Outdoors Writer Don Martin holds the ducks and a Ross’ goose that he bagged on a recent waterfowl hunt at Pintail Slough.
For the Miner
KINGMAN - A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to experience one of Mohave County's best-kept secrets - waterfowl hunting in the Topock Marsh and, more specifically, Pintail Slough.
On the western edge of our county flows the mighty Colorado River. Mohave County has more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, and with all the lakes and water we have, there is an immediate attraction to the thousands of waterfowl that utilize this part of the Pacific flyway as they head south for the winter.
On this hunt I would be joining Mohave Valley resident Jim Rich, Arizona's Hunter Education Instructor of the Year, and his good friend Andy.
These guys are die-hard waterfowlers, and they spend a lot of days in the blinds at Pintail Slough hunting ducks and geese.
The plan was to meet at the slough at around 5:15 a.m.
Blinds at Pintail Slough are assigned by draw, with everyone who is present at the start of the draw getting a ticket.
This hunting program is run under the auspices of the biologists and law enforcement officers from the Havasu Wildlife Refuge.
When I arrived I was surprised at the number of sportsmen who were standing around in the dark waiting for the draw.
I recognized three people besides Rich.
There were Kingman residents Henry Aguilar and his two sons, Timber and Ursus.
"They're regulars," Rich said.
As tickets were drawn, hunters stepped up and picked one of the eight available permanent blinds that are in various areas of the slough.
There were a lot of tickets drawn before anyone in our group got a ticket selected.
"The good blinds have already been taken," Rich said. "But we will do OK."
Each hunter has to pay a fee of $15 and there are no more than three hunters in each blind.
With the fees paid, licenses checked, and the blinds assigned, the law enforcement officer in charge stated the current time and said that legal shooting hours would commence at 7:07 a.m.
Then it was off to the blinds, where duck decoys of all types were unloaded, shotguns and the special ammo that has to be used was placed in the blind. There is a limit of one box of 25 rounds per hunter in this area.
Rich said that rule was in effect in an attempt to keep hunters from "sky busting." This is a term used to describe hunters who shoot at waterfowl that are out of lethal range.
As we would later see, some hunters didn't seem to be able to tell if ducks were 30 yards or 60-plus yards away.
I should add here that on this day we had the company of a great black Labrador retriever named Gus.
Gus is owned by another friend of Rich's in Mohave Valley, but it seems everyone uses him on their waterfowl hunts.
I sat and watched and listened while Jim and Andy waded out in the darkness into shallow water in front of our assigned blind and placed a couple of dozen decoys out.
I found out there is an art to setting up decoys. Hunters must take into consideration the direction of the wind and how hard it is blowing.
With the decoys out, Jim and Andy retreated to the blind.
We could hear ducks flying by in the predawn darkness.
"Should be good," Rich said.
Only shotguns were used on this trip, and both Rich and Andy were using 12-gauge semi-automatic guns, while I opted to utilize my recently acquired Browning 20-gauge Citori over/under shotgun.
For about 20 minutes, we watched and listened to a number of birds flying over us. Some even landed in the decoys, but quickly flew off when they realized they were not among live birds.
Finally it got to be the legal shooting time and these nice guys let me take the first shot.
A hen mallard, apparently lonesome for company, came in with wings cupped and as she started to descend into the decoys.
I fired and she dropped.
Gus made the retrieve and the hunt was on.
Just a few minutes later, Andy spotted two large birds on the horizon.
"Geese," Rich said in a low voice. "Looks like they are coming in - get ready!"
Soon the pair was over the decoys and I raised the 20 gauge and fired.
I don't know who was more surprised - me or the goose that fell into the water!
When Gus the wonder Lab brought it in, Rich said, "This isn't a snow goose. It's a Ross' goose!
I was feeling pretty good about the results so far.
But the morning flight wasn't over.
Nope, a few more birds appeared and Andy and I did some shooting while Rich handled most of the calling duties.
In one memorable sequence, a pair of canvasbacks hens flew over the spread and I jumped up and somehow, someway, managed to knock then both down. But if not for Gus, one would have escaped.
However, this beautiful Labrador made an incredible find and that bird joined the others.
About 10 a.m. the birds had pretty much quit flying, and we got just a few more shots.
Rich finally decided to take part in the shooting, and he bagged a beautiful Widgeon.
Andy had a tough day of it and brought home nothing but empty shotgun shells.
Just a few days before both Jim and Andy had limited out, so he was just having an off day.
Shooting by regulation ends at noon, and then came the chore of picking up decoys, empty shells and other items.
Duck/goose season is open through Jan. 26, so there is plenty of time to experience some of this action in western Mohave County.