Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Part 7 Hunt #3

Well, I suppose the suspense of the wigeon hole has grown unbearable for the past 8 months. Sorry. I've been super busy, but as I plan to return to North Dakota in the next few weeks, reliving my notes from last year has me wanting to continue my work here.

So yes, as you last read, I crashed out in the cabin, sleeping easily from a day in the rain and the muck and the exhaustion. I woke up early enough to believe that it was too early, even for duck hunting. I left the heat on that night and sweltered in the covers. I awoke, brewed my coffee, and opened the cabin door to let in some frigid cold air. The wind whistled around the corners of the cabin - it was a full on gale...the kind that we love in North Carolina for shooting blackheads! I completed my morning routine and headed north from Grahams Island to the wigeon hole.

My drive once again consisted of the morning farm report. Corn was down, canola, whatever that is, was up. Either way, I also encountered two very large deer on the highway. They weren't the type that I expected to find in any patch of woods back east. Both were does, and both looked like they weighed 200 pounds. I eased off the gas and on to the brakes. Those fat ladies had the right-of-way. Still, I honked the horn to let them know I noticed them, and to speed them on their way.

I reached the PLOTS land that only the day before had me in the wigeons. I snuck in, certain I would be eaten by a cougar or something. If I have failed to mention it earlier, I hate walking alone in the dark. Either way, I snuggled into some cattails and listened to the wigeons whistle away the stars. I timed my decoy set-up for about 20 minutes til shooting time, because I knew I'd rattle the birds. And rattle them I did. I quickly threw out the dozen or so wigeon and teal decoys. The wind had little problem right-siding them for me. The whole ordeal took less than 30 seconds. Texas-rigging your fakes is the way to go.

Watching the pothole for returners and the sky for observers, I grew a little bored. All I could hear was the wind and all I could see were the waves on the water. It was especially black that morning. Still, shooting time arrived and there I sat at the corner of two large potholes, one brimming with birds, the other with alkali foam. A nearby hunting party, upwind of me I suppose, fired away at their pothole and the birds that were subsequently scattered found my decoy spread only a few minutes later. I quickly picked out two birds and returned them to the water. The brisk wind blew them out over the deeper water of the pothole. It's always a desperate feeling when that happens...but I knew that the opposite bank was only 100 yards away. I was certain they were both wigeons. They both turned out to be gadwalls in very early plumage. Late nesters?

I sat still for the next couple of minutes as birds passed over way too high to shoot at. I figured that in time, they'd all come back and settle in to the same section of water that they sat in yesterday. A bluewing was the only visitor over the next hour. Once I shot the teal, I gathered my decoys and gear, then embarked on the walk around the pothole to pick up the gadwalls. I was done for the day, and just too tired to care if I killed a limit, or not. I collected the birds, and everything else, and made the walk back to the vehicle. The wind and rain had become a little icy. I stopped by another pothole on the way back to the cabin, just to check to see if the big flock of blackheads I spotted earlier had been busted up. They were still content, only this time with another team of hunters watching the action. It's there that I learned to hunt the birds the next day - don't count on someone else not finding "your" birds. I continued to the cabin for a well-deserved nap and had lunch by noon. My neighbors in the adjoining cabin stopped by...they wanted help with a photograph, so I did the honor, and exchanged information. This was the first time I was made privy to information and since the group was headed out that night, they had no qualms about me sneaking in to the newest honeyhole that they had discovered.

I quickly suited up and followed their terrible directions. I was to drive straight across from the entrance to the park, and take the first left, then drive to a burned down barn and take a left there. From there, I could walk or drive the remaining half mile. I got the part where I was to drive "straight"...it was an underwater road. I had been warned about these and had dealt with one already. It was 1 in the afternoon, with 4 hours left of shooting light. I took a walk, instead of my chances, to check out the submerged road for deep holes. Nothing was found, so I trekked back and cruised across. The submerged road would be the easiest of my travels that afternoon. The hilltops were fairly dry, but the rain had made conditions sloppy, especially in the low spots. I swerved and slid the next few miles. I was absolutely thrilled to see the burned barn, but disappointed to hear the gunshots coming from the gigantic marsh that lay before me. A look at the remaining half mile of road suggested a walk would be best. I made the walk, with 2 decoys. If there were that many birds in there, then just a few decoys would be enough, right? Well, I made it into the marsh. I found a place where the 10 foot high cattails met the water's edge. I loaded the double barrel and in less than 15 seconds, I had two shovelers on the water. In one more minute, or less, I shot a drake redhead. I was done, but elected to unload the gun and watch the action. For the rest of the afternoon, I suppose I decoyed 300 birds, all in singles or pairs. It was the best kind of fun. I packed my stuff, walked out, then cleaned the birds. I made the drive back to the cabin and ate leftovers from the night before, which were leftovers from two nights prior to that night. I decided that I would take the next morning to go after the blackheads I found on the pothole - the one that was also spied by another party. After dinner and a thaw-out, I fell asleep, reading a Sporting Classics article about a wife who watched her husband be eaten by a tiger. Why do I do these things to myself?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Part 6, Hunt #2

I returned to the location near Pelican Lake that I mentioned earlier on Monday morning. I had about a 45 minute drive from my location at Grahams Island State Park, which by the way, is a pretty nice place to stay, despite the tiny cabins. It's 20 minutes from anywhere, but it's still a good, centrally located place. Anyway, I drove north, down the muddy county roads to the parking location. I was pretty certain I was going to be stuck in the mud when I returned because the mud out there is a little like snot. It's sticky and gross, and only a hot bath will get it out of your fingerprints. Anyway, I was fairly nervos about heading into the potholeI had discovered. I had 1/4 mile of shelterbelt to walk through on the dike. The rabbit I had seen earlier was certain to be back, and this time with his posse. And while mountain liions haven't been spotted in this area of North Dakota in a hundred years or more, I was certain that I would be the one to spot him. I get spooked easily, when I'm on foot.

Still, I got there 30 minutes early, so I sat in the confines of the Jeep, which by the way, did not have a working heater or air conditioner. I warmed myself with the coffee in my thermos, and when twenty minutes until legal light was to arrive, I departed. I took 5 mallard field shells, and 7 floating shoveler and pintail decoys, my gun, my coat, and my courage. Walking in and following my GPS coordinates, I stayed on the right path and turned up exactly where I had hoped. There was little cover to hide in and the mud leading to the waters edge was again, treacherous. I tossed out the decoys, and settled in with a few minutes to go. Birds were everywhere. And then the wind changed. A couple of hunting parties on the adjacent lake must have had their watches wound a little early. They shot early and often. Good for them. The wind actually turned to blow directly in my face. I shot at several ducks the first 5 minutes, but they couldn't and wouldn't decoy into the brisk wind. The first northern cold front of the year was coming through, and I got there just in time for the Grand Passage, only to have it blow into my face and not at my back.

Still, I collected my only teal, a bluewing, and my first ever. The thrill of shooting a bluewing teal swept over me enough for me to discard the disappointment I had held 5 minutes earlier. Still, I was observant enough to watch an nearby slough fill with ducks as Pelican Lake's nasty waves pushed them away. I figured I would try this jump shooting thing that I had heard was employed by locals to fill their limits. I had 5 birds to go, though. I collected my decoys and headed into the cattails. A cattail slough is an easy place to get lost forever. Ducks exploded from feet away. Some even terrified me when they flew at my face. I was covered in ducks, and was angry about it. Imagine that? Nevertheless, I located the opening, shot a hen shoveler as she flushed, collected her, and continued to wade about the maze of cattails and eventually found my way to Pelican Lake after a 1/4 mile of walking. I'll never forget that I saw that day on that gray, churlish lake. Where it wasn't gray, it was black with blackheads. I've seen the big rafts on the Albemarle and the Pamlico. But these blackheads were the ones that once they split up, make the big rafts elsewhere. I swear to God, if there was a blackhead anywhere else in the world, it was the one I shot the day prior. Andin true to form fashion, they were a full three iron away from shore. However, I noticed the puddle ducks entering the cattails along the shoreline at a regular pace. I had a good vantage point and could see the area that I had just walked through. I backtracked and shot 3 gadwalls as I marched through that maze of cattails. When I made it back to the clearing where I had taken the hen shoveler, I posted up and waited. In short order, a hen wigeon dropped in and I dropped her. I was done and in about 2 hours.

See, I thought my hunts would be simple and easy and lightning fast. I was to employ all of my skills and to reap the rewards of hours and hours of research, hunting trials and errors, and prayer. But it didn't work out that way on that cold and gusty morning. I had to persevere a little bit and I had to try new things. To grow as people, we do those things in our everyday life. As a duck hunter, one must also try new things and not be afraid to fail. After hauling out my take and decoys, I iced the birds, then scouted some WPA's north of the location I hunted. Scouting is an arduous ordeal. I used my PLOTS guide to meander about the country side, but the only motherlodes I found were on POSTED property. That's my luck though. Still, seeing a two acre pound, filled with canvasbacks and mallards exclusively, was worth the trip alone. The weather had seemed to remove stale birds for southern waters and bring in the larger flocks. I changed my tactics and began looking for larger potholes that would require a decent walk - hopefully they had not been hunted because of the effort that would have been required. Soon enough, I found a motherlode. Apparently some of the blackheads I saw tha morning had relocated. However, a Minnesota party had beat me to the punch. They didn't seem interested, but I think they had been having a tough go at it and were gonna give it a go. Heading north more, north of Cando, North Dakota, I found my heaven on earth. Tucked away from the road, behind a scope of woods that stretched a mile square, was the faint glow of an emerald pothole. I took out the binoculars and put on my hippers and headed towards the pothole. Sure enough, when I arrived, it was marked as Public Access. As I topped the knoll, I gave away my presence to the one thousand - no more, no less - wigeons that sat contented on the pond. I backed away into the woods only to see them return, all at once, within 15 minutes. Other ducks, too, joined the party. Lots of bluewing teal and ringnecks accepted the invitations of whistles and began feedin on the grasses in the pothole. I had found my next hunting location - 90 minutes from my cabin. That's a long way, it seems, but I was here, and I had struck gold. I ran, sprinted even, back to the car in hopes that the other traveling duck hunters would not see my location. I rode into the town of Devils Lake and ate an exceptional steak - not the sagey-grassy tasting stuff, but fatty. I enjoyed myself and made a few phone calls to express my successes and returned to the cabin. I cleaned my ducks in the dark that night. My fingers froze, and the foxes watched, but I finished. I hadn't bathed in two days. I found my sleeping bag in the cabin and buried myself there. I clawed at the cell phone and set the alarm clock for way too early. I fell asleep with the lights on that night...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Part 5, North Dakota, First Hunt

I guess this is where it gets good for those readers who enjoy some duck killing. The day is Sunday, October 21, 2012. The day prior was my first full day in North Dakota. I spent it scouting for ducks, which didn't take long to do. My plans after my Sunday morning hut was to travel north and west in the hill country of North Dakota to look for ducks and water. Afterwards, I was to drive north and east, to the Devils Lake area to my cabin rental that I would now share with only myself. The plan involved a least 6 hours of driving on Sunday afternoon, with little time to look for ducks. But first, I had the matter of interrpting the motherlode as it came to feed on the 10 acre pothole I had discovered no les than three miles from any evidence of modern civilization. North Dakota freelancing is truly a wilderness experience and doing it alone is for the strong of mind and not the weak of heart.

The Saturday night before, I busied myself for a second night at the Jamestown Inn. I ate supper at McDonalds, which in itself is a rare-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I toko advantage of the free wi-fi to do a last minute check of the weather and to put my newly recorded GPS units on my Google Earth and GPS programs. I also wanted to see an aerial view of the pothole. When scouting ducks, it's best not to get to close when you find a wad of them. Earlier on that Saturday, the motherlode I discovered was primarily teal and blackheads, but there was the scant mallard, wigeon, gadwall, and ringneck spotting. The pond was privately owned, but not posted, and was surrounded by federally owned and legal-to-hunt Waterfowl Production Areas. Scaring these birds away would give them plenty of options. And the earlier potholes I had glassed, sent ducks scattering. I suppose they had been jumpshot a lot the prior week, even though the prior week was the state pheasant opener - a state holiday, it seems. Nevertheless, after locating the motherlode, I went to a local greasy spoon restaurant, at a hamburger steak in honor of my father, and then hit the road back to the Jamestown Inn. A nap, McDonald's, and a fuel fill-up left me with a strong headache and nothing to do other than to watch the Alabama-Tennessee game on television. I set my alarm for 5 am and drowsed off. On no less than three occassions, I woke up in the night because of my headache. I finally got out of bed, did my obligatory push-ups, swallowed coffee, and took a hot shower. I guess that's what produced the vomiting that ensued. At roughly 5:45, 2 hours before legal shooting light, I wondered if the motherlode was meant to be. I took a 30 minute nap and woke up as if nothing had ever been the matter. God works things out if you trust more and try less, I guess.

I swiftly loaded my car, checked out of the hotel, stopped for a donut and drove the hour I needed to arrive at my motherlode. The morning sky was beginning to blister in the east, but the buzz of waterfowl wings was the most noteworthy of the entire ocassion. I parked my Jeep, crested the hill, and spied the pothole. Even in the twilight, the pond was clearly alive, as was the sky. I'll never forget the walk up that hill. It was a corn field two weeks prior. Two eons prior, it was covered in a glacier, because the dirt was littered with 200 pound boulders, just like my driveway is littered with chert gravel. Upon cresting the hill, I began the slow descent to the area I had elected to hunt. I soon found out what a badger hole was, as I fell into it, banged my 2 dozen decoys to the ground, and muddied my gun. Slightly confused and highly agitated I put myself upright, and walked much more cautiously. The 1/4 mile walk to the pothole left me slightly sweaty, but the frosty air moderated me. As I reached the pothole, I began looking for a place to hide in the cattails. The drought had left a 20 foot moat of marsh mud between open water and cattails. This presented an interesting conundrum, as I had immediately added a great level of difficulty to both walking to set out decoys and shooting. And I still had no idea how deep these potholes were. The marsh mud crossing was an arduous ordeal, but the mud succumbed before I did. Light slowly crept towards the eastern hilltop, and I was in a hurry. I cast my decoys out in the best pattern I could before scrambling mack to the cattails. I had set up my decoys with 30 seconds prior to shooting light. And since none of the decoys floated away in the deliberate breeze, I assumed the water was less than three feet deep. Retrieving the ducks I was about to shoot would be a cinch, even if the wind was at my back.

As the legal shooting time threshold crossed, two teal joined my spread. I elected to let them swim, because I wanted to shoot the big ducks I had seen in the magazines. That's when a ringneck crossed my line of sight. I don't know about you, but a ringneck seems to me that when he swoops over your rig, he's daring you and your skill to take him down. Big ducks be damned, I shot him. The right barrel of my side by side put him on the water and the left barrel ended his thrashing. The teal, unphased, remained. Doing Darwinism a favor, I flushed them both, and ended them both. In 15 seconds, I was halfway to my limit, and then I realized I had zero "trophy" ducks to call my own.

For the next 5 to 6 minutes, I passed on the ringnecks and teal. A blackhead decoyed, and I shot him. I love blackheads. They aren't intimidated by hunters or guns. They carry the mail when they fly, and in a hurry. I had two ducks to go, and I wanted, I mean WANTED, one of the pintails that had chirped all morning over head. Thinking of the pintails, I just-beyond-eclipse greenheaded mallarded dropped from the 10th story and into my decoys. Postcard perfect, I promise. I sent him up with a couple of four letter words about his lineage, and then returned him to the water with the left barrel after the right barrel failed to apparently cut a feather. I had 5 ducks on the water, one a big North Dakota mallard, and the rest were birds that I commonly shot in North Carolina. I shot very little, but when I did, it scared birds. They would always return but became much warier with each shot. And finally, it happened.

I had chirped way on my Allen Bliven Calls whistle all morning, pleading to the pintails. They were hesitant to commit, but the quiet lull between the last shot and official sunrise was enough to secure the setting for them. Four drakes dropped in. Backlit by the sun, I was easy to pick out the boy in the group with the longest sprig. Two shots later he was mine, and I was done. Six ducks on the water, that I picked and chose from were dead without spending 10 shells.

For a little bit, I just sat there and reflected on the accomplishment. I had come to North Dakota, all alone other than supplies, prayer, and a dream, and did it. I found my own ducks to shoot, way off in God's country. I shot them and killed them and now they were mine. The mystery of migration swept over me and I tried to imagine were these ducks on their way somewhere, or were they gifts from above, solely intended for me. Then the geese started honking.

What was sublime turned to silly as I shot at specklebellies, snows, and Canadas, but it was all for naught. They were close, but fast. I stopped after 10 rounds. I didn't come here to shoot geese. I wanted to be a part of my surroundings, not an intruder in it. The erratic shooting cleared those potholes and the ducks that left them went to no-telling where. Some left in such a hurry, I can only assume Mexico would be their next stop.

I waded out to pick up my birds. Several had drifted out a great distance. Water lapped at the top of my waders, and some water entered. All retrieves were easy, save for the big pintail drake. I pulled out my decoy retrieving device, which is merely a lead ball with 200 feet of string on it and cast it over his back. After several attempts, I was able to drag him to hand. He was the most beautiful of all. I put them on a leather gamestrap I made the month prior. I loaded the ducks, the decoys, and gun on my shoulders. It was the happiest heavy I had ever felt. And it was barely sun-up. The heft of the ducks actually caused one of the wet leather straps to break. Undeterred, I put the duck in my mouth and traveled on. It was my day.

Afte the hunt I loaded up and left town. I headed west into what was a constant bombardment for the waterfowler's senses. Geese, ducks, swans, and cranes were everywhere along the interestate. I found my next exit and headed north towards White Horse Lake. I drove 30 miles of wide open dirt roads and saw beautiful lands, beautiful potholes, but nary a duck. The geese, though, were crowding the fields by thousands. Only the "Posted" signs seemed more numerous.

According to my highway map, the bridge over White Horse Lake would lead me into the Couteau area, and from there only about 100 miles until Devils Lake. Unfortunately, the map was wrong and the bridge was underwater. The "Road Closed" sign even looked like it had been flooded on several occasssions. Long story short, I backtracked for two hours before getting on the right path to Devils Lake. Once I got withing 50 miles of Devils Lake, ducks started appearing with regularity. I walked into 3 different Waterfowl Production areas, a grand total of 15 miles walk/jogged, to find them empty, though. Daylight was fading, but my cabin was reportedly unlocked and ready - so I could scout until dark. I went through Minnewauken and scouted the fields north of Devils Lake. I scouted the ponds. No Motherlode. Despair had become my traveling partner. I finally walked 2 miles into what is called Pelican Lake, or something right next to it. After surviving the jack rabbit attack, I fond a hidden pocket that held shovelers and pintails. I love shovelers. I elected to return here in the morning, and did very little other scouting of the area. I just new that there were few areas to hide, but shooting quick and early would be no trouble and being perfectly hidden wasn't necessary. I finally made it to my cabin, and after introductions, I immediately knew that I wouldn't like my cabin so much. It was much tinier than advertised. Even the door was small. Nevertheless, I filled the cabin with supplies, went to clean my ducks, and ate 6 donuts for supper. I set my alarm, read several pages of an Albert Hochbaum book, and fell asleep.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Part 4, North Dakota, Traveling

After a 3 month hiatus, I'm back by semi-popular demand. But during my off-time away from this blog, I passed the time dealing a few decoys, making a few decoys, enjoying the trip of a lifetime to New Jersey (which turned into more than a hunting trip), and shooting an awful lot of ducks in North Carolina. Those of you who know me well, know where my "spot" is. After 5 years of hunting this location, among others, it turned out to be the most productive, by far. I elected to hunt only this blind for the entire season, and to sample it on days that I thought might be good, bad, crowded, and boring. From this location, and on 21 hunting trips to the location, 219 birds were harvested from this location. Of course, it wasn't only me. And I was finally checked by a federal game warden, who by the way, is obviously in need of some type of affection from a woman. Anyway, we'll discuss patterning ducks AND hunters later on in the month.

Part 4 of my North Dakota essay will delve in to the day-to-day grind of making the trip up there. I think I tried to soon to write about this experience. Now that it has soaked in, I realize that North Dakota is an easy trip to make, and from now on, I'll never do like I did the first time. With that said, and through a lot of reflection, my first experience was one that I'll retain for eternity. Certainly, it was about killing ducks, but it became a trip about being a little resilient, lonesome, bored, slightly spiritual, and certainly accomplishment. I did it alone. Sight unseen. And I loved it and still love it. I'll attempt to write it just as I remember, so it won't be orderly or neat. It's was one experience at a time.

I drove non-stop to North Dakota from Columbia, North Carolina. It took about 27 hours, and I tried to sleep along the interstates in Ohio. It didn't work. I was a little frightened, and I tried to do this at dawn. Well, Ohio is known for big deer, and since it was dawn, I could only think about maybe seeing the buck of a lifetime. I saw several that would have totaled my car and face, should both of us decided to cross the white line simultaneously. And sure, I was a little bit worried about getting robbed and raped at a rest stop, but I igured that if I stopped in the rain, then my chances of sleeping without interruption were higher. No one ever knocked on my car for the 15 minutes I closed my eyes. Someone may have stared in, but my trusty side-by-side lay open, with two high brass 12 gauge shells, lying next to it. Smart plan? Doubt it.

Anyway, the drive. I faintly remember Indiana, as I drove through it for only about 200 miles or so. There was corn, white trash, and geese. Geese everywhere, I tell ya'. Since Indiana was the first place I had seen in daylight (and I had driven for 12 hours previously, all in the dark), the geese were a pleasant surprise. In fact, it was the first time in the first 12 hours I had actually thought that driving solo to North Dakota in a high mileage vehicle packed to the gills was a favorable idea. Nevertheless, Indiana passed through my rearview mirror, then Illinois. I hated Illinois. First off, Chicago was a horror. It took two hours in traffic packed tighter than intestines to travel two miles. And of course, I had to get to the far lane on three occassions. The tolls to pass through this place exceeded $40 and I found that to not be an excellent bargain. I would have paid triple to avoid the traffic, and felt as if I should have paid none to endure it. Either way, clearing Chicago offered no reprieve, as the interstate leading into Wisconsin was under construction. I traveled 200 miles at 45 miles per hour. It was awful and bumper to bumper. Nevertheless, I cleared Wisconsin and evteredMinnesota, which is actually the gateway to the famd Prairie Pothole Region. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Minnesota. The air was clear, the roads were clean, the homes were tidy and conservative. The only eyesore were the rusty fenderwells on virtually all vehicles from the prodigious salting of the roads, which apparently occurs everyday from  September 1 to July 1 the following year. By the time I crossed through Minnesota, I had driven 25 hours - one full revelation of the planet Earth, and had done so with 11 urination breaks, 3 meals, and one solitary bout of road rage.

To stay awake throughout this trip, I called my girlfriend, every hour, on the hour. We'd talk 5 minutes, and it was precious to hear her. I had never missed her in 7 years of dating until the 5th hour of this trip. She answered the phone at 3am while sleeping and noon while she was teaching. I talked to my friend Jerry on three different occassions. Jerry and I can talk about old decoys for hours or years. I was on a trip that everyone thought I was crazy for doing alone...I think Jerry admired me a little bit, but Jerry is also the kind of gentleman who can enjoy the company of no one, just as I am. Anyway, we discussed the old Maryland decoys, Portsmouth Island decoys, and the next old shorebird decoy he had his eye on. I also talked to my friend Tyler, who had abandoned me on this trip just shortly before it became a solo endeavor. There's no hard feelings, and he had the opportunity of his lifetime, just as I did - they just weren't the same thing, but they were at the same time.

At the 25th hour, approximately 10pm Eastern, I crossed the border in to North Dakota. Fargo was the gateway town. The only sign better than the "Welcome to North Dakota" sign, was the posted speed limit sign of 75 miles per hour. I had 100 miles or so before I got to Jamestown, the headquarters for my first two days of the trip. Day 1 was set for scouting, while Day 2 was hunting, I hoped. North Dakota is sparsely populated. There are Native Americans, and whites, that's it. And they're both pretty boring along the interstate. I ate 2, TWO, footlong subs from a Subway which I believed to be the only one in the state about halfway to Jamestown. The college kids inside were dressed unlike me. I was in my bespoke, gentleman's hunting woolens and tweeds. They had elected to see me for the first time in NDSU collegeiate apparel. The girls they were with were barely a 5, but were treated as if they were a 10 by North Dakota standards. They wore hiking boots with their dresses. Their car was muddy, too. Mine would follow suit, and on the very next day.

I finally arrived at the hotel in Jamestown. It was an Indian Casino. It was awful to find it. Jamestown is home to the White Buffalo - I never saw it, but it could have been hidden just like my hotel was. I did see an honest-to-goodness Wells Fargo bank, though. There were drunks parading through the street, too, as the casino was also playing host to a wedding reception. There were as many out of state vehicle tags as there were North Dakota tags, and my worries and suspicions grew. However, this was the only hotel for miles, and there are an awful lot of open miles for duck hunting. This worry was put to bed the next day. Anyway, I checked into my hotel room around midnight, Eastern time. I could barely sleep. My legs were happy to be stretched. I washed myself in the shower for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, I fell asleep, only to wake up 6 hours later, at 7am Central time, to begin my scouting. I woke up the next morning to 25 degree temperatures. I drank weak coffee, took a jog, and did my daily routine of pushups and situps. I was ready to scout - this would be the first time I would truly glass for ducks. Icovered 200 miles that first day. I couldn't hunt, as my license wouldn't begin until the next day. Scouting there isn't like scouting here. There, it's muddy roads, millions of ponds, billions of hidden ponds, and skunks. There as many skunks as ponds, it seemed. Do yourself a favor and don't hit them with your car. the Jamestown area was a great place to being my hunting. It's really the first true outpost into the pothole region. One hundred miles in any direction, one can find lots of ducks. It took me two minutes to see ducks when I left town. They flew like bees in the sky. Geese were everywhere. Posted signs were, too. I was immediately let down, but I learned a lot about what's posted and where. The roadsides are posted. The stuff well down the secondary dirt road - it ain't. and that's where I found the first of my "motherlodes" in in only two hours of scouting. I will absolutely not disclose the nearest town, but the woman who lived in the house was named Candy. Good luck finding her. After finding the motherlode, I looked for more motherlodes. I couldn't find many more. If you the reader ever meet me in person, ask me about the underwater bridge I almost didnt come out of. North Dakota is a beautiful place, but it is deslosolate. The only people that live there are those who can occupy themselves with their imagination or a tractor. Remote places have their dangers. And getting trapped, lost, or stuck out there, especially right before winter, could have you missing until the spring thaw.

Alright, that sums up the drive and initial scout. The actual hunting will come in the next entry...


Friday, November 2, 2012

Me vs. North Dakota Definitions, Truths, and Lies Part 3 in a series

Understanding game laws is no short task. In fact, it's generally a tall order, especially for one's home state. Understanding game and land laws in other states is even trickier, especially with different colloquial meanings for words. It is always beneficial for any intrepid and traveling hunter to first read the respective state's game laws. Laws are called proclamations in North Dakota. Proclamations, as far as it's concerned in North Carolina's terms, gnerally refer to an area of No Hunting. Eithe way, I quickly picked these things apart, and then started to contact others in my industry within North Dakota. Everybody in North Dakota hunts. The Whitetail Opener is almost a holiday, while pheasant season is de facto vacation for most men, children, and even women. Everybody also duck or goose hunts at least once. With all the wild game that is harvested, and indeed eaten there, it still surprises me how the state tends t have a very "robust" population. Maybe it's their nordic heritage. Either way, wild game is very much a part of the diet in North Dakota.

I'll try to break this down into three categories to give ya'll a basic understanding of game laws and myths. Trust me, it's tough to get a solid and consistent answer. I even had the North Dakota Game and Fish division give me conflicting answers. It's best to keep the regulation (or proclamation) digest with you at all times and follow it. In m experience, the game warden will just write the ticket and let the local magistrate or judge interpret the law...so always be on the safe side and err with caution!

Hunting Private Land - You can hunt private land in North Dakota - assuming it is not posted. Roughly 90% of the land is posted, and in many areas it's posted throughout. Some do have less posted lands. One point of conflict there is that the signs must be signed and dated for the current year and include the landowner's name and phone number. I saw very few current signs. However, much of the land is only posted for pheasants and deer. Most, nearly all in fact, landowners could care less about you shooting the blackheads off of their potholes. Just ask, and clean up after yourself (and anyone who has been in before you). I was never turned down for permission on posted land, but I never asked. I found ducks at other places. Posted land is considered posted if the gate to the fenced in property is posted or if the "POSTED" signs are set less than 880 yards apart. Usually, it's pretty obvious if it is posted. However, remember that it must be current for the year to be considered a legally posted land. Still, err on the side of caution and understand that odds are very good that the land is intended t be posted again. Deer season just happens to start after the good duck flights, so they haven't gotten to it yet. If you can't find a phone number, and it's not worth the effort to call the landowner, then don't sneak in to hunt it! Oh - and about the gate...if the gate is posted, it qualifies all land within the fence to be posted. If you're not sure about fenced property, find the gate! And the gates are tough to spot in some cases! "POSTED" signs will be found on wooden stobs, power line poles, fence posts, and even taped to buckets or old jugs weighted with concrete or any dense liquid! They come in all colors - Orange, Yellow, White, Black, and even very faded and natural-looking gray. Also, privately-owned land is not open to hunting by non-residents the first week of the resident pheasant season.

Hunting PLOTS Lands - PLOTS stands for Private Land Open To Sportsmen. It is marked with triangular yellow signs that state is as "PLOTS" lands. This land is abundant, and is usually left as natural grasses. It's the State of North Dakota's version of the Conservation Reserve Program. They receive credit for setting aside this land as PLOTS and aren't generally supposed to farm or graze cattle in it. But they do. I encountered this problem. It's illegal to hunt within 440 yards of livestock, but it's also against the rules to graze cattle in PLOTS land - it's kinda like double dipping. Again, err on the side of caution and report it to the proper officials. PLOTS lands do hold wildlife. Most are fairly easy to spot, and a PLOTS guide, which is a book of regional maps, shows the acreage and any roads or paths that access the lands. They are a useful tool, assuming you can read a map. Also, PLOTS lands are for foot traffic only. No driving out in the fields! Here's the deal, though. PLOTS are generally not as good as private lands. The landowners, as the legend goes, generally hunt their own PLOTS lands first, then switch to their posted lands when non-residents are allowed to go afield. It's a pretty dirty trick. Either way, not all landowners do that, and to be honest, there are some many ducks, and so many potholes, hunters can find concentrations of birds with some effort. I also utilized several PLOTS that were not visible from the road, too. Each pothole that was tucked over a hill or beyond a shelter belt held excellent amounts of birds. The walk was well worth it. And a shelter belt is the equivalent of a "wind break" in North Carolina - it's just trees planted in a row to provide cover for pheasants and to protect an area from wind.

Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA's) - WPA's just sound like they should be packed to the gills with waterfowl. Sometimes, they are. Many of these WPA's though are intended to PRODUCE WATERFOWL, as in nest waterfowl. Migration time finds these areas generally useless, though. Certainly, many of them held birds, just not great amounts. Generally, WPA's (which are bought with Duck Stamp dollars) are permanent wetlands, and have a lot of alkalinity to the water. Therefore, they don't feature the amazing plantlife that many temporary or season potholes contain. Still, the permanence of the WPA's does allow for nesting on islands and in the deep cattails...which keeps ducks protected from predators. I'd say that about 50% of the WPA's I saw had ducks. Only about 2% of them had a huntable amount of birds. And by huntable, I mean, at least two different species, and at least 3 different concentrations or rafts in the same area. Also, ponds and potholes with swans were a good bet, too. Swans will use an area more heavily and consistently than migrating ducks, but they do seem to always have ducks with them, whether they flew in three days, or three hours before. Also - many of the WPA's, since they are permanent, are also fairly deep. Some are as deep as 30 feet in the middle. However, they are excellent places to shoot divers. When I hunted WPA's I tried to select smaller ones, so that the persistent wind would blow the deceased to the far side and I would only have a short walk to retrieve it when the hunt concluded.

Other Lands - There are Wildlife Management Areas, which are the equivalent to North Carolina's Game Lands, as well as State Surface Land tracts, National Wildlife Refuges (some are open to hunting), Pheasants Forever Cooperator Land Tracts (most open to hunting), Nature Conservancy lands (Most open to hunting), National Grasslands (Some open to hunting), and then there are the larger bodies of water - such as rivers and very large lakes) that are available to. Devils Lake - the lake, not the town - is open to hunting in most stretches of open water. The western part of the lake is a bit shallower and tends to have more vegetation. It held hundreds of thousands of divers while I was there. A layout rig of float rig would be devastating there. Some roadside hunting on causeways was done, but it seemed strange. Also, many people will tell you that roads are laid out in square mile blocks and that travel is easy. Actually, the roads are laid out fairly evenly, but there is not necessarily a road every mile. Some are grown up, some are impassable, many are covered by water (but some are drive-able), many hold signs that say "No Winter Maintenance", and some have real life street signs. Most of the roads are very slick thanks to the bentonite clay. When it is wet, it swells and becomes very slippery. It's tough to drive and walk on. Also - under powerlines, you'll see small white signs...they don't say "POSTED"...insted they simply read "Do Not Cultivate Under Power Line". The truth is that there are lots of lands that are accessible, but walking will take as much time as driving.

Other facts that you should know about the state, that I found to be factual, anyway...
1) The beef there is great. I had a couple of very good steaks.
2) When it gets cold, it happens quick. And the wind is incessant. It is a constant companion, both the feel and the sound.
3) Minnesotan hunters are everywhere. They are the equivalent of our South Carolina non-residents. Most seem to be a little ignorant or rude.
4) There are little to zero ducks west of the Missouri River. But there are bison (which North Dakotans pronounce "BI-zen"), mule deer, pheasants, wild sheep, wild horses, cougars, wolves, bears, and even moose west of the Missouri.
5) The landscape of the state, east to west, goes from flat to hilly to rugged.
6) There are potholes almost everywhere. And the sky and the land seem much, much bigger than in North Carolina. The elevation in North Dakota ranges from about 1200 feet to over 3000 feet on the prairies. Expect some hills to ascend and descend to get to that magical pothole.
7) Canola is a real plant and it gets planted in North Dakota...along with wheat, corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and almost any other commodity crop.
8) Most radio stations play country music interrupted by the reports of the weather and the farm exchange in Chicago. I always found it entertaining and educational.
9) Goose hunting is much more prevalent in the northern reaches of the state.
10) The 10 best towns to headquarter yourself, based on where others were headquartering are 1) Devils Lake, (2)Minnewauken, (3) Rugby, (4)Lakota, (5)Cando, (6) Grand Forks, (7) Hampden, (8) Rolla, (9) Rollette, and (10) Langdon. I'm not sure that these towns were preferred based on ducks, but more so on the lodging, fueling, and food-getting opportunities that barely abound.

I'm sure I'll think of more stuff, but as I get into the hunt details beyond this post, there'll be informative hints I'm sure I'll drop...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Me vs. North Dakota - Planning Part 2 in a series

Taking a trip to Wal-Mart is a logistical nightmare. I've always taken pride in my efficiency as an upright man. Wasting time is my biggest pet wasting energy and money, follow respectively. Of course, plainning a day trip to Wal-Mart or to the local duck marsh at Cattail Point is fairly simple.  Planning for North Dakota is just like planning for any other duck hunting excursion. You have to remember to have decoys, a change of clothes, some cash money, and a way of navigating. It's just on a larger scale. Here's how it went down - and remember it was a 10 day trip, driving included...

Clothing - I packed 5 days worth of civilian clothing. This wasn't necessary. When you're out there, you can expect to live in your hunting clothes, or at least some scaled down version of it. Most people can get away with taking 2 pairs of pants, a couple of sweater, a couple of button down shirts, and maybe a hoodie. Pack a warm jacket, too. The temperatures ranged from 60 down to 10 degrees, with the windchill included. It is important to pack plenty of socks and underwear. I packed just enough.

Hunting Clothing - I packed 2 pairs of waders. This was pretty smart because I always seemed to fall in. The boot dryer I packed was also a good idea. It's nice to swamp a fairly dry set of waders every other day than to swamp wet waders, day after day. I also am a strong believer in wool. Wool keeps the body warm, even when it's wet. I packed three high quality sweaters - the kind with the waxed cotton sleeves and Windstopper liners. They're pricey, but I've had them for several years. They can also substitute as civilian clothing, assuming all of the feathers and blood gets removed. I also like to wear regular jeans or slacks under my waders. I'm most comfortable in them and most hunting or camouflaged britches have cargo pockets and pockets with flap closures, which tend to hang up in waders. I did pack a pair of longjohns, but didn't wear them at all. However, I don't mind being cold. And since I was slugging through water and had several half-mile walks across cut corn fields, I would rather not have had to sweat. I also packed a down jacket. They are always warm. I don't wear gloves, so I didn't pack them, and there is always the tendency to either soak them or lose them, both of which are conducive to swearing out loud. I also packed some hip boots, just in case of high water scouting. A cap and a beanie were also thrown in the luggage.

Guns - I packed three guns. No gun is reliable enough on the trip of a lifetime. I also packed replacement parts, like springs and caps. Along with these things, I packed a can of scrubber and a can of oil, along with lint free cloths and steel wool for cleaning. A small hammer and finishing nails were tucked away, too, for releasing the pins that hold the trigger and action in it's housing. Pipe cleaners rounded out the gun cleaning kit. I also packed all of my guns in hard cases because they stack easier when packing and the foam insulation was good on those bumpy prairie roads.

Decoys - I took 4 dozen, which is way too much. If you're going to goose hunt, I can't help you. Pack a trailer full of whatever you like. I did, however, pack some mallard field shells, which were of no use. They are currently for sale. All that's needed, at maximum, is a dozen puddle ducks, and a dozen divers. While I was there, there were Gadwalls and Shovelers everywhere. I like to use Gadwalls everywhere, though. Shovelers are also a favorite decoy of mine, because Shovelers are also found everywhere from ditches to dams. Blackheads and Redheads were the most prevalent divers. Make sure to be liberal with the use of hen decoys. The next time I go, I'm taking only 2 dozen, and it'll be a couple of mallards, several Gadwalls and Shovelers, and 6 a piece of Redheads and Blackheads. Cans are out there, too, but they usually just mix right in. Teal decoys would also be a good idea...those guys were everywhere. And teal decoys are light. I also rigged everything on 5 feet of line with 4 oz weights. That'll keep you safe in almost all potholes. I never lost a single decoy and was able to decoy birds into the shallower reaches of the ponds.

Etc. Gear - I packed a North Dakota Gazetteer for traveling the backroads. It was helpful, but not entirely necessary. An atlas was also mostly neglected. I did, however, carry maps of areas that I intended to hunt. I used Thunderstorm Maps from the USFWS that demostrate duck nesting density. I carried Cropscape maps, which show where certain crops are generally planted. Cropscape maps also show wetlands and grasslands, which are important for recognizing areas where resident birds might be prevalent. I also used Google Earth Maps to give me an idea of pothole size and shape. However, the GPS I packed was useful only for marking areas once I was there. I did use the GPS before ever leaving to mark certain areas that were open to public hunting. It turned out to be overkill and a lot of extra work. Save yourself the time and money and just order a PLOTS guide. It is sufficient as a map and atlas, while highlighting all public areas open to hunting. I also packed a good pair of binoculars - which was very necessary. The First Aid kit with pain meds and different liniments was also handy. I also packed several cooking implements such as tongs and spatulas that I never used. I enjoyed eating at the local greasy spoons. Also, take a good amount of cash money. Most, MOST, gas stations are well out in the prairie. Sure, the towns have a lot of gas stations, but the towns are few and far between. Other things I packed were a coffee pot, several dozen pounds of assorted snack food (nabs, ClifBars, and hard candy), and extra decoy weights & line. All were handy or would have been handy. Oh yeah - my Yeti Cooler was perfect and held ice and duck breast all week without ever having to re-ice - make the investment on one of those!

Other things I planned were an average fuel cost for the trip and lodging, of course. The North Dakota State Parks offer some lodging in climate controlled cabins. Unfortunately for me, the State Park I made reservations for, failed to inform me that they would shut down the shower facilities. It made several days miserable for me and everyone I walked past. Hotels are usually in the $90 per night range. The State Parks are about $40 per night. The Parks, however, lack television, internet, and sometimes, showers. But the cabin became a home away from home that I came to love a little bit. For 10 nights total, I think two were in a hotel, and the other 8 were in the cabin. That brought the total to approximately $500...or $50 per night. This cost is the most liable to change, based on preference.

From North Carolina to North Dakota, the trip is roughly 1800 miles. I discovered that the vehicle I traveled in got about 400 miles to the tank of gas, and that each tank cost about $63 dollars. I knew it would take me roughly 4.5 tanks to get there, and 4.5 tanks to get back. I had no idea on how much I though it would take to scout and hunt, so I planned liberally, for a tank per day. Gas is slightly cheaper there than here, too. Overall, the entire trip was about 5000 miles. Overall, the vehicle cost 16 cents per mile just to operate on gas. The total fuel cost was around $800. This cost is the most liable to change based on how hard your group elects to hunt.

I also wondered about where I'd eat. Since I did plan to dine out at least once daily, I planned for $100 of dining dollars. This was about right. The rest of the food I ate was from the grocery store and it was light snack food, deli meats, and bread. This cost me about $40 total.

The only things I wished I would have packed were a filet knife (for helping out with the possession limit), and a fishing rod. Sure, the walleye fishing is great out there, but retrieving ducks with the rod is a lot easier than watching the ducks float to the other side. I walked and waited around a lot of potholes.

Next time, I'll talk about the preconceived notions I had and how they were wrong. I learned a lot about duck hunting while I was there, but it's stuff that I can only use while duck hunting in North Dakota. And yes, it is very different than Duck Hunting in North Carolina.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Me vs. North Dakota, Part 1 in a series

When one does something they think they should not, ought not, or could not do, there are a variety of feelings that course through the mind. Feelings such as stupidity, fortuity, calamity, and sleepy all crossed my mind in the 48 hours leading up to the departure of my trip out west.

 I'm going to attempt to tackle the highlights from this trip in roughly 8 or 9 installments. I suppose that if there were chapters, they'd be:

1) Going - doing what it takes to go and getting there
2) Day One - The first day of scouting and realizations
3) Day Two - The first hunt and the long drive
4) Day Three - Hunting again and again and making corrections
5) Day Four - Staying wet
6) Day Five - Getting cold and loving it
7) A Break
8) They call him Wild Jim
9) Return to Normalcy

Still, anytime one takes on an event such as this, one must say their prayers and eat their vegetables. I'll be forever thankful to the Good Lord Above for delivering me from Dixie and into the vast and spectacular prairies.

Before I ever decided I would go out to North Dakota, I put pen to paper and made a list of qualifying reasons. For those who want to go just to kill ducks, please, consider elsewhere. Hire a guide in North Carolina. They can put you on a limit of ducks, usually. North Dakota doesn't guarantee a limit of ducks, either. A trip to the Prairies is set aside for someone who has been fortunate or wise with money, too. It's not a cheap trip to make. In fact, it might be cheaper to higher a guide if you're looking for full volume hunts of mallards and geese. I, for some reason, have no interest in shooting ducks out of a pasture, though. To me, duck hunting is about casting the decoys into water, and hoping for the magic of migration to take place before you...hopefully within good gunning range. Either Way, this is what my list looked like...
1) To see the prairies. It sounds simple. And I love a landscape with a good camera as much as I love the heft of a pair of redheads on my duck strap. The prairies are big. They're the biggest thing I've ever seen, save for the Atlantic Ocean. Whether it's the micro-hills of the central and western Dakotas, or the barn floor flat eastern portions of the Dakotas, there is something to behold for all.

2) I'm a history buff. There's no sense in going to one of the most historic parts of our continent, and not make small attempts at soaking some up. I went to the Knife River Indian Villages, to Native American Art Galleries, to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and to Fort Berthold. South Dakota offers more in the way of good history, but North Dakota is still teeming with it. I also "toured" some old claim shacks, barns, and other lost and founds left for prairie winters. It boggled my mind to wonder who the last person was to cross the threshold of certain buildings. Often, most were revitalized into storage shelters for obsolete farm implements, but it was still incredible to see these sights.

3) I wanted to know what Ducks Unlimited had done with my banquet dollars. It's been a bit since I've cut my one way relationship with Ducks Unlimited. I had always wanted to know what these banquets did for my favorite animals. One goal was to hunt the lands purchased by Ducks Unlimited dollars.

4) I also wanted to hunt lands that were purchased with my Duck Stamp Dollars. Boys and Girls, these lands far outnumber Ducks Unlimited Lands. In fact, I'd like a perpetual membership to the Federal Waterfowl Stamp.

5) I wanted to see ducks. I love those things. Holy Jesus how they amaze me when they fly. The feel and irridescence of their feathers when they first come to bag is almost overwhelming, especially if you're either examining the subtle beauty of a gadwall or the simple and sophisticated lines of a canvasback.

6) I also wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I was sick and tired of hearing about how great it was out there, as it pertained to duck hunting. I'm almost a follower. Still, I knew I could make my trip better than ever if I did what I wanted to and not what others might.

So with that said, I'll just say that I came back with plenty of meat for the freezer, a broken shotgun, a fine example of Northern Plains Indian Pottery, a piece of lost government property, and almost everything else I took with me. I'll expound on the Chapter 1 part very soon.

North Carolina's duck season is about 10 days away. Signs point to a barely favorable opener. The hurricane certainly disrupted the northern flight. Still, much of that water is salty and ill-suited to support an awful lot of waterfowl.

The Easton Waterfowl Festival is also next week. I'm going - kinda. I'll be going to the Guyette and Schmidt auction. I'm hoping to win a good bird and also find a good bird or two in the "tailgating" that takes place outdoors. I hate to say what I'm looking to win, just in case there's someone else out there who insists on watching me spend. Either way, the Easton Waterfowl Festival is THE EVENT for waterfowlers. I'm knocking out my bucket list items at breakneck speed here lately. Others on my list are brant and black ducks from New Jersey  - which is coming in December, as well as hunting Currituck.

Anyway, take a kid or a new hunter on Opening Day. Make 'em buy a duck stamp, too.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Early Season Updates

I havent had much luck this early season. I didn't get drawn for any hunts at Lake Mattamuskeet, which is the most overrated hunt in North Carolina by the way. I did however get drawn for hunting at Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. I did see some ducks when I hunted yesterday, but I didn't shoot any. I was however fortunate enough to share themarsh with an good hunting buddy and a future hunting buddy. Even though she was a female, the bugs, alligators, absence of a bathroom, or the strange animal noises in the marsh didn't deter her. She didn't even complain. My only grip about the woman...she had her camp hat monogrammed.

Anyway, back to Currituck. First off, let me be clear. This is not a "dream" hunt for all you Raleigh Riff Raffers out there. But then again, the only place in the whole state that is owned by the NCWRC that I wuld recommend is the Futch Impoundment. However, that recommendation is made by everyone, and it's now an impossible draw and it's awarded to the skybusting and duckcall squealing crowd whose looking to employ their new-found "expertise" to work at a place where "there's ducks"... anyway, the place is unhuntable come youth day because of the clowns that hunt the draw dates. Managing a property is one thing, but if you don't manage it's hunters, then it's a waste of the former and an injustice to the latter.

Anyway, back to Currituck. Currituck is as historic as it gets. I'm sure the blind I was drawn for has had a blind or some semblance of one for almost 2 centuries. Some of the spartina grasses out there have seen the days when canvasbacks, redheads, and blackheads screamed over in sun-darkening numbers. I'm sure the yaupon bushes there have seen tons of corn floated by them, too. Currituck is cool for what it was, not what it is. I just want one duck. Even if it's a merganser. Amen.

The coolest part in my mind - and consider the fact that I have an almost insatiable lust for old North Carolina decoys and waterfowl history - is that I'm gonna hunt in waters that have been paddled and motored by folks like Joseph Knapp, Lee Dudley, Bob Morse, Grover Cleveland, and countless and nameless dignitaries of yesteryear. But the "important" people are less impressive than the several hundred locals that plied the waters to scratch out a very respectable living in the only way they could. They shot ducks and fed the wealthy with them. Today, the job of feeding the wealthy has also been outsourced overseas. Us American's can really get it wrong sometimes. Still, the boys got it wrong then, too.

Currituck is kinda looked at shamefully by some for all of the markethunting slaughter that transpired. Still, if it werent for the hunters that came and noticed the decline in the 20's and 30's, we might have not realized that the resource was limited, and so was the source of the resource - the prairie pothole region. I hate to think that people make the mistake of mistaking history. Waterfowl conservation didn't start in Washington DC. It started in Currituck, North Carolina and on the flats of the Susquehanna River.

I keep rambling. My hunt. So yeah, I've turned over the hunting rig to an all wood reunion of old wooden decoys with re-heads and some contemporary wooden decoys. They're cool. and now I get to put them BACK in to  Currituck Sound, where most of them got there first swim a century ago. I'm excited to see those big battery redhead blocks floating out there. In fact, I look forward to lifting the five pound goliaths from the water, especially after they're saturated from the waters of Currituck Sound. I also put foundy weights on all my decoys. Foundry weight were made by the different Iron foundries along the North Carolina and Virginia border. The rust that is found on these very collectible waterfowl artifacts was established from the salinity in the Currituck Sound. I'll get to add a new coat. I'll also get to make the treacherous crossing in the cold of winter. Though, I'll have the luxury of a craft that self propels at 40 miles an hour, it'll still be incredible.

An early season update...Flights of teal are here one day and gone the next along the northern beaches on the soundside. Pintails are using the shoal grasses that are found in the northwest corner of the state. Most downeast North Carolina hunting is all wood ducks for the moment. Nash and Wilson county areas have good numbers of wood ducks, too. Unfortunately, I haven't seen good numbers of localized black ducks, though. The season expires on Saturday at sunset. I'll take off for North Dakota in two weeks. North Dakota got snow today, hopefully delivering new ducks, with more to come. Anyway, go scout.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

$5 Hunts

It's time for everyone's favorite time of the year....applications for the $5 hunt. Many state owned duck impoundments are available to any lucky son of a gun who has $5 to blow and has the luck needed to win the Carolina Cash 5. Before you protest me, no, I'm not upset that I never get drawn. What I am upset about is how gullible the hunters of this great state can be...

Problem number one with the $5 duck hunt is that it's open to everyone. Well, anyone with an Abe Lincoln not intended to wipe ones bottom with. I wish I could count  the buddies I have who also purchase licenses for their wives and children, so that they can apply for certain federal permits. I know of one family that puts in 9 members of the family. That's remarkable. Mattamuskeet's draw odds are tougher than 1 in 500. And then, you don't get to enjoy the foot race to the blind. And once you're to the blind that the feds have decided you'll hunt from, you have to hope the weather is right. But back to the $5 permit...the PETA's even apply. One doesn't have to have all of the necessary stamps and permits and privileges to apply for the specialty hunts, with the swan tag being the only exception. Even out-of-staters put in for our permits, which to me, is just unfair. They'll pick up to 5 dates, with their only intention of being 1 to two dates maximum. But it's only $5, so what's the big deal. If they aren't drawn, they absolutely will not purchase a North Carolina hunting license - which generates waaaay more income for the NCWRC than the $5 Duck Hunt. And of course, any jackwagon can get on this very website and determine which impoundments are the very best...so they'll hedge their bets on those impoundments, sight unseen, and scouting unplanned. But hey, it's a $5 duck hunt.

Problem 2 with the $5 duck hunt is the fact of the matter that most are fairly inaccessible. Sure - some have a "disabled sportsman" blind, but they only have one or two. And by the way, if you want to be politically correct, one might want to call them "sportspeople with disabilities", but that's for another discussion. The paths to these locations are horrid and I've seen many a child take a spill on youth days and many a moron plow off into the unsuspected and unsuspecting canal. Sure, there are maps to read, available online, but none warn of any dangers other than rough waters and "present" alligators. I can't take anybody much older than 60 on these hunts because they just can't make the haul. Until two years ago,at least one such impoundment had ZERO access over canals. Pack your wetsuit and your lawsuit. You'll want both. And while I don't mind a brisk walk, especially if bears and alligators are present, walking over a mile is tough on anyone, even me, and I run 5 miles a day before hitting the gym. But still, the Drake Prostaffers that apply for these hunts apply first and ask questions later. One mile walk? Fuhgeddabouddit. But it's just a $5 duck hunt.

Problem 3 with the $5 duck hunt is the broad scope of wildlife infractions that occur. It is absolutely sickening to talk with Mr. Greenjeans at the end of the hunt to find out that 75% of the hunt parties were cited for something like (1) forgotten duck stamp, (2) over the limit, (3) one to many "black ducks", (4) one too many black ducks, and (5)early shooting. And of course, there's always the party who didn't actually sign up for the "party." Aside from the real infractions, there are those who like to hunt over two decoy spreads - there's and your's. Of course, their two dozen jumbo mallards aren't good enough, nor is their duck call ever loud enough. At least they're practicing, but please, please, don't practice at the hunt. Your excuse of "well, I just like to call to 'em" is a relief to the birds. Ducks have many advantages, but don't make it easy for them, Mr. Facepaint. Hell, what other game animal comes out of the sky! And just because they are in the sky, doesn't mean you should poke holes in the atmosphere with your extra-great Blindside and Black Cloud shells. You may get lucky, but it's called luck because it don't happen much. But they're not your ducks and it is just a $5 duck hunt. I've made it a point to go to state impoundments after hunts to count the cripples. It's sickening. And it's not because you left them there. It's because you shot them too high, crippled them, and turned them in to fox food. But a fox has to eat, too, huh?

Problem #4 with the $5 duck hunt is that the lucky recipients get to hunt over an impoundment that is often ajoined by another impoundment or club that is managed much, much better. And a lot of those impoundments have the best decoys. I'd hate to advertise for them, but the decoy rhymes with "korn." And the state impoundment that you've hauled your gear too is what they like to call "moist soil" managed. That's a good idea, but moist soil impoundments aren't preferred to the high energy grains that ducks actually need in the winter. Moist soil impoundments are muddy and weedy and are primarily used by hens who must feed to sustain their fertilized but unlaid eggs...in the spring!

I'm not complaining. Well, yes I am. I think it's high time that fees are raised, violators are banned from draw hunts, and that the game land impoundments are a source of pride for North Carolina hunters. I'll also be satisfied if they're managed with the fervency that privately held impoundments enjoy. If you don't agree, then the deadline for the draw is October 1st, I think. But me, I'm better than a $5 duck hunt. It's not fair to the good hunters who have limited access or time to hunt, it's not fair to the wildlife officers, and it's not fair to the birds themselves. When it changes, I might.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Shorebird Hunting

Nope, it's not legal, and you shouldn't do it. But I'm sure you and the rest of everyone who has pulled up on a flock of golden plovers has always wondered...what do they taste like? Not only do I wonder what they taste like, I've also wondered how did they really shoot them. We've all either seen a picture, read the "horror" stories of mass market killings, or have seen an old shorebird decoy and been a little bit curious. Well, curiosity kills the kittens, and it might eventually take my own life, but in the meantime, I'm enjoying my curiosity streak. I've made it clear and obvious that I've collected decoys fro a little while now - but only seriously for about the past couple of years. But as I research these decoys and attempt to attach some type of provenance to them, I learn about a whole lot of other stuff that opens more doors and questions.

Not too long ago, I was poking about and stumble upon a fishbox full of flattie shorebird decoys. In fact, it happened about two months ago. Collecting shorebird decoys is a tough and expensive hobby. If you want the good ones -those where the maker goes by any name other than "unknown" - You'll pay the big bucks. Even a quality North Carolina shorebird decoy starts at around two grand. the John Fulcher's from Currituck are, well, very expensive. North Carolina is most recognized for their "flatty" shorebirds - artfully cut out silhouettes with wire legs and bills. They're no Thomas Gelston, but Thomas Gelston was probably a lonely old man if he had time to make those pretty decoys. North Carolina's decoys are hardened old warhorses. Made from simple stuff, in simple ways, in a simple time. Yeah, anyway, I found a bucket of them - and I'm a duck decoy man - but I was curious enough to pay $10 for the box to see if I had actually stumbled on anything. And maybe I did.

Yep, that's probably all I'll ever know. I've got a carver/collector/great friend who does a good job of telling me whether or not  made a good decision or not - and I love to hear it. He's been better at telling me when I've gotten something bad, though. I think that has more to do with what I acquire, though. But he likes all decoys, just like I do, for their form, their history, and for their magical evolution to treasured piece of art. I hate to put them in the art category, though. But anyway, the shorebirds I found  that day have sent me over 600 miles in my Jeep. And we're gong 300 miles more this week in search of answers or more questions.

Still, it's on each one of these trips where I stumble on to new answers to old questions and yes, more new questions. Below are the things that I have learned from the half dozen people who have looked at my shorebirds and entertained my questions:
A prominent North Carolina Judge shot shorebirds well after it was outlawed...but he did that in the 50's and is long gone now. He also made his own decoys...which are cool looking!
The loop in NC flatty decoys' legs are meant to keep the decoy from twisting and spinning in the sand.
Cecil Midgett did not make all flatty shorebirds.
Hunters typically put out 12-28 decoys when hunting them.
Summer was a fun time to shoot them...but spring was good, as was September.
Some were hunted on the beachside, while some where only hunted on the soundside.
Mosquito larvae in a "manmade" watering hole on the beach was just like pouring corn out for ducks.

Well, anyway, in all of my research, I got to meet an interesting dude. One who shot shorebirds back when it is acceptable. He's 97 years old, and he's actually quite renowned. We had a good talk, and he liked the shorebirds, but he certainly didn't make them, nor did he know who made them. But we talked about his first hunt, how they prepared shorebirds, where they got the wood from to make decoys, where the legs and bills came from, how they set up blinds, and how they toted them back to the house when they had a "mess" of them - and I even asked what a "mess" was.

Either way, I'll share some of what I learned, but I do encourage everybody to do their own research. Buy an old decoy and buy a good one. But buy what you like. Don't buy to many...anyway, here's the facts that came from a genuine old shorebird hunter. And if you don't see the freaking historical significance of talking to a man who MARKET HUNTED then you're missing out on the big picture. Sure, anyone is capable of going out and shooting ducks over more plastic ducks, but it'll do you some good to give a hoot. Here you go:
Willets taste fishy
Curlews could be dressed like chickens
His first hunt was on the beach, not the soundside. That's a way to start...
Morning - early morning - was the best, but it is for everything, right?
Yellowlegs were the best eating.
Building a curtain blind on the shoals for brant shooting was hard, but very worth it.
The Gull Shoal Club hated their wooden decoys, and therefore chose to "get rid of a bunch for those herters"...
The dowels for the shorebird decoy legs were cut sticks from the juniper or holly trees - whatever was nearby.

I learned a lot more and since I didn't record the conversation, I'll forget some of it. Either way, it was a conversation that literally covered 4 generations of waterfowl hunting in North Carolina. I saw decoys that spanned longer than that - and yeah, I came home with one, too!

Most importantly - we're all part off the present in this sport. One day, we'll be a part of it's past, and it's up to each one of us what legacy we leave behind. As a whole, many  view the market days as evil. Some see it as  cool. I see it as a time when men did what they could to take care of themselves and their 8 kids. The Lord gave them dominion over the creatures. They were just like us - they got a rise out of the sunrise. They loved to see ducks fly and they loved to see them fall. But they were honest and hardworking. Market hunting was dangerous and hard. But I bet it was fun...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Season's here..

Well folks, it's time to crank the boat, fill the waders with water to check for leaks, paint the decoys, and pour out the corn (kidding). The season has been underway for about two weeks now and only the most die-hard are out and about, killing mosquitoes and shooting at geese and teal. Since I live east of US 17, I've taken myself teal hunting only once, but finally got teal to fly in front of me. Of course, I missed but it was still nice to get out and see the birds fly. Resident goose hunting gets me almost as excited as prepping my federal income tax, and while we have some, it's just not worth it to me. And geese taste like mud.

Many duck hunters miss out on what really makes duck hunting fun. When I'm reeling of a list of the things I love about shooting ducks, I invariably discuss the highs of rigging and setting decoys, eating honey buns, and excessive urination from too much coffee. Coffee makes my best hunting buddy do something else excessively in the marsh. But at least he comes prepared. But I realized that the absolute best part of duck hunting is the adrenaline rush that comes when the unexpected flight of birds arrives over your shoulders. We're always looking forward and expecting birds to do it our way. It's fun that way because it's easy, but it's not frightening. Now duck hunting shouldn't be scary, but we all like the unpredictable that lies in duck hunting. What ducks will we see? Will we see the game warden? Will the boat crank? Those are all mysteries, but the exciting mystery that is a flight of blackheads or bluewings is absolutely riveting. And it's only better if it happens when you're about to nod off, or doing some other mundane task in the blind such as eating a nab, pouring some coffee, or cleaning the reeds of a duck call (the latter happens to me the most which is evidence that I shouldn't call at all). Nevertheless, I don't mind spilling the hot coffee.

The offseason in North Carolina was marked with a lot of suspicion. Rumors abounded about zoning the state and a 45 day season and lots of other crazy stuff that is spawned and thankfully dies on the internet. We had above average rainfall which means resident wood duck production and brooding should have been good in the eastern part of the state. It also means hunting Aix Sponsa will be just as difficult, since there will be some open water in those inaccessible stretches of pocosin. But nobody in the northeast worth his or her waders will fool with a wood duck. The resident black duck population that persists here isn't fairing too bad, even though, it's a small population. I spied several pairs of blacks in stretches around Bodie Island and other locations west of the Atlantic. I'm hoping to kill my first black duck ever. Many a black duck has stared down my barrel in November, but they know they're safe and they know I'm not into feeling guilty or evading the law.

Concerning northern flight birds, my guess is that it might be a little better than last year. We're supposed to have a stormy winter. Most of our diver ducks like buffleheads and blackheads actually come from Maritime Canada. Those provinces are supposed to have a rough winter, too. The mergansers will also be strong. Ducks that I don't expect to see a whole lot of are redheads, wigeons, and pintails - assuming that prairie Canada and the Dakotas have the warm winter they're projected to have...but the weatherman can't get his act together for tomorrow, much less December. Mallards, well, they'll shortstop up again just like they've been doing for some 20 years or more. But there will be some in the piedmont area, so all of the Drake Kiddos at NC State will indeed get to toot their duck calls...Over the past two years, I've brought 357 birds into the boat...between me and the sports that joined me. Thats 178.5 ducks per year. My goal is 100 North Carolina birds...and it always is, but I'll be pumped with more than that.

In other personal news...I have converted my entire decoy spread to wooden decoys. Well, I lied. My diver spread is all wood, but that's the way it's supposed to be in North Carolina. I'll phase out the 10 dozen plastic pintails in time, I suppose...but I will NOT mix plastic and wood.

I'm still on for North Dakota in October, too. In fact, I've got a cabin and a license already so it's a done deal, assuming I'm not killed or kidnapped before then. I'm thankful I didn't talk myself out of it this time and I'm looking forward to just seeing the prairies. I just wish there was a good decoy collector presence out there...but they never needed decoys out there! I also expect to do some field hunting and have since gotten layout blinds and goose and mallard shells. I don't know where I'm going to pack it all. My biggest goal for the experience is to like it. that's all I want to do. Whatever it takes to like it, I hope it happens. I imagine it'll be a mixture of shooting some ducks, riding around, and seeing countryside that stretches for miles without interruption of civilization. And that's plenty to suit me.

Also - I'll do the annual Mississippi hunt, too. I'm not sure if I can top the "54 Gadwalls in 54 Minutes" hunt that transpired last year. I still want to shoot one of those big shovelers they have down there. I swear they're as big as a mallard...

Anyway, I hope all, even the Raleigh Riff-Raff and all the New Jersey Marines around Catfish Lake have a fun and safe season. When I have some scouting news, I'll share!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

North Dakota Trip

So, yeah. I'm taking the plunge. I'm going to commit. To North Dakota. I don't know why I want to go. I'm not even going to attempt to field hunt. I'm going in late October, so there could already be 2 feet of ice on the remaining potholes. What am I thinking? I guess I'm hoping for the sensory overload, the motherload, and the truckload that I will hopefully endure while I'm out there. North Dakoa raises as many ducks as anywhere in the world. I'm not gonna say where I'm going, but I will say that I'm going with a partner in crime and his dog. I might even take a canoe...and I will absolutely not employ the services of a guide. Why? It's not because I hate guides. In fact, I can afford one and they are a sure thing, usually. I like the challenge. I killed ducks the very first time I went at it alone in North Carolina...so why not North Dakota - where there are exponentially more ducks?! I've done lots of cyber scouting, scoured the tourism websites, melted my google earth application, and have downloaded, repeatedly, the PLOTS guide. I think I know where everything is, as long as it looks like it did on March 11, 2011 (according to Google Earth!).

Since I'm going to drive - I hate the thought of the airlines tossing around my prized 20 gauge-  I'll have quite the carload. Other than a former NCAA baseball player and his 90 pound black labm there will be other accoutrements. Decoys. Guns. Two Back-up Guns. Ammo - don't think it's accessible out there. Cooler. Canoe. Calls. Blind bags. First Aid kit. Dog food. Kennel. Waders. Warm clothes. Lots of them. GPS. Wader dryers. Toothbrush and toothpaste. At least two pair of underwear...maybe four.

My Duck Hunting New Year's Resolution was to apply for and document the process of obtaining a blind in Dare County. I gave that up. A week in North Dakota is, more than likely, going to give me ample opportunities at plenty of ducks. In an honest world, if I went up there and had good luck, I might almost stop hunting in North Carolina. At least from the shorelines anyway. Nothing beats layout hunting. I never get to shoot puddle ducks, so North Carolina would grant me that...though I still prefer divers. Which is why I'm not going to field hunt, yet. The Delta Marsh is also on my life list. And that, too, is for divers.

Still, I'm going into this the way I wish I would have started out in North Carolina - as a purist. I'm not taking any Drake paraphernalia, plastic decoys, or spinner-wings. My compadre and I are currently in the process of hacking out a stand of decoys that I have dubbed the "North Dakota Rig." I'll bet you there's never been a block-styled mallard to hit the prairie potholes in NoDak. At the moment, we've got a pair of widgeon, a tri-fecta of pintails, a tri-fecta of shovelers (imagine a Core Sound shoveler!), a dozen redheads, and a dozen blackheads. With more coming, a bufflehead, and several more mallards should be expected. They're cork and tupelo - we probably won't rig them out with ballast weights - we want them to gyrate nicely on those backwater sloughs that lack the wind and waves of the North Carolina coast.

Either way, we're just getting started. We've got hours ahead of us that will involve mapreading alone. The logistics will be overcome with a credit card, but luck, well, you can't buy it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

North Carolina Duck Hunting Bucket List

North Carolina has a long and storied history as it pertains to waterfowling. The Old North State has always been an important wintering ground for several different species and in several different time periods. The ebb and flow of the proverbial tide will see changes in localized ecosystems, meaning different birds favor different areas throughout history. Nevertheless, somethings just don't change. Any North Carolina Duck Hunting connoisseur should have a bucket list of things to do within our great state's borders! Here's mine...

10) Attempt to shoot one of all species of Atlantic Flyway Species...and get them taxidermied. The Atlantic Flyway is most heralded for it's Black Ducks and Canvasbacks - and with good reason. Historically, these species have been our bread and butter when it comes to rounding out the bag. However, the two have restricted seasons and limits. Still, a nice Greater Scaup is a good bird to pursue, as are any of the scoter family. Eiders and Harlequins don't exist here in apprecialbe numbers and Harlequins are also off-limits anyway! The most 5 important birds, to me, in the Atlantic Flyway are the Wigeon, Scaup, Redhead, Black Duck, and Pintail. Good Luck!

9) A tundra swan hunt should be on every North Carolina Duck Hunting Bucket List! Sure, it'll involve luck and travel, but it's worth it. Approximately 5000 Tundra Swan permits are issued through a lottery draw each year. No state sees more Tundra Swans than North Carolina, but it'll take a great location, possibly a guide, and a big gun to bag one of these trophies. Tundra Swan hunters should apply for and receive a permit from the NCWRC...the deadline is in October, usually. Excellent places to seek the birds are over open waters and wheat fields in the northeastern section of our state.

8) Go on a sea duck hunt! Sea Ducks love the open waters of Pamlico and Core Sounds, but have been taken on larger inland lakes as far west as Lake Norman. Hunting for these is usually done from a Scissor Rig or other Open Water-style boat blind. Lots of decoys are needed, as well as Dramamine to combat sea sickness. Nevertheless, there are several tactics that are very successful. While the birds aren't overly delicious on the table, they make spectacular mounts. Still, it's the pursuit of these birds that makes them so remarkable. Hunting in No-Man's Land adds an element of adventure, if not extreme risk!

7) Hunt from a Curtain Blind near Ocracoke. This experience is on my to-do list! It's as close to an old-style sinkbox hunt as there ever will be. The old Ocracoke salts will put you on the birds in this old-fashioned and very uncomfortable hunting method. Curtain blind hunts often see full limits of pintails, redheads, buffleheads, and brants...and often with "in-your-face" gunning. Generally, these hunts are affordable, but accessing Ocracoke Island is a tall task in the winter. Rough winds can hamper ferry travel - and boating over on your own accord is as risky as anything in the duck hunting world!

6) All North Carolina Decoy Carvers should at least attempt to carve their own stand of duck decoys. While North Carolina's decoys were always considered crude, they are the epitome of southern folk art. Still, it's a hobby I enjoy and I can also testify that my decoys are convincing enough to bag birds. Cork is the simplest medium to work with, but many choose wood. Painting the decoys in the off-season is an excellent way to combat the Duck Hunting Blues, too!

5) Take a child hunting every youth day. There is no more important thing a North Carolina Duck Hunter can do to perpetuate and protect the sport than to commit such a decent act. Set a good example for the youth that you take and always remember to take plenty of snacks!

4) Visit Lake Mattamuskeet in the winter months! Yep, it's the Stuttgart of the state and an excellent opportunity to see the most birds you'll ever see in your life. The area is steeped in duck hunting tradition, but not in the way that Currituck and Core Sound areas are...live decoys were the norm in Hyde County hunting grounds (until they were outlawed, of course), but Harvey Flowers and Percy Carawan turned out some real gems for decoys with their roothead Canada Geese and Tundra Swans. Better yet, tooling around in local businesses might allow you th privilege of seeing even rarer Percy Carawan roothead mallard and pintail decoys. Hunting in the area is at it's best with guides and clubs, but good luck  as they fill up early! The lake itself has a draw hunt and on it's best days is as good as anywhere in the world. And while you're in the area, pick yourself up an Allen Bliven Championship Duck Call...they really are special!

3) Attend a waterfowl festival...it's one way to capture the tradition of hunting in our state in as little as three hours. Almost all festival feature contemporary and antique decoys, a retriever demo, and a calling competition. The Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild puts on the very best waterfowl show. It's usually the first weekend in December. Current day carvers exhibit their works, and collectors wheel and deal in other booths. Duck call makers are also at the show. Still, don't go looking for plastic and non-traditional style work - the show is for traditional materials only - and it's in the cradle of of some of the world's finest and most prolific decoy builders ever!

2) Collect an old decoy. There are lots around and you don't have to spend the big bucks to get something you truly like! The famous carvers of yesteryear have surnames such as Fulcher, Wright, Dudley, and Burgess, but there are other lesser-known carver who turned out real functional works of art. Even old shorebird decoys are fun to pursue. And if the old birds don't impress you, find contemporary carver with surnames such as Pope, Hood, Talton, Roberts, and Eubanks....they all have their own, recognizable styles.

1) Hunt Mecca. Mecca, as far as North Carolina is concerned, is the sounds and ponds surrounding Currituck County. There's nothing more historic than this area for North Carolina Duck Hunters. good luck getting a blind permit, as the process is tricky. It's not impossible, though. Your best bet is with a guide, though. Visit the old clubs if you can, too. And while you're sitting in the blind, just think about all of the corn that was dumped in the area over a century ago. Daily takes around 1900 might have been more than 200 birds. Market hunting was a family affair with the men deploying sinkbox rigs, wives shooting cripples on the banks and picking the take for market, and children reloading brass shells in the wee hours of the night. The hunting isn't anything like it's glory years, but it can still be spectacular. Intrepid freelancers can apply for state and federal draw hunts in the area, too.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Weird Duck Club Rules

Norht Carolina has a long history of large and important duck clubs. The Whalehead, Piney Island, Pilentary and Pellitory, Gooseville, and Pea Island Club are some of the most recognizable and historic. Many are relics and serve only in the intangible world of a bygone era, while some perpetuate and flourish with extravagant club houses and entry fees. The newer model of North Carolina duck clubs are built around stellar impoundments and less around open water. Impoundments offer gentleman-style hunts with little effort and lots of ducks. Usually. And while California and the Mississippi River Delta are probably home to more ducks and duck clubs that North Carolina, one must not forget to consider the sizeable totals of informal and loosely organized duck clubs that are shared and operated by groups of friends with little more than a couple of boats and a meager spread of decoys.

Obviously, most of us will fall in to the very last category. My "club" has several names in fact. We don't have a governing body, other than me, since 95% of the stuff is mine! But still, I like to share my stuff and time with those who appreciate it and who promise to dress the ducks and wash the boat on occasion. We have some rules, but there are many other informal clubs with some interesting rules...here are some:

1) One club allows ladies to shoot first always
2) Many clubs limit shooting to only a few days a week
3) Some have a "no hens" policy, while some have a "no women" policy
4) I know of one that has a "no men" policy!
5) There's a few that prohibits sleeping in
6) Some require members to wear facepaint
7) Many require a youth hunt in their "charter"
8) "No Dogs" rules are always fun
9) I've heard of one that prohibits members to deer hunt, which I think is awesome
10) Many require a cut-off time for shooting
11) Most require work days for their members
12) Some clubs, including mine have a "Do Not Call" list...which is very important
13) Multiple Guest rules are always interesting...only if these people can keep their lips shut
14) A tradition of ours...all guests have to stay the night before with us for "evaluation"...nobody just shows up at the ramp.
15) And one more tradition of hours...never purposely shoot a merganser...

Anyway, having your own little club can be fun...it's the foundation for tradition and revelry and rules always make things fun and fair...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

This and That's

I realize that it's been a while since I've put finger to blogging keypad...alas, it's work that requires my attention and not playful and mindless ramblings of ducks and the like. Nevertheless, here's some noteworthy stuff to pass the time:

Dock of the Bay, at the Eastern 4-H Center is this weekend. The Eastern 4-H Center is located in Tyrrell County and is open year-round to the public for those looking to book retreats, conferences, weddings, and other meetings. However, the primary function of the place is an educational facility...and Camp Canvasback - a youth summer camp themed towards waterfowl conservation and hunting - is held there. Anyway, Dock of the Bay is the annual fundraiser. There's a tremendous buffet and beach music. This year, they've got The Embers...and I hear they are kinduva big deal. Tickets are available at the door for $50 per person and the proceeds go to camp scholarships...it's always fun! There is also a silent auction...decoys by famous North Carolina makers like Kent Hood and Jerry Talton will be available for bid, as well as an Acrylic Duck Call from Allen Bliven Calls...and a couple of prints - one of which is dontated by the Hyde County Waterfowl Association - which is a supporter of Camp Canvasback.

May 12 is Loon Day down at Harkers Island. It's a family-oriented day with food, a decoy competition, and auction. I'm entering a bird, as are 3 of my pals. Someone is entering a pintail, and it's not me. But I have seen the bird and it's a dead ringer for an Eldon Willis/Elmer Salter pintail...except that it's cork. Either way, admission is $5 and dogs can even come to. It's at the Curt Salter building....and it starts around 10:00am.

The spring habitat report was less than promising for most regions of the Prairie Pothole Region. The Maritime Provinces held wet conditions, so nesting should be good for birds like Black Ducks, Scaup, Mergansers, Buffleheads, Wood Ducks, and sea duck species. The Prairie Pothole Region, however was rated as bad to fair, and that's where the majority of the ducks are raised...I just sent my check to Pheasants Forever....hope they get to work soon...

There's talk of an elimination of the October split for North Carolina Duck Hunters. Suits me...

At the April 26 Guyette & Schmidt Auction, few north Carolina birds were auctioned off. However, a Bob Morse canvasback did auction for around $12,000. I wish I had a few of those...

In my collecting and carving: Collection additions - I've added what appears to be a Pell Austin (though I hoped it was a Morse) with a shoddy re-head job, and what I believe to either be a Stant or Bode White battery redhead, but it's been repainted as a wigeon. It appears to be in it's 3 coat of paint, but the original head appears to be present. The iron nails have lifeted the head, so it's cock-eyed, but the head still retains it's folkiness and the original and unsanded knife marks are still present. The form is outstanding, but the pain is horrid. But I like it. As far as carving: I've completed a rig of Wright-Style ruddy ducks, some smallish, battery style blackheads, and a trio of surprises not to be revealed until after Loon Day...


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Duck Call Brands and Hype

I hate to spend to much effort promoting certain duck call brands. First off, if they're not paying me, then I'm not all about the free and "expert" advice. But, since I'm not an expert, it's just informational on what I think is actually the best.

Calling ducks isn't necessarily a strong tradition in North Carolina. Goose Calling in and around Currituck is - but only by mouth...no calls needed for those guys. And swan calling - well, commercial calls are available, but you're very best Ric Flair impression will suffice. Nevertheless, modern mass marketing has influenced us into believingthat we do in fact need a duck call to shoot lots of ducks. I have close to 20 duck calls, so it's safe to say that I am a victim of the gimmick and impulse involved in this marketing ploy. Alas, the most important thing to remember is that without practice, your calling will do more bad than good. In my early years, my calling definitely convinced more ducks to fly away than to fly by. However, I spent more time blowing the duck call in the truck than in the marsh - which is what helped me arrive at a somewhat level of fair proficiency. And I've tried all the calls, too. As a general rule of thumb, blow the call before you buy it. Go to a store or to a maker's shop and blow the call. Blow it loud, even if you're bad. And don't let the salesman tell you it sounds good. You know if you sound like krap or not, and should decide based on that. Different brands are built based on the DESIGNER'S style - not yours. Also - the fancy colors and etchings don't help the functionality of the call, so set your mind on to purchasing a solid black call or green call FIRST. After your skill set is developed, you can buy a chartreuse colored call for all I care. Another rule of thumb - if it's fairly popular among your friends, then it's probably a decent brand to blow and buy...

Duck Commander - I don't like that these guys have over-glamorized duck hunting. Still, Ol' Phil made some nice duck calls that, to me, are pretty ducky sounding and are great for novices. I preferred the Green Mile call in my younger years. It's good on the high end, and does require an awful amount of grunting, which is tough for a beginner to master. It's a nice, easy two reed.

RNT - These calls can be especially squeally....but that's good. I only but the single reeds in the high end brands. They were designed with a single reed, so the double reeds just don't sound very authentic. I especially like the single reeds for the "hiccup" call, which apparently is all the rage now, even though I've been blowing the hiccup for several years. Single reeds are tough to master the feed call with, but practice pays off. If I were a novice caller, I'd stay away from this brand until I had developed a repertoire on several very different calls.

Echo Calls - These are a skilled, working man's call. I like them, especially the bottom end poly carbonate calls. The timber call is tricky to blow for me, but I generally blow Open Water calls that require a lot of hot air. Still, the low end calls a re a good bargain. Echo provided me with my "intermediate" level of calling...

Big Guys Best - Not my favorite. They require a lot of compressed air.

Zink Calls - I've never had an easy time with these easy. In the hands of a skilled called (someone on the Zink Pro-Staff) they're spectacular. They also make really good goose calls..probably better than their duck calls.

ABC Calls - Yep, Allen Bliven in North Carolina. His calls are very good, if not comparable or better to the big names listed above. I think they're absolutely beautiful and they have a nice profile. His wooden calls sound absolutely magical. I've had a tough time with the big open water acrylic, but the wooden calls are great. It's my go to call. They have wonderful low ends, great hiccup capability, rattle out the feed calls, and some have a very true sounding ringing hail top end.

Miscellany - There are lots of local makers of calls across the country. In fact, if you have a lathe and patience, you , too could turn your own. Many of these calls lack in performance but can overcompensate with good looks. If you're buying a call for the mantle, buy local and unique. Generally, though, the calls blow terribly.

Now that I've said all of this, you have to make a decision on what is best for you. My only advice, though: Blow it before you buy it, commit to practicing, and use a pintail whistle 80% of the time!