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Gunning the Great Basin

A duck hunting expedition through southern Oregon’s closed-basin lakes
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Starting 15 yards from the bank, the three of us deployed a long-line spread. I handed Shannon bluebill and canvasback decoys while he clipped them onto each line and dropped them over the bow. Meanwhile, Rounsaville deftly maneuvered his boat among the growing flotilla of bluebills. For a finishing touch, we strung six bufflehead drakes and placed them in the midst of our 10-line rig. “The white on these decoys is easy to see from far away,” Rounsaville explained. “Hopefully, they’ll pull in some passing birds for us.”

After hiding our boat under grass mats and heaps of local vegetation, we watched handfuls of dabblers trade across a steel gray sky. It soon became evident that the wad of scaup Shannon had spotted days before had moved on. However, our bufflehead decoys proved very effective at attracting other buffleheads. In singles, pairs, and trios, these little divers skimmed across our spread all morning. Trying our best to miss decoys, we bagged several handsome drakes and a few hens as they darted past, only inches above the water.

Following this outing, Shannon and I headed east to hunt on a DU project in neighboring Goose Lake Basin. The next morning, landowners Mike and Peggy McFarlane greeted us at their farmhouse outside Lakeview and left us in the care of their friend Larry Franson. Before long, Franson was rowing Shannon and me to a blind in the middle of a 60-acre wetland. As we made our way, our guide told us, “In the early part of the season, we counted 20 male canvasbacks on this lake. Maybe some of them are still around.” While I dwelled on this possibility, the three of us arrived at a blind encircled by several dozen mallard, pintail, teal, and Canada goose decoys.

Shadowy forms and the rustle of wings passed overhead while we unsheathed guns and rummaged for duck calls. Before long, our attention was drawn to a squad of green-winged teal scuttling over the tules to our right. Shannon and I offered them a mix of raspy quacks and whistles. Making a wide bend, the greenwings reversed course and headed toward the blind. At 40 yards out, the group appeared as if it would speed right over us. But the nimble ducks suddenly shied and veered off to our right. As they retreated, I caught up with a drake and managed to drop him at the edge of the blocks. Shannon replied a few minutes later when he rolled one of three ringnecks whirring past the blind.

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