The year was 1952, the first time my dad, Jerry Haugen hunted waterfowl at Summer Lake at the age of 12. In 1976 I hunted Summer Lake for the first time, at age 12. This past weekend, Braxton, our oldest son, hunted Summer Lake for the first time, also at age 12.
As with many Oregon waterfowlers, Summer Lake is a special place that runs deep within our hunting culture. The sounds, sights and flurry of distant gunshots that erupt throughout the valley the moment legal shooting light hits on opening morning is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
On this trip we joined up with area guide and owner of Lake In The Dunes, Russ Scott (www.lakeinthedunes.com). Russ owns and manages several hundred acres just north of Summer Lake Wildlife Refuge. I first discovered the fishing on this wonderful property in 1986. Then it was a flat, dry, sandy desert pocked with a few lakes created by artesian wells, stuffed full of monster rainbow trout. Since Russ acquired the property, he’s taken it to a whole new level.
Today, multiple lakes course through the property and are still home to big rainbows. Willows and Russian Olives now dominate the landscape, as do tall grasses and rushes, creating ideal habitat for all sorts of wildlife. The quaint cabin that sits on the property is perfect, as is the welcoming atmosphere Russ and his wife, Tonimarie, have created.
Dad, Braxton and I arrived a day early, enjoying a warmup round of trap shooting at the 13 station course running throughout the desert. After a quick lunch we were hunting the pheasant preserve. Pheasant hunting has greatly declined throughout Oregon, and preserves like this create opportunities that no longer exist in many place. Though I’ve only hunted on a few preserves, this was the best setup I’d ever seen. Dense habitat and varied terrain made the hunt exciting, and proved to be the perfect warmup for the next day’s waterfowl opener.
The next morning we were wading through rushes and setting decoys, the silhouettes of ducks buzzing overhead like mosquitos. Thirty minutes before shooting light we were ready, hunkered in cover, watching ducks spill into the decoys, their intense calling and whistling wings breaking the calm, still morning. Braxton was loving it.
The moment shooting light hit, barrels were ablaze. Hagan, the yellow lab, worked harder than any dog I’d seen, retrieving 28 ducks in just under 90 minutes (Russ was behind a gun on this hunt..we couldn’t leave him out on opening day!). When it was over, a solemn feeling hit. Years of anticipation for Braxton’s first duck hunt had come to a quick close. “Dad, we’ve been on some great hunts,” Braxton noted. “You know I like deer hunting, and loved hunting in Africa, right? But this was my favorite hunt of all. Can we do it again?”
Braxton’s statement and sincere smile was one of the highlights of my life. While Dad and I relived decades of memories on this hunt, Braxton became infatuated with waterfowl hunting. The great part, we were fortunate to capture all the action on film for an episode of Trijicon’s The Hunt, which will air July, 2013.
You can bet we’ll return to this magical place now that the fourth generation of Haugen’s has fallen in love with it.
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