By STEVE MERLO, Contributing columnist
Saturday marks the opening of duck season in our local Southern San Joaquin Valley Zone, with limits remaining much the same as last year. While the prolonged drought will affect most hunters, at least some private clubs will find decent shooting at some of the projected 90 million North American ducks and geese destined to honk and quack their way south in the migration traffic.
Each year I see specific trends in the art of waterfowl hunting, and much has changed over the 50-plus years I've been hunting, some good, and some bad. While I make no claims to being an expert duck hunter, I feel I've paid my dues through all forms of duck and goose hunting obstacles to at least be able to advise new -- and sometimes veteran -- hunters on how to succeed more often than not.
Here's a list making light of my 15 top pet peeves of duck hunter mistakes:
1. Be sure to shoot at every duck that flies by your location, no matter what the range or who is shooting nearby.
2. Make certain you oversleep or are late to the blind. Your buddies will love you for it.
3. Whatever you do, don't buy duck stamps; they're a complete waste of money right up until you get checked by the local warden. Ditto your license.
4. Buy the cheapest shells you can find. They won't kill anything but they do make a satisfying "Boom!"
5. Old, dilapidated decoys work miracles. Use them.
6. Don't check your waders for leaks before getting to the water. It'll pay off, especially during cold weather.
7. Don't clean your shotgun still gummed up with last year's mud and rust.
8. Do not practice bird identification: spoonies, mudhens and ruddies taste wonderful!
9. Set your decoys downwind of the blind.
10. Wear brightly covered clothes while hunting, and whatever you do, don't cover up with natural brush.
11. Be sure to call loudly and often, even if you don't sound like a duck.
12. Stay alert, warm and safe by staying drunk while in the blind.
13. Show your face to every flock that happens by and see what happens.
14. Always keep your shotgun ready to fire. Safeties are for people not wanting to kill ducks, but themselves or other hunters.
15. Too much shot in a duck ruins the meat, so take them at the extreme outer limits of range rather than close in. Your dog might be able to catch the cripples after they sail down with a single pellet in their bodies.
There you go--a whole list of things guaranteed to make the cost of each duck you kill go up by tenfold.
By the way, with the lowest price for a duck blind in the area going for nearly $2,000 per 'single hole' and sometimes more, keeping the total expenditure under $15 per bird can seem impossible. But those in the know, those who do it right , can and usually do accomplish that feat every year. While not necessarily the driving force in waterfowling, it's nice to be able spend satisfying blind time with your friends and still save a few bucks in the long run.
The California Aqueduct, after several months of being inundated by unfishable moss, has finally begun to clear up, and with it, the striped bass bite has taken off once again. Although most of the fish are sub-keeper size, enough fish over the 18-inch mark are showing, and with them an occasional lunker in the 20-plus-pounds range.
Best baits for enticing the linesiders continue to be fat gitzits, anchovies and sculpins at nearly all of the control gaits from Taft north to Avenal. The golf course near the backside of the Buena Vista Lakes seems to be the one spot where anglers can catch decent numbers whenever the fish move into the gates to feed in the current.
Bikes for Bakersfield will be holding its Ironman Shoot on Oct. 26 at the Kern County Gun Club. The format for the shoot will be 25 regular trap, 25 wobble trap, 25 skeet and 50 sporting clays. Only 40 teams will be allowed to enter, first come, first served. Cost is $125 per shooter or $625 for a five- man team. Lunch and refreshments will be served. Contact Mike Jones at (661) 201-4132; Mike Brown at (661) 619-9051 or Randy Harden at (661) 201-0890 for more information.
Until our government reopens from the shutdown crisis, the Kern National Wildlife Refuge will remain closed to all visitors and hunters until further notice. I will try to keep reservation holders and duck hunters advised concerning entry and the reopening of the waterfowl Mecca in future columns.