I listened closely for my cue to spring into action. Above me, hundreds of ducks seemed to be falling out of the sky onto our decoy spread. "Wait for it," my buddy whispered to me.
We had set up our decoys in a tilled-under corn field. The Reams brothers, Leon and Mike, had been nice enough to dig four coffin-style blinds. I lay down in a blind covered in camo to look like the corn field, and waited for the brothers to call in the waterfowl. When the ducks got within 30 yards or so, Leon cried, "Take'em!" and we all sat up and shot.
In one hour, we had shot our limit of ducks, 21 in total. It was the best duck hunting a person could hope for, and it was conveniently located in good-ol' Canyon County. Our experience is not uncommon; the 2C is a duck hunting hot spot in Idaho. The county is home to duck hunting clubs and a waterfowl association, but it is also home to issues concerning guided waterfowl hunting.
Geographically, Canyon County is part of the Pacific Flyway, according to Mond Warren of Nampa, the regional director for Ducks Unlimited in Idaho. It is one of the four major migration routes that ducks use to fly across the country. The Pacific Flyway starts in northwest Canada and swings birds directly over the top of the Treasure Valley.
In 2C, there are five major public access points for waterfowl hunters.
"You have the Snake [River], the Boise, Lake Lowell, Roswell and the Fort Boise [Wildlife Management Area]," Warren said. "Most of the other hunting is done on private land, some with permission and other with leases. ... The key with hunting waterfowl is to get them when they are on the move."
Birds tend to sleep on the water and then fly off the water in the morning to feed. Hunters set out decoys on dry land in areas with food like cornfields. Private fields like these offer significant hunting opportunities. So many opportunities, in fact, that land owners have started to charge for the right to hunt on the land via leases.
Hunters band together, join a club or fork over the cash to have the exclusive or semi-exclusive rights to hunt a certain area. These land leases are typically negotiated on the total acreage leased and the quality of the hunting grounds. Some areas are more attractive to ducks and geese than others, and land owners can charge more for them.
"I was paying a lot of money, before the economy went bad, for some hunting rights," said Leon. Some of his former leases are now being run by duck hunting clubs.
Hevi Hitters, a waterfowl club with acreage under lease in 2C, is run by Cory Hamrick. He manages the club's operations and functions as its point person during the fall and winter duck season. Hamrick also manages the land and does lease improvements like building blinds--hiding areas for the hunters--and doing other hunting odds-improving things to the leased land.
The controversy around duck clubs is that they can seem to essentially function as guiding companies for the member. A club employee will often take hunters to a location, ensure the decoys are set properly and do the calling--all the same functions that a guide would normally offer.
A guide is a person with special knowledge and skill who ensures greater success for a hunter. Guides are legal for hunting big game in Idaho, including sheep, moose, deer and elk. But as it stands right now, hunters are not allowed to pay for a guide to take them either waterfowl or turkey hunting.
A proposed rule change could affect waterfowl and turkey hunting across the state. In the new draft rules laid out by the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board, land owners, guiding companies and individuals licensed with the IOG will be able to guide hunters on private land.
The IOG Licensing Board argues that allowing for paid guiding will ease pressure on heavily hunted areas and allow greater opportunities for all. On the other hand, opponents like the Idaho Waterfowl Association argue that given the already limited access to private property, adding the economic benefit of lease money will only decrease the public's access to private land.
The IOG is currently in the public comment phase, and several letters have been posted to the organization's website ioga.org. In a letter concerning the proposed draft rules, hunter George Valentine writes, "by allowing an Outfitter to have access to commercialize waterfowl hunting, my opportunities will reduce and so will others. ... The fact remains that once this is established, it will encroach on the public areas and have a negative impact for everyone else."
The next hearing for the IOG Licensing Board in Canyon County is Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Nampa Civic Center, with the last meeting in Boise on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Boise Hotel and Convention Center. Any new rules will have to be approved in Ada County through the Governor's Office and legislative review.
Private or public land issues aside, Canyon County, with its vast agricultural fields, borders two rivers and a large lake, making it a waterfowl hunter's playground. And when the weather gets cold and ducks start to migrate, you will find me in little old 2C holed up in some cornfield waiting for someone to cry, "Take'em!" as the ducks fly overhead.