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Duck Season is upon us and the big question many waterfowl hunters are asking is “Do I lease a seat in a Duck Blind, or do I hunt the Refuge System”.

Some of us have a few choices for waterfowl hunting. Some of these choices include private property ownership or access, private clubs, the refuge system, duck blind seat leases and then there’s public land.

If you own or have access to your own duck blind you probably aren’t reading this article but if you don’t have private property and your thinking about leasing a seat in a duck blind I hope you take the time to read this article before you give someone your hard earned cash.

There are several options for leasing a duck blind or blind seat. Sometimes I get a little confusing so please bear with me. There are two primary ways to lease a blind or blind seat. One way is to lease the entire blind. This is “Leasing a Blind” This is usually what guys call a Duck Club. It’s a group of hunters from 4 on up who pool their money together and lease one or several full blinds. One blind generally consists of 4 seats. So if they have 12 members, they can lease 3 full blinds and on up. The more members the more money the more power to lease more blinds and have more seats. This gets complicated and often times feelings get hurt and often the good blinds go to certain groups and if your new well you usually get the crappy seat in the worst blind.

One of the more common methods is for 4 to 8 hunters who are friends to lease a 4 four-man blind and rotate hunters throughout the year. If there are four hunters usually all four hunters agree that everyone can hunt every day of the season with “No Guests” unless there is a vacancy (one hunter doesn’t want to hunt that day) and then if the other hunters agree you can take a friend.

Another option, and this is probably the most common is a group of 4 hunters lease a 4 man blind. They Elect one person to be the Blind Captain and he makes a schedule, and each hunter gets the blind for one day, every four days. Often there is 6 or even 8 hunters involved, and the rotation can be up to every 8 days unless everyone agrees to hunt in pairs then its usually every 4 days. You will usually see the 8 person combinations involved in Husband/Wife combos and when two friends who have hunted together decide to go in together on a blind or what is referred to as “Splitting a Seat”.

Usually if the blind has only four hunters or there is assigned hunt days for the one hunter on his hunt “Day” he can hunt by himself or take three friends or communicate with the others hunters in the group to hunt with him.

Then there is the very popular and often hated “Single Seat”. This is what is called “Leasing a Seat in a Blind” (a Seat not the entire blind) You will often see these advertised on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. This is usually when a group of hunters need just one more person to lease a blind and so you are literally leasing just one seat in a duck blind. NOT THE WHOLE DUCK BLIND! Just one seat, so you are hunting with 3 other guys and their dog or dogs and you better hope you all get along. This includes your wives and your kids and your dogs. Before you do this make sure you really know the other hunters you are hunting with otherwise you could end up very unhappy or with a injured dog…or wife.

Leasing an entire Blind or a just a Seat is easy. You could go online and check Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or start searching outfitters who lease blinds and within an hour you will find a seat to lease.

Some Questions to Ask

You can really get screwed on a duck blind if your new at the game. There is no shame in asking questions and if you ask someone questions about the blind or seat they are leasing and they are anything short of a full, answer walk away and find another one. There are things to lookout for and ask prior to committing to a duck blind or seat, there is no getting your money back if your unhappy with the arrangements. When you see those adds for needing “Just one guy for one seat” often times its because some other guy wised up and decided at the last minute not to give the other guys his money. Other times they are good deals, right place at the right time, and you can have the best seat of your life.

The first thing to ask is what is the price. The real price not just the down payment. Most full blinds are too expensive for one person to lease. I have seen blinds go from $800.00 a seat to $3500 a seat and that’s just one seat. So if a blind goes for $800.00 a seat that’s $800.00 x 4 = $3200.00 for an entire blind. The average price of a seat in a good blind is about $1500.00 anything else is just ridiculous. Now I do know of seats down buy the Audubon Society Property near Colusa going for $2700.00 a seat and they are premium blinds with overnight access and all kinds of extras but still that’s expensive, that’s a $10,800.00 blind so it better be a real shooter and a short walk.

Second thing to ask is “How far is it from the parking lot to the blind and can you walk the rice check out to it? This is super important. I know blinds that are over a 1 mile walk from where you park to the blind. It doesn’t sound too bad but remember you will be making this walk at 5 am in full duck hunting gear that means waders, duck jacket, gun, shells, lunch and a bag of decoys (unless provided) and all the junk you have to take. If you are on a road walking to the blind that is one thing but you will eventually have to leave the road and either walk the top of the rice check to the blind or cut across a rice field to the blind. I would look for a blind with a half mile or less walk to the blind.

Walking a rice check in the dark is difficult but crossing a rice paddy is a whole other story. If the rice paddy is flooded and it will be, they can be waist high, if the paddy has been plowed up just before it was flooded which is usually the case it is just downright terrible to cross. You can easily sink to your knees and your waders will get sucked off your foot. Ideally you will be able to walk the rice check to the blind. If you are really lucky you can find a blind that is actually just off to the side of the road so you could walk the road all the way to the blind. These are rare and will cost more but are usually worth the money.

If you are like me, it’s nice if you can cut down on the walk. Some clubs do not allow ATVs or Side by Sides on the property. Some do and that can be a real nice alternative and although it will cost you extra its usually worth it. Sometimes you can park right next to the blind or at the end of a rice check and just walk the short distance in to the blind.

Which way does the blind face? A blind is a rectangle. An ideal blind will face East and West. With the rice check also going East and West. This would mean that the water on each side of the blind would run parallel to the blind so you would have two large bodies of water with landing areas that travel North and South. Ducks will always land “into the wind”. During duck season the prevailing wind on most of your really good duck areas in the Northern Sacramento valley are out of the North or out of the South so blinds that face North and South would have water that run East and West and the ducks would have to land in a crosswind if the winds are coming out of the North and South. Blinds that face North and South are usually significantly cheaper than blinds that face East and West. This is usually a blind you should pass on unless you know it generally shoots good.

Occasionally you can find a blind that sits in the middle of a body of water usually on a slight rise or island. These will also cost you more but there is no worry about the winds, and you have more options for setting decoys.

Ask if the decoys are included with the cost of the blind and are already set or if you have to provide your own. Some blinds have decoys some don’t. Some blinds leave them out all season and some require you to set them out before your hunt and retrieve them at the end of the evening.

Ask for a “Bird Count” or “Blind Averages” from the previous years. All parties that lease blinds usually keep a bird count of all the birds shot during the year and they use this to adjust their price for the next year. Some blinds have very high bird counts and some have very low counts. If the person leasing you the blind does not have a Bird Count either the blind is new and never been shot over or he doesn’t want to tell you the truth and the blind sucks. Look for blinds with at least a 400 bird kill from the prior year, most blinds are in the low 200.

“Duck blind” or “Goose Pit” there is a difference. A duck blind is set-up primarily for hunting ducks. Ducks need water and so the rice paddies are flooded to entice the ducks to land. Goose Pits are basically duck blinds that aren’t flooded and left dry so that the winter rains flood them up naturally. Geese prefer muddy rice fields to sit in and eat all day and night. Goose pits are usually more expensive, but it really just depends on how well the Pit shoots.

There are so many questions you could ask a person leasing you a seat in a duck blind but some of it you are just going to have to experience yourself and make a list of your own questions. My best advice for a new guy is to ask a friend who already has a seat in a blind to “Split-the seat” with you. This means that both pay 50% of the cost of the seat and hunt together.

The Refuge System

Hunting the Refuge System is a great alternative to hunting expensive blinds. You can purchase a daily pass for about $23.00 a day or a season long pass for $174.00 a year. If you go more than 7 times the season pass is cheaper.

You can put in for reservations through the DFW online portal and select whatever refuge you wish to hunt. Once drawn you show up at least 2.5 hours prior to shoot time and wait for your number to be called. Then walk up and select the blind you want.

It’s a very simple process and once you do it one time its easy to figure out. The refuges actually have very good bird numbers and shoot better than most private blinds.

One of the downsides to the refuge system is the check in time. You must be there well before Shoot Time. Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge starts calling numbers at 2.5 hours prior to shoot time and so in reality you need to leave your house in time to arrive by 3 hours before shoot time. Most refuges start calling 2 hours before shoot time so no matter where you go its an early morning. The good news is that usually you can go to any of these refuges at around 10am and people are already leaving so you can do a walk-in and just check in and pick whatever blind is open and do an afternoon hunt. I do this all the time and have some really good afternoon hunts.

Another downside to the refuge system is the walk. Unless your shooting the Disabled Blinds the walks are pretty tough. Sac Refuge and Delevan have some blinds that are a mile away from the parking lot. But they also have some closer I think Sac and Delevan have blinds within ¼ mile of the parking lot.

Gray Lodge is all Freeroam, which means as long as you’re not standing in the parking areas or the closed zone you can hunt wherever you want. I like Gray Lodge for this reason. You don’t have to kill yourself to find a place to hunt and you can almost always get in at Gray lodge when everywhere else is full.

Now something to consider is your Disabled. All the refuge’s in California have Disabled Blinds. These are usually good blinds to shoot because they are generally set up close to the Closed Zones. Sac, Colusa, Delevan, Howard, Little Dry Creek and Gray lodge all have excellent Disabled blinds. They are in high demand and sometimes its difficult to draw them but even if you don’t draw them you can usually do a walk-in in the mid-morning and find a disabled blind available.

Hunting Clubs

The last option available is to join a Hunting Club. Now I say it’s the “Last Option” because it does cost more money than just about any of the other options. Most hunting clubs in California are spendy. The three primary clubs that are open to the public are Wilderness Unlimited, Golden Ram and Richmond Hunt Club.

In all honesty I have never been a member of Golden Ram or Richmond Duck Club. I am currently a member of Wilderness Unlimited and although they are a good club (not excellent) they have their pros and cons as well and will speak from that perspective.

If you join one of these clubs just to hunt waterfowl expect and initiation fee equal to or near a what the annual member ship is that you will be selecting. I pay about $1900.00 a year for Wilderness Unlimited. This is for my family membership and this includes all hunting including Big Game, (deer, pigs, bears) Waterfowl and all of the their blinds and they have a bunch of them, Upland (pheasant, turkey, dove and quail) and all of their Fly Fishing properties and camping properties.

Now I say their not excellent but they are okay and you get what you pay for, and when you look at the cost of one seat in a duck blind Vs a membership in a hunt club you almost come out ahead to do the hunt club because you get more options, your not stuck in one blind all year and you can hunt other species.

Like I said I am speaking only about Wilderness Unlimited. Its my understanding that Golden Ram and Richmond have some excellent hunting options and property but I just can't say for sure.

Its also my understanding that some of these hunt clubs allow ATVS and UTVs, but I know for a fact Wilderness Unlimited does not.

New to Duck Hunting

If you’re new to waterfowling or just getting back into the swing of hunting again the refuge system is the way to go. Its cheap its open to the public and once you go to any refuge one time you will have it figured out. I would not just jump into a duck blind with a bunch of hunters I didn’t know or buy a seat in a blind I have never hunting. It’s a lot of money to blindly throw out on a blind.

I hope this helps you make a decision,

Happy Hunting, Ken


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