Those first nonresident hunters were mostly San Francisco businessmen who realized that they had found something special and, being a shrewd lot, kept their mouths shut. A few of them, being even shrewder, began buying up parcels of land for as little as $10 to $15 an acre, as an investment in the future of both sport and rice. Some of the farmers, no less far-sighted, held onto their land and leased shooting rights. One Marysville rancher, Charles Mathews, went a step further and, flooding part of his pasture land for no other reason than to bring in waterfowl, started a duck hunting club.
That was the beginning of the modern era at Marysville. More clubs were formed, catering at first only to men, but swiftly yielding to women like Elena Sharp and Mrs. Stanwood Murphy who, as the pictures on these pages show, lost no time in establishing themselves as first-rate water-fowlers. Today 30 groups control this waterfowl bonanza. With this enforced privacy land values skyrocketed; today an acre is worth $800. And despite the increased hunting pressure, not to mention the dearth of waterfowl elsewhere in the nation, there seem to be as many ducks as ever at Marysville.
Furthermore, the hunters there are unbothered by the new federal law cutting daily possession and bag. For the sportsmen at Marysville shoot under regulations of their own far more stringent than those put forth by the greatest zealot from Fish and Wildlife Service. By gentleman's agreement, shooting is allowed only on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. When the firing begins, it is generally understood that the targets will be nothing but sprig and mallard, the two best table birds the area produces. Lesser birds, or rare species, are generally spared. The cease-fire goes up at noon sharp. In doing this, clubs are insuring themselves of a steady supply of undisturbed birds. Anyone who breaks the rules is expected to drop a few dollars into a fund to be sent later to Ducks Unlimited for the improvement of nesting conditions in Canada.
Perhaps the most tempting thing of all about Marysville is the ease and utter comfort in which the gunners await their birds. For example, at the Lakeview Motel, one of the favorite stopping places for San Francisco gunners, the patrons sleep soundly until 5 a.m., in itself an unheard-of luxury in waterfowling circles. Then a soothing voice comes over the telephone: "Good morning. It is 5 o'clock. The coffee is ready, the paper is at your door, the temperature is 60� and we wish you good hunting."
After breakfast the gunners start for the paddyfields, only 15 minutes away by car. As they move off into the predawn darkness a silence envelops them, broken only by the splash of wading feet and the tiny sounds of the morning—solitary wingbeats high over head, the rustle of blackbirds in the reeds and an occasional startled "quack" as a hen mallard vaults away from the approaching men.
Then they are in their blinds, and they sit there waiting. Mists rise from the water. Daylight peers over the buttes that rim the flat valley floor. Suddenly the air is filled with sound as thousands of birds take wing.
Flights of teal waver on the far horizon like lines of drifting smoke, and great ribbons of geese boom through the dawn. The birds are moving in from the ponds, and the world is alive with whistling wings. But no one shoots. The spectacle is so awesome that even the most experienced hunters will often remain quietly in their blinds, preferring just to watch.
Then, as daylight floods the valley with an amber glow (see cover), the birds are all around the blinds. White-fronted sprig fly close by overhead, and teal drop out of the sky to splash among the decoys. Suddenly some distant hunter can stand it no longer. There is the "thump" of a shotgun, and this noise stirs even more birds into the air until the sound of their wings is a roar of thunder, a dramatic notice to the men in the blinds that another matchless waterfowl season is under way in the marshes of Marysville.