Duck hunt

Pictured, from left, are Rocky Lacertoso, Mark Barnes, and Steve Newbrough, with a nice limit of ducks bagged recently on a trip to the flooded rice fields north of Sacramento.

Earlier this summer I got to thinking about all the trips I used to take up to the area above Sacramento for waterfowl when I was a young hunter: Drive non-stop on old Highway 99 for seven hours, and sleep in the car until time to enter the refuge.

I decided it would be a great if I could take all three of my sons on a trip like that before I get much older. I went online to try and find a waterfowl guide who worked that area and could take all three boys, and let me tag along to film.

I about fell over when I saw the name of a premier guide service . . . Merlo Waterfowl Company! Merlo. It must be some kind of omen or deja vu.

I called the number listed and spoke with the owner, Rocky Merlo. I asked him if the had any relations in the Buttonwillow area, but he said no. I assured him he was probably a fourth cousin, twice removed to my old pal, Steve. He just laughed.

I explained that a wanted to bring all three of my sons for the hunt, and I would just tag along and film, as usual. We arranged a date for mid December,and I got hold of the boys. Steve said he was a go, but it depended on his work schedule on the train. Mark was a definite go, also. I talked to Mike, who now lives in the Sacramento area, and he said he would like to tag a long but did not really care to shoot.

I got hold of my friend Steve Newbrough, so he would fill in. At the last minute, my son Steve said he couldn't make it due to a work conflict, so I was able to get my old pal, Rocky Lacertoso, to join us.

We were going to shoot on a Saturday morning, so we left town at mid-afternoon on Friday for the four hour drive on Interstate 5 to Mike's house. After dinner we all hit the hay for a wake up time at 4 a.m.. It would then be another 90-minute drive where we would meet the guide in the town for Durham.

It was drizzling light rain when we were escorted out to huge flooded rice field. Two sunken metal blinds were in a dike crossing the field. The guide and three shooters would be in one, and Mike and I would be in the other. At first light I was totally amazed to see more than 700 decoys surrounding us on both sides of the dike. I had never hunted over that many decoys in my life.

Ducks of every species along, with Snow geese, Canada Geese, and White Front. It was solid overcast all morning with a very light rain every so often. The boys bagged a few Mallards and Widgeon, and a lot of Teal.

Thousands of geese passed overhead, but we just could not get any to work the decoys. I didn't get the great film that I was expecting because of the cover around the blind, and I could only see well in one direction. And the Teal swooped in so fast I hardly had time to get my camera up in a shooting position.

Overall though, it was a terrific trip. Good food, great beds at Mike's home, beautiful set ups on the rice checks, and the enjoyment of hunting with good friends that you care about. It was a long drive coming home though. Five and a half hours on I-5. Would we do it again? Absolutely.

We are thinking of going next time and not using a guide with us in the blind. Some of the outfitters charge less and just take you out to the hunt area and let you be on your own using their blinds and equipment. I highly recommend this if you're into waterfowling. It's a trip you will long remember.

BASIC FIREARMS & HUNTER EDUCATION COURSE: Next course offered: Jan. 12-13, two day course. Jan. 14 is an internet follow-up course. This is sponsored by Jay Busby. For more information call (661) 871-9025.

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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