This year's hunting made it look like a cake walk. You would not believe how many times I sat in a blind and never saw one duck flying. Not one. The birds never seem to get to this area of the state for some reason. And, I heard the same complaints from members of other duck clubs in the valley.

For most of the season the Kern Wildlife Refuge averaged only about 1.5 birds per man on shoot days. That is a far cry from a seven-bird limit they could bag legally. On one crazy Wednesday the average jumped to over four, and then went right back down to 1-plus.

And, very few Mallards. For the whole term, Shovelers and Teal usually made up about half of the birds bagged. I would think that the average would have gone up for the past 30 days, but I have no way of knowing since there is no one working to send out the bird count reports via E-mail after shoot days.

How did my season end early? We have to go back to late August when the refuge starts taking federal water via the Goose Lake canal. I get my water for my pond from the same canal when I purchase it from one of the local water districts. If they do not have water available, I buy it from my friends at the club below me when they use their well to pump into the canal.

I pay the water district a small transportation fee, and the club an agreed amount per acre foot I use. No problem so far. Every year for a long, long time, the government shuts off the water four to five days before Christmas. The canal dries up in two days, so I usually take a large amount for my pond just before that because they do not fill it again until just after Jan. 3-4.

By this time, my pond has become nothing but large puddles because it does not hold water very well. I fill it again when the water is running, and only have to top it off two or three times until the close of season the last Sunday in January.

Well, a major problem this year. The U.S. government workers were laid off. Since the Kern Refuge is a federal site, all the employees there were sent home.

This meant that when it was time to run the water into the canal again in January, there would not be anyone working at the refuge to open the flood gates and let it in.

What!! Unbelievable. My pond went completely dry. You may ask, how was shooting still going on at the refuge?

The State Department of Fish & Game took care of that as they normally do.

Then, a miracle occurred. Ten days ago three refuge workers went back on duty, and the canal filled overnight. I don't know if it was without pay like many others have done, but I thought it would save my season. Nope! More problems.

I hit the power button for my pump and just got a humming sound. Called the pump company and they said it was probably a blown fuse, but they could not get someone out to check it until Friday. Ugh!!

Came out, and said it was a power problem with PG&E on the pole line from the big winds the week before last. PG&E can't repair until Monday or Tuesday of this week. Power back on day before yesterday, so I was able to run water for last shoot of the year tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Looking back on all the years I had great hunting in this area, I consider myself very lucky. Spoiled I guess. After this season, I will really appreciate the next when, hopefully, it gets better. I heard a rumor that may help. Years ago most of the rice fields in the Sacramento area were burned after being harvested.

This would make the waterfowl head south for new feed. Then the EPA stopped that due to all the smoke. Since then, the fields have been flooded after the harvest and the ducks just stay there and gorge themselves. The rumor is that next year they may stop the flooding to conserve water needs.

If so, the birds may be heading this way again. We will see.

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

(4) comments


Oh, boo hoo. You're worried about not being able to kill a few ducks, but having thousands of illegal invaders coming across our border doesn't seem to bother you. Maybe, just maybe you should get your priorities in order.


Good. No reason at all to murder those animals. Good lord. What a nasty hobby.


Only if you're a vegetarian.

Muhammad Fatwa al Jihad

Maybe the ducks flew into a wall.

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