A few Saturdays ago I received a text photo from my son Mark. It was a beautiful red, sunrise.
I texted back asking where he was to be able to see something so nice. He replied, "The Kern Wildlife Refuge."
What!! Impossible!! Mark has never been duck hunting one day in his life without me. I have a video of him at age 6 holding a drake Mallard while standing in a blind with Steve Merlo and Dino Fanucchi. Followed by a film of him bagging his first duck, shooting on my friend Ron Hurlbert's duck club, at age 9. Then another video right after that of him getting a triple on Cinnamon teal off a canal near Corcoran. And, since those days I have always been along side him when hunting.
He did not get out with me much as a teenager because when you're getting 13 years of perfect attendance in school you do not have time to go with your dad on trips away from the city.
Then college, a good job, a wife, and now two young boys. For the last few years Mark has been asking me to take him on the old canal run I used to make after shooting Gilbreath's duck club.
I would go north to King City, and then work my way back south through Corcoran and down to Wasco, driving canals for about three hours. It was always very productive. But, the older I got, the more I kept putting off doing this with him.
After getting the text, I called him on the phone. He told me he and one of his friends, Robert Hernandez, had a pair of Mallards in the blind, as well as a Gadwall.
They lost a couple of other ducks in the heavy reeds, even after looking for them with a dog. He said they left town at 2 a.m. so they could be in the waiting line at the refuge two hours before shooting time.
They walked a half-mile carrying two bags of decoys, waded through some chest high deep water, got wet, and finally found a great open pond to shoot.
With no stools to sit on, they just matted down some of the real heavy reeds and laid down on them. As he was telling me all this, my mind was wandering back to the hundreds of times I had done the same things for the last 67 years. This was all a part of being a real waterfowler.
Don't get me wrong. There is certainly nothing wrong with hunting ducks on a club. I did a lot of that, too. It's nice to be able to just walk out on a dike and get into a nice cement blind you share with a friend. Warm and cozy.
The pond I have now is real close to that. Drive right up to the blind, drop your equipment off, then go park the truck. Mark has had that advantage for the last few years. I had all the decoys. I wore the waders and put the decoys out.
I built and brushed the blind. These were things I had always done and I just wanted him and my friends to enjoy some possible good shooting. But to him, he always felt he was missing something.
So on that Saturday, he finally made up for all that wishing. He became a "real" duck hunter. Later that afternoon Mark called me to tell the results of the shoot. After five hours, they walked out with 10 ducks. He said they lost five that he knows were "stone cold dead."
He said his friend asked him to go to the Mendota refuge the next day for another hunt, but he declined. He was too tired. Not a problem. I've been there, also. A few days later I got the report from the refuge for the bird count for that Saturday.
It seems Mark and Robert had taken 10 percent of the kill for the day with their 10 birds, and the two mallards they bagged were the only ones taken that day on the refuge. They far exceeded the 1.5 average per hunter.
After we hung up talking, I just began to think about what a special day it was for him. I know this will be the first of many to come. And, this will be passed down to his two boys. I picked up my phone and texted him....
"Congratulations son. You have just become a member of an exclusive club. Well done. Love... Dad."