Monday, December 17, 2012

The Public Land Hunting Expericence

A short break from triathlon related matters to share with everyone some thing I have been doing for 10 years.

This past Saturday I went duck hunting at Mad Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) with my longtime hunting buddy, Mike.  We have been bird hunting together for just about 10 years and have had some great hunts and some bad hunts over these years.  ( i have almost shot him only once...)

Hunting at a WMA is quite the experience and not for those that are looking for a plush one.  Its part camping, part adventure race, and part hunting.

It does provide for consistent hunting due to how the WMA's are managed, but you have to put in a little "sweat equity" to see the results.  Any licensed hunter can purchase a permit for $48 a year that provides you unlimited access to the WMA's for that season, so its a heck of a money saver if you compare it to leases that are typically $1,000 to $2,500 a season or to guided hunts that cost $180 or more a hunt.  This factor of course increases the popularity hunting at WMA, so you have to spend more time than the more expensive options in order to get the "good" spots.

There are several WMA around Houston, but we chose to go to Mad Island, which is located about 2 hours southwest of Houston.  There are about 5-10 good spots at Mad Island, so our goal is to be at least one of the first 10 people in line.  My boss let me leave work on Friday at lunch and I got down there around 2:15pm and saw this....


Again, we are in line to hunt on Saturday morning.  The guys in front of me got there at 10am and the dude at the front arrived on Thursday evening.  

Once I got changed out of my work clothes, it was time to set up my sleeping arrangements for the night.  When I first started hunting at WMA's, I would just sleep in my car.  This never really led to a good night of sleep, so I got a tent cot one year for Christmas.  Whats a tent cot you ask....

As you can see there is no electricity, running water, or bathrooms.  I really enjoy the quiet time this allows and use it to read and just relax. 

So after a few hours of reading, it was time to cook dinner.  My Highlander transformed itself into a nice little one burner stove to heat up some left over bean soup with was served on a bed of crunched up organic blue corn tortilla chips. 


After dinner it was dark, so I used my head lamp to read at little more before trying going to sleep at 9:30pm.

Once inside the tent cot, I set my alarm for 3:45am and tried to sleep.  It worked for a an hour or two, but the drunk rowdies in front of me decided they need to discuss the problems of the world until 3am and kept me up most of the night. 

View from luxurious accommodations

The WMA staff usually arrives around two hours before shooting time to open the gate and begin the high tech  method of assigning hunting spots.  

State of the art process management system
As you can see, I was number 4.  This means that once we got inside the WMA, we were the fourth group to get to pick our hunting spot.  Mike and I were able to get our usual spot that has given us very good hunts over the years.  We left the WMA offices and went to our designated parking for our hunting spot. 

Once parked we loaded up our sleds with our decoys and gear. Then we put on our waders and began the trek out to our hunting spot.  This is were the adventure race begins per se.  Its not a typical race were you are racing against people, but you are racing against the sunrise.  You need to be set up well before the sunrises since there is usually lots of bird action at first light.  We had about an hour and half to make the trek and get our decoys out.  
To get to the spot in the dark you need a good flashlight to guide your way. Each hunting spot has a reflective square about the size of a envelope attached to a post to help guide you where you need to be. The progression of photos below give an idea of what its like use the reflective squares to guide you across .75 miles in a swampy marsh in the pitch black darkness. 
The little speck in the middle is the reflector

Getting closer..

The Spot

Once there we got our decoys set up and got ready to shot with about 15 minutes to spare.  I always enjoy watching everything start flying around as sunrise gets close.  


Our set up.  If you can tell whats a little off with our set up, you will win a prize. 
Mike taking it easy between the action

Can't see me ?  Neither can the ducks....
Me in my somewhat mosquito protective attire.  I have lots of bites, but compared to the amount of mosquitoes that were out I consider myself lucky...hope I don't get west nile. 

Once the hunt was over, it was time to pick up everything and head back our cars. See the sled below.  For years, we carried everything on our backs like idiots.  One day we were passed in the marsh by someone with these sleds and we bought sleds the next day. 
Heading face net is still on since the mosquitoes never went away


The trail to the spot.  The body of water in the upper right is where we hunted.  Mike is dragging behind and is the little speck in the upper left corner. 
What you feel like after pulling sixty pounds of gear through a muddy mess in 75 degree weather while wearing neoprene waders on 1.5 hours of sleep.  My hair isn't wet from rain, its sweat.

Once all the gear is put back up, you have to head back to the check station to check out with the WMA employee.  He counts the birds taken and the type and records them down in his log sheet.  This helps TPWD see what birds are being shot and how much is being taken. 

Once done with check out there was one more thing to check out.  Seven years ago my son, Noah, became a legacy greenwing member of Ducks Unlimited.  The cool thing about the contribution was that we were able to direct it to a project here in Texas, so the WMA that we hunt was a natural choice.  After waiting seven years, there is finally something that acknowledges our contribution.... 
Notice a familiar name? 

There was one other cool thing about our hunt, Mike got his first banded bird ever off a mottle duck.  Mike has been hunting a really long time, so this was really neat.   

A duck with some jewelery

And with that we drove home and got to spend another 1.5 hour cleaning up everything from our trip. 
Hunting WMA's is not for everyone, but if you have the time to spend and the can handle a little exercise with your duck hunting it makes for some fairly consistent hunting with little impact on your wallet. 

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