A few days before opening day of the waterfowl season a few weeks ago, my son Steve and I drove up to my hunt area to start water into the duck club I share with hunting partner Joe Covello.
Driving us was a friend of Steve's, John Dias. John is one of those people you meet in life and immediately cannot help but like. He owns a mini-mart servicing company that he started as a teenager over 40 years ago. When I mentioned that this would be my 65th year for ducking opening, his mouth dropped in awe.
He asked where it was that I bagged my first ducks back in 1952. I told him it was on my uncle "Blue" Barnes' pond that he leased from the Gilbreath Brothers. I then mentioned that I had hunted Lake Isabella in 1953 when the lake first started to fill.
I remember my cousin Jimmy, my uncle "Smokey," and I, driving to the bottom of Rocky Point on the northeast side of the lake. We piled tumbleweeds onto inner tubes for a blind and walked at least 100 yards out into the lake, and never got over waist deep in water. We put out a large number of diver duck decoys including Canvasback, Redhead, and Bluebills. Bagged a few Mallards and a good number of Goldeneyes. I hunted the lake for many years thereafter, usually back in the east cove where the water was shallow. After a lot of gun fire on the lake, the Mallards would head south down to the Kern River.
There was a couple of good spots that were great for jump shooting on the way back to Bakersfield. We would walk down from the old, windy highway as much as 400 yards and crawl right up to the water to places we could see ducks swimming when spotted with binoculars from the road above. It was pretty safe because the spots we chose were no more than knee deep and not very swift. It never failed to produce a good number of birds.
Thanksgiving is next week, and I can sure tell you I have so much to be thankful for. A great, loving and caring family with five children and eight grandchildren.
A wonderful sister, Nada Byrum, who is so special. Never had a brother, but Leroy Fontana, Steve Merlo, Adam Stull, and Ron Hurlbert always filled in for that role.
A very loving and adored wife, Loretta , for 47 years.
And, I'm thankful for all the wonderful times I have had in the field pursuing waterfowl for 65 years. During the 1960s I had a leased pond from the Gilbreath Brothers that I shared with good friends. During the 70s I was lucky enough to meet Roy Lemmuchi, who just happen to run one of the finest duck clubs in the area, the El Cinco.
I was not a full-blown member, but in exchange for me helping him during the summer to prepare for the season, he let me take overflow hunters to one of the club's ponds. A better group of local hunters you could never find like Bob Montgomery, Bruce Wyant, Gerald Lucas and, my current hunting partner, Joe Covello. Great dinners at the club and awesome hunting.
During the 1980s an extraordinary thing happened. I quit shooting. Why? Video cameras!! In the 60s I used to take a lot of silent 8MM film using an old Belle & Howell, spring loaded, wind-up camera. I have some neat film of my first real Canada goose hunt over decoys that was taken up in the northeast corner of the state near a town called Eagleville.
I also have some terrific slow motion shots of huge flocks of Black Brant taken at Morro Bay. But when video cameras were introduced to the public I just about totally gave up shooting because I was happier getting great clips of my friends in the blinds doing what they do best.
I have wonderful tapes that have been converted to DVD's of good friends like Steve Merlo, Dino Fannuchi, Ron Hurlbert, Steve Newbrough, and my three sons.
Then the 1990s rolled around and I started going on trips to places I had always dreamed about like Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Alaska, Iceland, and Arkansas. I can still see in my mind that initial early morning on my first trip to Alberta with two of my sons and friend, Adam Stull.
Our guide, Brent Reil, set us up in a pea field just below his father's farm. The sunrise was blazing red when I suddenly saw at least 2,000 mallard ducks swirling like a mini tornado across the field. Moments later, a flock of at least 100 were in our decoys and the boys began firing and I started filming. Just crazy stuff.
I am so thankful for the company of more local friends on many of these trips including Brad Peters, Ed Jagels, John Tkac, John Kerchinski, Duffy Sill, and Ken Rhodes.
And, lastly, I thank God for allowing me to stay healthy enough to enjoy and relish all of these wonderful days in the field with a great group of guys...waterfowlers every one. We are always just looking, looking...forever looking.