Saturday, January 20, 2007

Surf's Up - 1.16.07 Waterfowl Hunt

It wasn't an environment I was used to hunting in. Well, there was water and there was muck and reeds and, hopefully, ducks so it wasn't that strange but to hunt waterfowl in North Carolina's Pamlico Sound, with gulls screaming, windy salt spray slapping my face and the crashing rumble of currents assaulting the shoreline.
After dropping me off on a small island, my guide, Joey Van Dyke, of Diamond Shoals Guide Service, put out four long lines of blue bill decoys the my right and two lines of surf scooter blocks to my left and drifted his skiff back into the bay, out of sight. Instead of using a dog to retrieve downed ducks Joey handed me a small, two-way radio and advised me to call him and he would use the boat to pick them up.
Rather than a layout boat or blind I would be hunting "redneck style," simply lying on the ground next to the shoreline. I started out fifteen yards from the breaking waves, trying to camouflage myself in some reeds. Barely five minutes after legal shooting time three sea ducks, two drakes and a hen scooter, headed right to the decoys. I emptied the magazine of my Benelli but all three birds flew off unscathed. Talk about humbling! A few minutes later two scooters came in. I made three shots but again, nothing dropped. Joey came on the radio and advised me to move closer to the decoys, in fact he wanted me just outside the sprayline. 20 mph gusts were reaking havoc on my shot string and an additional ten yards would make a huge difference.
The move proved a good idea and after the next flight of ducks came by, two were left floating in the ocean, feet up. I spent the better part of two hours, watching birds fly up and down the coast, shooting occasionally and actually killing a duck every now and then. Around ten Joey spoke into the radio and reminded me not to shoot any more sea duck since I had my limit, but to concentrate of divers.
Rain began to fall, so I cinched my hood tightly around my face and watched rain drops drip off my gun barrel. The warmth of my coat and the incoming fog must have put me into some type of trance because I didn't notice a huge flock of bluebills pour into the decoys. I had stuck my hands into the sleeves of my jacket to warm them up a bit (I'd forgotten my waterproof gloves). When I tried to shoulder the gun my right hand got stuck in the elastic cuff making it impossible to pull the trigger. The commotion of my arm flapping as I tried to extract my hand caused the ducks to flare but before they flew off I was able to fire off a shot hitting a beautiful drake and anchoring him five yards from shore. Oh to have had a "do over" on that group of ducks!
That was the last ducks of the morning. As the front moved in and the downpour grew stronger so we decided to call it a day. Joey picked me up, we stowed all the gear and road through the rain to the ramp content with a wonderful day afield and with a good mess of waterfowl laying in the bottom of the boat.

1. Make sure you check with you guide to see what equipments needs you'll have. I made the two mistakes in this regard. One, I was shooting a improved/modified choke but needed a full. Two, a pad of some sort would have come in handy, making me much more comfortable.
2. Take more shotgun shells than you think you'll need. I got a little worried when I got down to 1/2 a box of Kent's. The ducks stopped flying before I ran out of shells but it would have been nice to have the box of Winchesters I had sitting in the floorboard of my truck....
3. One disconcerting moment on this hunt was when I looked up and saw a large fin swimming just outside the decoys. I'd thought it a little silly when my guide said, "Don't wade out there and pick up your dead ducks. Let me do all the retrieving." Even though it was just a pod of dolphin I was more than willing to be compliant!

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