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!