Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On duck hunting

I have clearly gotten off to a poor start for blogging in 2009. I apologize and will do my best to make it up.

Over the Christmas break I was able to get in two duck hunts. I had never been duck hunting before, but it was something that I had wanted to try to get into and so I jumped at the chances.

The weekend following Christmas, a friend from my grad program invited a couple of our classmates and myself down to his family's farm go hunting. The "farm" is really a spectacular 900 acre parcel that the family uses for all kinds of hunting: dove, quail, deer, duck, turkey and even alligators. We went down on that Sunday and did some quail hunting that afternoon. The weather was unseasonably warm (upper 70s) and the dogs were having a hard time picking up the scent of the birds. We were able to scare up a few coveys, though, and I managed to bag my first two quail. I used my Yildiz 20 gauge and it was great. I really enjoyed it, and will try to make it a priority to do some more quail hunting next season.

The next morning, we got up and went to some flooded timberland on their property and did a little wood duck hunting. Again, thanks to the weather, the birds weren't flying too well, but I did manage to get a drake, pictured below (they made me also hold up the other duck that we got that morning). That it my friend's flat coated retriever, Brick, in the picture with me.

That afternoon we went out to a new pond that they had built which was essentially a flooded 40 acre corn field surrounded by pines. When we arrived out there around 12:30, we were able to scare up probably 600 ducks that were on the pond, which was quite a site to see. After finishing work on some blinds that they had started building, we settled down and waited for the ducks to return. While we did end up seeing probably about 400 ducks that afternoon that returned to the pond, my friends and I all happened to be on the part of the pond where they weren't landing, so in spite of our group taking 24 ducks that afternoon, we were only responsible for one of them.

My next duck trip to was up to Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge up in North Carolina, near the Outer Banks (and by "near," I mean about an hour away). My friend won a quota hunt for this lake and invited me to go along with him. This lake has, apparently, had a fairly legendary status among waterfowl hunters thanks to the number of ducks, geese, and swan that land there. We had some great expectations and figured it would be worth the eight hour drive.

It turns out that it wasn't. While we did see plenty of ducks, the first morning out there, very few of them flew anywhere near us and the only duck we managed to get was a green winged teal that I shot. While this could have been in part due to our decoy spread or my buddy's skills at calling ducks (I am not judging as I have never used a duck call before so I certainly couldn't have done any better), I think that it was par for the course for everyone hunting that day. A guy staying in our "motel" (I use this word very loosely) said that when he left the refuge, 14 of the 16 blinds had checked out and only 12 ducks had been taken amongst all of them. We all had hopes for the next day thought.

Decoys on Lake Mattamuskeet on the first morning's hunt

Those hopes turned out to be completely unfounded. During the night a front came through that stirred up a pretty strong southwest wing. When my friend and I trudged out to the blind (blind #16, which seemed to be regarded by most of the other hunters as the best blind) at 5:00 that morning, we discovered that the wind had actually blown all of the water out from in front of our blind. Since the lake is on 2'-3' deep over its entirety, we found ourselves with nothing but mud in front of our blind. We threw out a few decoys, and set out some more when it looked like the water was coming back in (this was only a tease, we found out, as the water left just as quickly as it came), but we started packing up at 7:45 after it appeared that no ducks were going to come anywhere near us.

Decoys on the mud flat formerly known as Lake Mattamuskeet on the second morning

Overall it was a fairly disappointing trip, but we did have a good time and at least we weren't skunked. I killed two ducks in my first season (I am not sure that I'll be able to make it out again before the end of the season in January) so I guess things could have been worse. I am looking forward to getting into it more next year.


DAM said...

Great Post. Just got into hunting myself after a few seasons of skeet/trap - quail, specifically - over thanksgiving holiday.

Any thoughts/tips/tricks you learned? Any good reading you especially liked prior to your inaugural duck hunt?

Thanks - DAM

heavy tweed jacket said...

What became of the ducks? Any good recipes or cooking wisdom? It looks like a fun time was had by all.

Anonymous said...

Don't know anything about duck hunting but it's good to see you back.

Unknown said...

I have duck hunted off and on for the last 40 years. There is nothing like it. As a matter of fact my brother and I are looking at getting a new lab.
Fang, his black lab has just gotten too old. She has made her last hunt. She now stays in 5 year old nephew's lap most of the time now...

Unknown said...

BTW: I am from the Texas-Louisiana border, let me know when you want a good duck gumbo recipe.