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Thread: "SKYFULL of BRIGHT WINGS"

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    Default "SKYFULL of BRIGHT WINGS"

    This is a great story about the HAY Flats from what many consider Americas Greatest outdoor writer who lived in the Mat-su valley and experienced the flats since 1918. This story takes place around World War II. It is called "SKYFUL of BRIGHT WINGS".Git set, " Tex warned Doc. "Here comes the first bunch o'them big ice bustin', blizzard-bangin' ducks ya been hollerin'fer." "Qu-ack, qu-ack, w-hutt, w-hutt, w-hutt! " Doc called lustily. They were Mallards and they were coming in from the drab tidal flats, beating strongly into the hard offshore wind, their vividly patched wings flashing in the morning sunlight. They looked as large as geese as they began circling warily just out of range, turning their heads from side to side, staring down at our spread of decoys. You could see they were northern ducks in full winter plumage, the heads, necks and breasts of the drakes dark and gleaming, as if they'd had a copper-and-jet wash. When they had circled us three times, they swung back downwind and headed in, wings set for a landing outside the decoys in true dipper-duck fashion. At the last moment, as they were braking down to kill their speed, just starting to reach out with their orange feet, we stood up and opened fire. Doc and I got two apiece with our twin-bores, but Tex, strictly an automatic fancier, downed three. STORY WILL BE CONTINUED and will prove just how the flats were then before the earthquake and as many of believe is just as good now. This story will dispel many myths about the flats.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alaska Swamp Man View Post
    This is a great story about the HAY Flats from what many consider Americas Greatest outdoor writer who lived in the Mat-su valley and experienced the flats since 1918. This story takes place around World War II. It is called "SKYFUL of BRIGHT WINGS".Git set, " Tex warned Doc. "Here comes the first bunch o'them big ice bustin', blizzard-bangin' ducks ya been hollerin'fer." "Qu-ack, qu-ack, w-hutt, w-hutt, w-hutt! " Doc called lustily. They were Mallards and they were coming in from the drab tidal flats, beating strongly into the hard offshore wind, their vividly patched wings flashing in the morning sunlight. They looked as large as geese as they began circling warily just out of range, turning their heads from side to side, staring down at our spread of decoys. You could see they were northern ducks in full winter plumage, the heads, necks and breasts of the drakes dark and gleaming, as if they'd had a copper-and-jet wash. When they had circled us three times, they swung back downwind and headed in, wings set for a landing outside the decoys in true dipper-duck fashion. At the last moment, as they were braking down to kill their speed, just starting to reach out with their orange feet, we stood up and opened fire. Doc and I got two apiece with our twin-bores, but Tex, strictly an automatic fancier, downed three. STORY WILL BE CONTINUED and will prove just how the flats were then before the earthquake and as many of believe is just as good now. This story will dispel many myths about the flats.
    SKYFULL of BRIGHT WINGS Our Chesapeaks, Shot and Flaps, shuttled the birds in to us, Four of them were drakes, averaging about three and a half pounds apiece. Their crops were filled with the frost-ripened brown saw-grass seeds and they were butter-fat, as mallards from the high north always are. Doc stood admiring and affectionately fondling his call. "Worked like a charm," he said. all of his two hundred and fifty pounds registering satisfaction. "From now on, duck hunting is gonna be twice as easy and three times as much fun. I shoulda learned how to call 'em years ago." "They were comin' in anyhow," Tex said judgematically, "They'd made up their minds. You couldn't of chased 'em off with a club. They prob'ly hadn't seen sure-enough open water for weeks before they got here. "I called 'em in." Doc said, his voice rising. "You know dammed well I did."

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    Doc and Tex patently were started on another of their friendly but acrimonious arguments. We were on the broad, October-tinted Matanuska Hay Flats, thirty-seven miles north of Anchorage, at the head of the Knik Arm, a narrow branch of Cook Inlet. Six years had passed since we had last hunted here. In that time the countryside had under-gone large and drastic changes. Land-hungry farmers and stock-men had pushed the birch and spruce forest back nearly to the snow-topped mountains, and it it's place were roads, farmsteads, fields, and fences. Stock grazed where once Tex and I had hunted moose and trapped wolves and foxes. Out across the amber flats floated the sound of cowbells, of hammering, of tractor engines. Civilization had moved in. One thing here, however, hadn't changed. There were still plenty of ducks and geese. All about us the hazy sky was crisscrossed with the cobwebby patterns of waterfowl. There was white weather from Point Barrow to the Yukon Basin, and ice was making on the lakes and streams, forcing the birds south. During the night, through the upstairs window of the ranch house in which we were staying, we had heard the flights coming over-the ducks, geese. swans and cranes-the whistle of ducks wings over the stubble fields and, high up against the misty stars, the wild, sweet clangor of great flocks of southbound geese. The ancient magic of this had drawn hunters from fifty miles around. They had arrived by train and in trucks, jeeps and touring cars. It was the largest assembly of scattergun-toting, duck happy hunters I had ever seen in the north. I hadn't heard such shooting since the last few desperate days on Okinawa.

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    TO READ THIS STORY YOU MUST START FROM BOTTOM. "The boys're jest findin' out," Tex said, "that we got some birds up here." He shook his head and grinned. "Listen to that bombardment. They's anyhow six hundred hunters out here on four square miles o' flats an they'll shoot an average of o' two boxes o' shells apiece. That's thirty thousand rounds, an' hit figures out to about forty shots a minute. The ducks'll keep a-movin' today, all right." A ragged fusillade of shots sounded three hundred yards up-wind, and as we turned, here came a flock of about twenty pin-tails. They had a quarter wind behind them, they were scared, and they were pouring on the coal. Somebody once figured out that a pintail's top speed is sixty-two miles and hour, but he should have clocked this flight. I'll bet they were doing ninety. They were burning holes in the sky. But they wanted to come down. They saw our decoys and turned back to inspect them. They circled only once then buzzed down in a dizzy, zigzagging dive, only to flare just out of gun range and climb for another look. The fact that we had mallard decoys out didn't make any difference. I don't know how it is elsewhere, but here in the north the mallards and pintails get along famously. Where you find one species, you usually find the other. They feed together, migrate together, and on occasion even interbreed. Doc hadn't learned how to call pintails, so he kept his call in his pocket. But Tex, who can call anything-bears, moose, foxes, wolves, hawks, and all sorts of waterfowl-whistled softly. The flock started down, talking confidentially to him, and this time they meant it. We opened up on them when they were at an angle of fifty degrees. I swung through with a handsome long-necked drake and dropped it, then turned and tried with the other barrel as they were going away from us. It was a waste of ammunition. I never do hit high-angle birds when they are going away from me. I always shoot to soon and the charge goes a yard or so behind the bird. Tex says my system is the opposite of what it should be. He says you shouldn't try to take ducks coming in at long range because then their feathers often will turn the shot; but when they are going away from you, he says, the shot goes in under the feathers and gets you something. I suppose he is right about it, but the method is not for me. I will take them coming in. They are my meat then, regardless of Tex's feather theory.

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    Tex and Doc had each killed two. The five ducks hurtled down the wind forty yards and thudded into a thicket of scarlet wolf-willows. Shot and Flaps streaked after them, and Tex followed to supervise the operation. Several minutes passed after Tex disappeared into the brush. Then both dogs began barking excitedly , and Tex came back out of the thicket. He had the ducks and was walking fast, looking back over his shoulder. The dogs continued to bark, and you could tell they were serious. I thought they probably had encountered a bear or some other large animal. During the hunting season bears, wolves, and coyotes haunt these flats, picking up dead and wounded birds lost by gunners, and also stuffing themselves on dead salmon that float down the creeks. "You need any help over there?" I asked. "I dunno if I do or not," Tex said. "There's a dang ol' billy goat in the bresh, an' he don't like me. What's the fine fer shootin' a nester's goat?" "All you had to do," Doc chuckled, "was speak gently to him. Goats respond to kindness, like any other animal." "Huh! I'd like to see you try hit on Ol' Whiskers in there. I spoke polite to the varmit an 'he responded by tryin' to butt me up into a cottonwood tree. Snuck up behind me. Would of got me, too, dang his ugly picture, if'n been fer the dogs. This country is gettin' too blamed civilized, with goats, cows, an'sech pokin' around ever' where." As Tex returned to the blinds, a black toggenburg billy goat - and evil-looking character with with a mean set of horns- stepped out of the brush, followed by five white female goats, and all of them began browsing in the sedge grass within fifty feet of us. Since the animals were out in the open, in plain view of any ducks that came over, it occurred to me that about all we lacked now was a brass band. I was looking for rocks to throw at them when Doc nudged me sharply and nodded toward the east. This time it was a flock of hooded mergansers, speed demons of the northern duck flats. No other duck in our country whizzes in so spectacularly, and Doc knows I get a tremendous kick out of watching them make a landing. These four came in like arrows, their wings making a swishing sound that rose swiftly to a thin whine. As always, it looked as if they were going to ball-up the landing and crash disastrously in the slough. But at the last instant leveled off and landed straight and sweetly, with never a bounce or an unseemly jib. I'll believe that aviation is here to stay when we have aircraft that will come in as neatly as the old hooded merganser does. "Nothin' like a few live decoys," Tex said as the merganzers paddled into the sedge across across the slough. "They'll help liven things up around here." Doc had a book on how to call wild ducks, and he opened it and began leafing through it. He had been practicing with a call two weeks and had told us every day he could hardly wait to try his technique in the field. In his hotel apartment he had recordings f the various calls, and had played them over and over until a schoolteacher across the hall complained to the management that he was raising poultry in his bathroom. I had seldom seen him so determined about anything. He informed us that duck-calling was an art, and said he was going to master no matter how much time and effort it took. "What I wanna try next," he said, " is the greeting call. It says here you should give it a happy, excited manner. It's like the feed call, but you've got to speed it up, sorta. Like this. Qa-ack, qu-ack, qu-ack. Then if they don't come in, you argue with 'em. You tell 'em what the heck, everything's all right, they got old friends down here, it's a safe place, the water's just the right depth, and there's feed going to waste. Like this Kwek, kwek, kwek, tic-a-tic-a-tic. Oh, boy, wait'll I give 'em that treatment."

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    "I'm waitin," Tex said, "an' here's yer chance. Mallards headin' in high an' upwind." The mallards up here normally are very wary birds. They don't come busting in to any small water without looking it over carefully. If there is any little thing they don't like, they depart forthwith and don't return. Any movement or patch of off color in your blind is enough to cause them to veer away from your layout. These cloud-scrapers, however, made one tight circle at about six hundred feet, then slid down the wind and began their approach. I had forgotten about the six goats grazing behind us, but now I remembered them and would have wagered that the ducks would flare before they came into range. They didn't though. They came right on in. Doc was talking to them, telling them every big lie he could think of. He was putting is heart into it. He was so interested he barely had time to exchange the call for his gun. The next few seconds held the reason why grown men sit in cold, wet, windy blinds on forsaken swampy points hour after hour, neglecting their families and their business affairs, and getting chilblains, to take a few pounds of meat they could purchase with no hardhship at all from any farmer. The ducks saw us and stood on their tails, scrambling for altitude. They were forthy yards distant, and for a second or two, when their forward momentum was used up and the wind had stopped shooting them skyward, they were nearly motionless in the air. Then there was the ear-jarring multiple crash of seven shorts, and the good smell of nitro in the blind, and the sudden warmth of the twin barrels in your hand. You could see shot spattering the far rim of the slough, and at the same time five of the leading mallards crumpled, dropping out of formation to land with suprising softness on the water, bright wings trailing, the green heads of he drakes ashine in the sunlight.

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    "Well, I brought 'em in, didn't I? Doc said triumphantly. "I gotta admit that," Tex said, scratching his head, a half puzzled expression on his face. "but hit's kinda queer about them goats. I was gonna work that billy over with a plank to chase 'em away, but I got a hunch now maybe we better let 'em stay awhile. Seems to me them mallards was all-fired un-spookey for October frost-dusters out'n the Eskimo country. Maybe they're partial to sech barnyard stuff as goats 'n' cows." I should explain here that for non-resident hunters looking for a place to get under some big flights of Alaska ducks with a scattergun these MATANUSKA FLATS are just about ideal. There is good shooting through out the season, and local hotel accommodations are excellent. At Palmer, the farming center a short drive north of the flats, there are two hotels, two restaurants, and two well-stocked general-merchandise stores. Meals and a room cost six dollars a day. An Alaska Railroad mixed passenger and fright train makes six round trips a week into the valley, and a motor stage makes two round trips daily between here and Anchorage. There is a taxi service that will take you from the settlement in the duck flats and return for you, at a reasonable rate. Most visiting sportsman try to arrive on the opening day of the season, September 1, but in my opinion, the best shooting is during the first two weeks of October, when the heavy, full-plumage birds come streaming in ahead of the northern freeze-up. so happy to be out of the ice and snow that they don't care where they pitch in. Of course, there are hundreds of other shooting grounds. There are the Copper River Flats, the Beluga Flats, the Chickaloon Flats, the Redoubt Bay Flats ad the many gathering places on the Alaska Peninsula and at the mouth of the Yukon. All of the hunting areas are accessible by airplane, and any bush pilot flying out of Anchorage can tell you all about them. BUT, if I were a nonresident gunner yearning to bust some primers in a populous duck region, I would go up to the Matanuska Hay Flats. It doesn't cost as much as a hunt in any of the other places mentioned, and you'll find birds enough to satisfy anybody. By far the greatest number of ducks and geese that had come in during the past two days were out on the tidal mud flats. With my binoculars I could see thousands of them. I could distinguish Canada, snow geese, specklebellies, brant, stilt-legged little brown cranes and many, many ducks-mallards, pintails, blue-bills, teal, baldpates, and such as shovelers, goldeneyes, and buffleheads. Especially there were mallards, acres of them on the mud islands, along the waterline, and on the banks of the tidal washes. It was s sight to do a gunners heart good. But there was no way you could get the birds out there, because the tide flats are strewn with quicksand death traps, and many of the steep-sided washes cannot be waded. A few flocks kept coming into water and to feed on the sedge, but the main body of them would not move until high tide forced them to. That would be in two hours.

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    Once in a while a gunner finds himself unable to wait for the big flight to come in and goes after them. Tex and I had such a chap with us in the autumn of 1928, an Englishman names Leslie. A huge flight had come in from the north, and the birds must have been wing wing-weary, for they dropped in recklessly, in some cases even ignoring gunfire. Leslie insisted on going out on the mud for pass-shooting, so we took him out there and he shot his gun hot in a few minutes. HE SAID IT WAS THE FINIST SHOOTING HE HAD EVER EXPERIENCED! This was the reason, I suppose, why he refused to leave when we told him the tide had turned and it was time to get off the mud. He said he wanted the chance at specklebellies because we had told him the specklebelly was our finest table bird. When at last we got him started toward higher ground we were standing in nearly level full of water. We were cut off. In an hour the ground we were standing on would be submerged. We had previously explained to Leslie that the tides in this region are the second highest in the world, but his ears were so full of goose talk and the sound of wings that he hadn't paid any heed."We'll have to swim them guts," Tex said. "So take off yer shoes an' throw yer shells away. Stick yer gun up in the mud-we'll come back fer hit at low tide tomorrow. "I'm afraid I'm in trouble-I can't awim, " Leslie said. "It's my own fault, though. I could never resist ducks and geese and I hadn't DREAMT THERE WERE FLIGHTS IN THE WORLD AS THIS ONE." ............... So, I don't have the time to type the rest of this story as there is a lot more, as I'm headed out of the old decoy shack to hunt tomorrow. The rest of the story they talk about best shot size and settle on No.2 as the all around load. They mention a flight of a least 20 thousand ducks and of course how the old goat served like the old tolling dogs on the Chesapeake bay that were let loose and the birds seemed mesmerized by the dog and tolled to the decoys. It's a real amazing yarn and I don't believe that things have changed that much at least for the hunters willing to study the marsh and are organized. This story is hard to find and I copied it from the Palmer Library after a search. I had seen it in Anchorage years ago in a book on Annabell' s great stories, but could not find it again. The story tells of the long history of the Hay Flats since 1918. I hope it sometime can be used as a testament to the fact that waterfowl hunting, except for the time it was used before the 1965 Earthquake as a farming area, is the history of the Flats. The Flats under the right conditions and weather is equal to any other great fowling place in Alaska or almost anywhere and better than many. Not only that but it is probably the most beautiful place to hunt waterfowl in North America, because of the close mountain vistas.

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    I agree, the mountains serve as a very nice backdrop. Would lke to see a painting one day of a view from the marsh depicting this.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alaska Swamp Man View Post
    The Flats is probably the most beautiful place to hunt waterfowl in North America, because of the close mountain vistas.
    President of Alaska Waterfowl Assoc.
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    Gen.1:26
    And God said, let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

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