Beep. Beep. Beep.
Sophomore Quin LaComb rolls over in bed. It’s 5:30 a.m. on Saturday.
He brushes his teeth. Then he dons his camo, earplugs, face mask and waders (large waterproof overalls).
LaComb grabs a glass of orange juice as his dad drinks coffee.
Then they drive in a golf cart to the pond. They discuss whether the weather is optimal for duck hunting and whether there will be ducks or not.
LaComb is at Gunner’s Field, his private property near Maxwell.
It’s foggy, the perfect weather.
Shotgun in hand, LaComb sits in a blind, staring at the sky.
On his property there are two blinds, or raised platforms surrounded by bushes from which they shoot the ducks.
“This past Sunday Quin and I sat in the blind for 90 minutes,” LaComb’s father, Eric, said. “We talked about everything there was to talk about, from school to soccer. We told jokes, had some good laughs and finally saw two ducks.”
Jinx and Olive, black lab hunting dogs, huddle in the blind with LaComb and his dad.
Their job is to jump out of the blinds and retrieve the ducks after they’ve been shot and hit the water.
“But sometimes they jump out before, and then the ducks swerve away from us,” LaComb said, laughing.
The pond near the blind has been filled with decoys, plastic ducks that float in the water, by LaComb and his dad. The decoy ducks, combined with duck calls, attract ducks to the blind.
The call is wooden and has a reed in it that vibrates.
“(The duck call is) saying, ‘Hey, there are some friendly ducks down here’ or ‘Hey, there’s a potential mate down here,’” LaComb said.
LaComb and his dad will be crouching in the blind for anywhere from two to four hours, depending on how many ducks they catch.
Because of a limit system, each can’t kill more than seven ducks, only two of which can be female.
“I rely on my dad to tell the difference between male and female ducks,” LaComb said. “The males tend to be more flashy.”
LaComb got his hunting license at the age of 10, though he had been accompanying his father on duck hunts long before that.
He has been duck hunting with his father for the past eight years. They go up six to 10 times a year.
Duck hunting runs in the family for sophomores Elizabeth Brownridge and Christian Van Vleck as well.
Van Vleck often goes duck hunting with his grandfather, although sometimes his father joins them.
They all go hunting at his grandfather’s property in Yuba City.
Brownridge, Van Vleck and LaComb use a 20-gauge shotgun, which makes less noise than a 12-gauge, thereby repelling the ducks less.
“My dad first taught me to shoot with BB guns at the age of 6 or 7,” Van Vleck said. “Shortly after, I moved on to rifles, shotguns and pistols. The philosophy was that if kids were exposed to guns at an early age, they would be less likely to act in a hazardous manner with them.”
Brownridge used to go with her sister to observe her father’s duck hunt. She hunts at a property her family owns in Maxwell.
The three shoot only ducks that are in the sky, as it is considered unethical to shoot ducks while they are in the water and are stationary targets.
“We’ll throw a rock at them to scare them off the water,” Brownridge said. “So once they are in the air, we can shoot them.”
By the time they were 10, Van Vleck, LaComb and Brownridge had all earned their hunting licenses.
In order to get their licenses, each had to take a day-long class in which they were educated about gun safety and the ethics of hunting. The course ends with a test.
None of them learned much new material from the class, they said, because they had learned most of it from their fathers and grandfathers.
“It was a long and boring class,” Van Vleck said. “The most important bits of the class, the things I still remember today, I had already been taught.”
Although they have never hunted together, their experiences have common threads.
Combatting the early start on a weekend and the stinging cold is the hardest part.
Beneath their camo and waders, they are layered with thermals, T-shirts and jackets.
“My hands get really cold, especially when I’m clenching a metal gun,” Van Vleck said. “I don’t wear a glove on my shooting hand.”
“The little guys fly through the sky pretty fast,” LaComb said.
The ducks usually go about 20 miles per hour.
Depending on how successful the hunt is going on a given day, all three say that sitting in the blind for hours can get dull.
“One time my grandpa and I reached the limit, (which is 14), in two hours,” Van Vleck said. “Other times we will get three in three hours. It can get really boring really fast.”
Brownridge sometimes takes a nap in the blind on a slow day.
For Brownridge and LaComb, the time in the blind also serves as a break in their busy lives and a chance to catch up with family.
The blind serves as an escape from the city and school drama, Brownridge said.
She talks to her father about her classes, and sometime he will help her study.
“Or we will sit there and enjoy the peacefulness of being in our own little world, away from the city sounds,” Brownridge said.
Now it’s around 10 a.m., and the air is no longer thick with fog. The time for duck hunting has passed.
Up in Yuba City, Van Vleck and his grandfather take the dead ducks back to where the hunting and social club is. They hang up the ducks, jotting down the breed and his hunting license number.
After grabbing a bite to eat, they head home.
Meanwhile, at her property in Williams, Brownridge settles down to eat her father’s special after a day of hunting—duck leg cooked with garlic. As her dad cooks, she helps make the sauce and seasoning, a family secret.
Back at Gunner’s Field, LaComb and his father are wrapping up as well. After cleaning the ducks, LaComb and his father drop them off at Minnie’s Butcher Shop to be plucked and cleaned. The next time they’re up there the ducks will be sealed in a vacuum pack ready to be picked up.
They head back home.
Previously published in the print edition on Nov. 25, 2014.