Junior hunts are the best opportunity to get kids out into the field for a taste of the great sport of hunting. Most states have set dates, whether they be before the season starts or the weekend after the season ends, just for junior hunters alone. This is to give juniors a better chance of success with fewer people out in the field hunting wild game. Of course a junior needs to be accompanied by an adult with a valid hunting license, but only the junior can hunt. My last junior hunt happened to be one of the best hunts I have ever been on.
It was mid July. I was in Houston, Texas for the World Waterfowling Calling Contest. Being from California, I usually know when someone else from California is going to a contest that I will attend. This time it was a surprise. A friend of mine, Dan Jernigan, decided to show up in Texas to compete in the world specklebelly and snow goose calling contests. Dan and I had met a few times before, but we were not really that close. I watched him win the world team specklebelly goose contest. After I congratulated him and started talking to him about hunting and his guiding business, he offered to take me out on the junior hunt, which in California is the weekend after the regular season ends. Upon receiving his offer, I was excited by the opportunity presented to me! I had never hunted specklebelly geese before, and I could not refuse. Knowing that the hunt was over six months away, I had to try to put my mind at ease.
In mid December, I tried to contact Dan through Facebook. I did not get response from him immediately, and I thought, could this be another guy who promised to take me out but would not follow through? Middle of January, I got a Facebook message. It was Dan! He asked if I was ready to go on the hunt and gave me his phone number. I called Dan and we talked for a while and he mentioned that the geese were moving throughout the Sacramento Valley, and how they could be in different spots every day. So it was a game time decision on what location we were going to hunt. Dan decided the hunt spot; he gave me directions and instructions on how to get to the field. It was about an hour and half drive, and when we got there, no one else had arrived. My dad and I started to think we took a wrong turn. So we waited, waited. Fifteen minutes went by and nobody showed up! Then we saw headlights coming out through the fog; the driver drove right past the turn off. Then, another car emerged and it turned down the road! We were thinking this had to be Dan. The car drove right past us along with another car that was following. We had had enough with waiting, so we decided to go and talk to people who drove past us.
As we were talking to them, we found out that they were here with Dan, too! Soon, there were seven trucks and nineteen people getting ready for the hunt. Six junior hunters, Dan and his brother as the guides, two guys who were there just to help and watch the juniors have fun, and nine parents. Dan brought everyone together and told us the rules and how the operation was going to work. After the meeting, we headed out to the field, which was about a 10-minute ride on a quad, and started setting out decoys. We had fifteen dozen-speck decoys and ten dozen snows goose decoys. All the time we could hear geese everywhere, like we were under attack in the dark, as we set up. Along with the six junior hunters, seven parents elected to go out into the field, and with Dan and his brother, there ended up being fifteen people, all in layout blinds, all in one line, all up against the same rice check. My dad along with the other guys who were there just because they like to help out the kids, decided to watch from a bunch of farm equipment in the next field. It was the most people I have even been hunting with at one time. The junior hunters were evenly spaced between parents and the guides at each end. We were ready.
As first light appeared we could hear and see geese everywhere, over 10,000 in the field next to us! We picked the perfect spot! Everyone knew it was going to be a day to remember. Dan thought it would be best for half of the juniors to shoot at a time. When the first flock came in, it was on the right; I was on the left. After the first flock, it went dry for about fifteen minutes with no geese coming our way, and then the fun started. Geese started pouring into our decoy spread from every angle possible! Before we knew it, we had our limit of specks and a few snows! At one point Dan and his brother called in a flock of 32 geese! Just to hear the sound of their wings and calls was truly incredible. It was about 10:30 when all the junior hunters had their limits of geese. Now the work began. It took us two hours to pick up all the decoys, ground blinds and put them away for the season.
When we got back to camp, the helpers and my dad were firing up some hotdogs and hamburgers for the well-deserved juniors, guides and parents. This was the best hunt I have ever been on. I learned so much from Dan about calling geese and how to hunt them. We also had a young hunter go hunting the first time and shoot a limit! Without the junior hunt dates none of this would have ever happened and so many memories would not exist.
If you have a junior hunter or know one, look for these great opportunities to get out into the field and experience as many of these junior hunts as they can. I have been on many junior hunts and they have always been a great time. Most states have them. Check your state hunting regulations, get the kids out and have some great fun. This was my last one, my junior age has passed, and it was one of the best waterfowl hunts I have been on in my life. And if you are in California and looking for an awesome waterfowl hunt contact my good friend Dan Jernigan at (916) 600-7172. Tell him I sent you. Until next time, shoot straight.