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Gunning the Great Basin

A duck hunting expedition through southern Oregon’s closed-basin lakes
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I had little time to admire this stunning view. Large flocks of ducks and geese had already left the roost and were trading across the horizon. As we burrowed down in our hiding spots, wigeon whistled overhead and Canadas honked in the distance.

Tuko had barely gotten settled before her services were needed. Flying low to the water, a squadron of 25 greenwings advanced toward the blocks in front of Rounsaville and Shannon. Rising in unison, the shooters dropped several birds as the squad flushed skyward. Tuko crunched through the thin ice after the teal and retrieved each in turn. Moments later, a flock of wigeon winged past our half of the decoys. Using a combination of whistling and ripples from a jerk string, Grieser and I coaxed them back for another look. On their return, the ducks approached slowly to examine our setup. When I called the shot, we sprang up and dispatched two from the startled bunch.

Over the course of the morning, teal and wigeon continued to present ideal passing shots. As Rounsaville, Shannon, and I worked toward our limits, Tuko and her handler worked tirelessly to run down fallen birds. Between bursts from his dog whistle, Grieser confessed, “I’ve only been hunting waterfowl for three years. But during that time, I have really grown to love it. And when you have days like this, it’s easy to become addicted.”

On my return trip to Portland, I stopped for a hunt with Pat Davis, a DU area chairman in the upper Willamette Valley. The rain fell steadily as I pulled up to Davis’s clubhouse outside Monmouth. When I walked in the door, Davis introduced me to former DU Oregon State Chairman Rich Owen, Tony Friendy, and his brother Mario, a local guide and owner of Columbia River Decoys.

In the downpour, the five of us headed to a nearby four-acre wetland ringed by scrub ash thickets and flanked by a narrow creek. The Friendy brothers mimicked the appearance of causally feeding ducks by spreading two dozen mallard, pintail, and wigeon decoys between open water and the hole’s emergent vegetation. When I asked Davis about constructing his picturesque duck hole, he explained, “I wanted to create a place where ducks come to feed and loaf. I think a mixture of natural grasses like wild millet and smartweed is a great source of both food and cover.”

The rain had quit by the time we piled in the blind, and small bands of ducks began trading beyond the tree line. Early on, a mixed flock of mallards and teal took our group by surprise as it pitched down from behind us to join our decoys. The ensuing volley dropped a mallard and two teal from the squad, and Davis’s black Lab, Racket, was soon on the job.

While we added a couple more ducks to the bag, the action had waned by midmorning. At one point we were munching on cinnamon rolls when two lines of mallard-sized Canada geese glided 40 yards above the spread. “Too bad the season is closed on cackling geese until tomorrow,” Mario Friendy lamented. “They’re fun to hunt, and one of seven subspecies of Canadas and cackling geese that you can shoot here in the valley. Why don’t you stick around a few more days?” As tempting as the offer was, tomorrow happened to be the day before Thanksgiving.

And there are some things that my mom and girlfriend just wouldn’t understand.

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