Up The Bay

14 Mar Up The Bay

Up the bay

January 4th 2017.  A few weeks into the third split of waterfowl season and we had been enjoying some decent hunting most mornings, not setting the world on fire but some birds were in the area.  The winter had been pretty mild with no big weather events to speak of. Coming up we had the last 3 day weekend of rifle deer season.  The deer hunting season had been pretty poor for our crowd.  I expect our deer harvest was only a third of a typical year.  Hard to say why but we were just not seeing the deer, they turned nocturnal some of us said.  In fact, the weather had been so nice we were still running offshore tog fishing and the bulk of stripers were just off our coast.  While it was nice to have good weather and opportunities to still be fishing this was not turning into the waterfowl season we all look forward too.

Watching the news that morning the weatherman hinted at signs of a “Big” winter storm in the future.  Now, there is nothing more that gets a waterfowl hunter excited than news of a big freeze coming.  This might be the weather even we need to get our last push of birds down from the north.  Later that morning while stoking the wood stove, I get a text message from someone I hardly know.  Reading those simple few words got me more than excited.  “Hey Man, wanna stay up the bay and hunt the storm this weekend?”  A friend of a friend, who I took tuna fishing over the summer was returning the favor with a hell of an offer.  “Up The Bay” the term used by the folks on Chincoteague to describe an area north of the island behind Assateague.  It is a touchy subject to some.  A few may be upset I am writing describing the experience as it is almost a sacred place only visited by islanders in the know.  The area is full of history and gets mentioned in a number of old hunting tales.  I have always heard the stories of the great hunting opportunities that are found on the backside of Assateague island.  It is an entire different world that would prove I was an amateur when compared to hunting puddle ducks on the mainland or divers on the Chesapeake.  It is not a large area and many of the blinds are handed down through generations of islanders.  It is also not an area for the cyber scouting guys to self guide themselves.  This is about as remote as you can get and without being part of the clique one can make enemies fast.  The last thing you want is a group of Chincoteaguers against you.  Hell, the arguments amongst themselves are bad enough, but let them band together against an outsider, not good.

Oyster watch houses:  Many locals to the Eastern Shore do not even know they exist.  The National Park Service does it damnedest to get rid of them all.  The islanders fight hard to keep them passing down through generations, again, a touchy subject.  The NPS just last year had a big proposal for the area including banning all aquaculture, removing the Oyster watch houses and even returning Assateague to a primitive state.  Talk about an uproar from the people on the island, even I wrote a letter expressing my concern with the plan and removal of the oyster houses.  Here was the quote from the NPS after receiving many letters on the topic.  “The document currently says that we would try to understand the legal status of those structures and try to make sure that the sewerage is legal and follows state standards, and if the structures are unauthorized we would remove them,” … “What we’re hearing from the public is those are very important for a variety of different reasons, and that they are historic. So we’re going to be looking very carefully at the public comment that comes in on those two issues.

Less than a dozen watch houses exist today, the majority are located in this pristine area north of Chincoteague.  Built between the 1800’s and 1950’s they have been constantly tweaked and upgraded by generations of islanders.  The purpose of these houses is to watch over private oyster grounds to prevent poaching.  Years ago during the “oyster wars” it was said that many Marylander’s would venture into private oyster leases in Virginia and poach oysters.  The houses were then built and armed to prevent the poaching.  They all vary in design and comfort but they all share a lengthy history dating back to market gunning times.  Although poaching of these beds is not the problem it was 100 years ago, the houses still stand to serve their purpose.  It was that invite where I had my first chance to stay in one of these remaining pieces of history.  

“Hell Yea” I replied, trying to contain my excitement.  Invites like this do not come often, especially paired with a frozen Nor-Easter snowstorm.  For sure I am not the best waterfowl hunter, but one thing I can say, I really enjoy it and go most every day in the third split.  Most mornings I consider a good day to have had the chance to shoot the gun, a number of mornings that does not even happen.  A single black duck riding home with me is good.  A pair of mallards and a gadwall or woodie or wigeon, stellar.  Most of my hunts are over with the end of the first flight.  A two day duck hunt was something new to me, especially in this area.  People travel hundreds of miles for the chance to duck hunt around Chincoteague.  There are guides in the area who stay booked all season.  Truth is, most of that hunting is done local right around the island, and most of the shooting is on the less respected ducks, buffleheads, mergansers etc.  Guide drops you off in a blind for the morning, you have a radio and call him to pick up the birds you shoot.  While the hunting can be good at times, it is very weather dependent, and slightly less involved than the style we were planning on doing.

A Black duck and a Wigeon

Day two after the invite; I’m pumped, up early and getting the wood stove going.  WBOC is playing in the corner of the shed with more talk of the “big” storm.  They are narrowing down the timing, going to hit first thing Saturday morning and snow all day.  Cut the TV off at 6am and hunted alone in the creek that morning.  A single black duck fell early on, and just before calling it, a young wigeon joined the bag.  Stellar, off to work by 8.  Next day, Friday, the first day of the late three day Maryland rifle season.  I’m sitting in the deer box reading CL’s book.  All my gear is packed and ready for the next morning.  Never saw a deer but laid the reticle on a red fox, his lucky day, I was in full waterfowl mode, let him walk.  Back at the deer camp only a few trickled in, our poor deer harvest continued.  At least we have taught the young guys how to clean deer and they love it.  Getting good too but the little suckers got slick and started charging 5 bucks to do it, they had no problem making a few bucks that evening, cleaning doe’s..

Red Fox in the scope, his lucky day

The plan for Saturday was to meet in Chincoteague around 10am.  My new friend was already up the bay hunting with family, he was going to run back and trade the family party for me.  10am, no problem, simple trip across the causeway to the island was going to be easy, even in a snowstorm.  With that said it left me the first light hunt of Saturday morning wide open.  Watching the youngins skin deer around 7pm, another text.  “Wanna go in the morning?”  Sometime the best plan is don’t have a plan and this was the case tonight.  That invite was to a special little bog that I knew held ducks.  Snow was now forecast to start at 3am and be heavy.  The invite to hunt there comes rarely and it’s something that you just can’t turn down.  As if I couldn’t get more excited here I was with a full plan all weekend, the waterfowl widow I was leaving at home was not quite pleased.  I was going, a nor’easter couldn’t stop me, although it tried…

I reached in my pocket to turn the phone alarm off.  Already outside and gearing up before it sounded, I didn’t need a wake-up call this morning.  Coffee was made and I was sitting by the wood stove for a few minutes as it flamed up.  The Golden Retriever nudging his nose under my arm begging for an early morning scratch.  It is hard to describe how nice it is to sit by a warm fire on a winter morning.  Two inches of snow lay on the ground outside and it was steady blanketing the shore.  A heavy snow, full of moisture with flakes the size of postage stamps stacked themselves up on the truck’s windshield.  There was no need to rush this morning, we didn’t have a far drive or deep hike in.  It was the perfect spot when concealed by the howling wind and the shots muffled from the damping snow.  The birds would be in no rush either, it was the type of weather that no creature wanted to move early.

Rudder prefers to hunt his ball than a duck

As luck would have it we had room for a third man and during the conversation last night one of the younger guys at the deer camp made himself available to join us.  Full of drive, he was as into the hunt and the lifestyle as much as anyone else.  I hear the sound of a diesel engine slowly crawling up the lane, he’s early of course, I am sure he did not need an alarm either.  Another inch of snow had stacked up by this time.  The truck had been warming up for a while and the windshield was now melting the large flakes as each one laid on the glass.  Guns and gear were loaded, another log placed on the fire and the Golden, wishing to go lay back in the warm bed was put back in the house.  The wind started picking up and the forecast for the day spoke of 30-40 knots, this was just the beginning.  Just a few miles from the house we pulled up to the long dirt lane.  There were no visible tracks just white, the snowflakes dropping visibility to a few tens of feet.  We made our way along the field into the cut hole in the woods down to the end of the path.  Over a mile from the stone road now the snow quickly covered any tracks we left behind.  

Our retrieving “dog” that morning was also our guide and with kayak in tow the three of us headed toward the natural blind on the water’s edge.  A grove of short cedars carefully groomed over the years provided us ample room and coverage.  The kayak slipped in the water with a handful of decoys laid on top, It wouldn’t take many.  Until now all of the weeks planning was being perfectly executed.  Then, within minutes of the kayak returning, nature started to show herself.  The first chunk of a large ice floe came easing down the creek.  Like a lost barge in a river, it laid against our decoys.  With contention, the small anchors began to slide along the bottom of the shallow creek.  One by one we watched as the uncontrolled blockade gathered our decoys and escorted them well away from our blind.  We were still a number of minutes away from shooting time.  The kayak was deployed once again to rescue our encumbered stools.  A full reset was made and the kayak returned to the bush.  

Our blind in the snowstorm

The creek glowed grey as land tends to do when brightened by a covering of snow.  We could see well before normal light and we watched another hapless iceberg collide with our furthest block.  The anchor held this time, hopefully caught in an old root, we could see the keel slice through the ice splitting it in two.  Now, with decoys out for a mere ten minutes we faced another problem.  The snow continued its assault on the land and also on the back of our decoys.  Before the first bird made an appearance it looked as if we were hunting over a flock of miniature swans.  Bright white tumps whipped in the creek current, steady building the layer of unnatural flocking.  The kayak was deployed once more and with the first stroke of the paddle a pair of black ducks sailed overhead.  A quick dusting of the decoys and a retrieval of one that lost a battle with a larger piece of ice, we were set.  

The Greenwing teal burst through the snow, a flock of fifteen unhindered by the degrading weather.  Shots rang, a pair fell, the rest kept past with the speed of flying cheetahs.  Our morning had begun, timing was perfect as well as the conditions for fowling’.  The Black ducks overhead circling in groups of three were wary of joining the snow covered decoys.  A second group decided to commit and all three joined our bag.  For the next few minutes we were blessed with some of the best wing shooting one can find on the eastern flyway.  Mixtures of Gadwall, Teal, Blacks and Mallards all wanted to join the counterfeit snow covered ducks sitting just feet from our blind.  The kayak was deployed numerous times during the next thirty minutes, without constant retrieval the current would easily place a fallen bird out of sight quickly.  We were able to pick and place shots, at times just watching the black ducks land without even lifting the barrel.  The ice kept up it’s barrage on our decoys, with the kayak retrieving as many downed birds as stranded stools.  As daylight took over the flight slowed, we had our shoot and were almost to the point of bird watching, carefully identifying birds as they came to land with us.  

Nice to see a mix in the snow

This was the absolute perfect start to the weekend adventure.  Our birds were now loaded up, the faithful kayak returned and trucks were warming up.  A couple quick stories from the morning were re-lived before we cut virgin tracks in the snow back home.  It was just after 8am and the snow showed no signs of stopping.  The paved road was now covered in 4 inches of snow with only few tracks from the little traffic.  Back home we cleaned our birds and stood by the fire for a moment.  In thirty minutes I would head back out and attempt to make my way to the island.  A quick game of fetch in the snow for the Golden and a kiss goodbye had me pulling out the driveway.  We were still on the front side of the arctic nor’easter and temperature has not yet fallen to predicted lows.  The snow was still moist from the southern leading edge of the storm.  In full blizzard mode now, I was able to make 15-20 mph toward the causeway.  Within a few minutes the windshield washers began icing up.  The defrost couldn’t keep up and the ice built on the rubber blades, it was really ruining any ability I had to see.  I stopped twice in the next fifteen minutes to clean the blade off with my bare hand.  Not that I really need to see much, I was the only vehicle on the road.  

At this point I slightly questioned my sanity.  I began to realize that this storm is nasty, it is steady dropping temperature, the snow is blinding and the winds are really starting to crank.  As I reached the Mosquito creek bridge on the Chincoteague causeway I began to wonder if my island friend was actually going to take a boat out in this weather.  I wouldn’t think about getting on a sportfisher in this, but an open Carolina skiff, sure, it’s what we do…  At that moment I was assured via text that my guy was making way back to the island now, he claimed it was a little chilly.  

A quick interjection here, there has been quite a lack of video and writing this winter on the website.  This was one trip that really bummed me on video.  I spent a load of time filming this entire trip, B-roll and all, only to have all the video come out corrupted on my camera.  I assure  you it would have made a pretty awesome clip but I lost almost every bit.  That took a lot of wind out of my sails.  When I found out afterwards I was frustrated and just had to drop all this for a while.  Well, the next best thing I can do is to write the story so that is what we get here.  It has taken me a few months to get back in the game.  Hopefully now that I am armed with new cameras I can get back to doing the video thing for the summer. End Rant…

The island was shut down, I had not passed a single car on my 20 minute commute over the causeway.  Probably a good thing as I couldn’t really see anything, the Ford was running on hope and excitement although she seemed not quite happy about the situation.  I was headed to the backside, a private dock where we would load up the boat with firewood, my gear and whatever else we would need for an overnight stay in a blizzard.  I had brought large stack of wood in the truck to add to our pile.  I had no idea the amount of wood that little stove would eat later that night.  I arrived on a dead end road to a guy shoveling snow in his driveway.  He waved and we chatted for a bit.  Although we had never met we talked like friends.  In the distance we could see a boat making way around the backside of Oyster bay.  The winds muffled any chance at hearing the 4 stroke Suzuki sliding into the channel.  Looking like an Eskimo, my new friend came alongside the dock with caked ice covering one side of his face.  He broke a grin, “Thank god for GPS” is all he said.  Turning toward the snow shoveler he explained how he had to follow the east bank back as it was a full whiteout.  A pile of birds lay on deck partially covered in the six inches of snow, the bounty from the morning’s hunt.  Pintails, Shovelers, Bluebills, Wigeon, Brant and a few others that I couldn’t recognize at first.  A total different bag that we would ever see on the mainland.  “Ya’ bring the wood?” came next and we started filling the bow of the skiff, taking twice the amount from his pile and I had brought in the truck.  It was about twenty degrees at this time and he didn’t even have a hat on.  The guys of the island have always been known as a hardy bunch, for sure he had not missed this genetic trait.  Gear loaded, wood stacked, birds stowed back in the garage, we were off.  The propeller digging mud the first 300 yards.  “We ain’t got no water in here right now…”

Rounding a randomly chosen PVC pipe we pushed on plane.  Visibility still at 30 feet, winds now at 20 knots and I am laying in the bottom of the boat facing backwards on the leeward side.  Behind Wildcat marsh the water was calm but the snow blinding.  Now equipped with a face shield, my captain was taking a beating in his eyes from the piercing snow.  Looking down at me and grinning, I began to wonder what the hell I was getting into.  Wind was fully out of the North now and made the next stretch of open water completely exposed to the fetch of Chincoteague bay.  Within minutes the skiff began to pound and throw water from the port bow.  I was the lucky one, a waterproof hood kept the freezing spray from hitting me.  At the helm, this poor fella was taking it head on.  Almost turning into ice mid splash, his face was feeling the full force of each wave as it broke from the port.  He was taking the spray as if it was a summer day, I could see the ice building on the exposed face mask.  Fully wet now, the mask iced over as the boat pounded in the chop.  Another grin down at me and I knew we would be ok, this guy was either hard or just didn’t care.  Either way, I was assured we were going to have a hell of a time or die trying.

Our historic home for the night

Tucking into a cut channel behind one of the many islands outlying Virginia creek the skiff smoothed out.  The bombardment of waves was over and we had to just keep on plane through the shallows to our target.  Looking back at the mud trail showing behind the poor Suzuki he pushed the trim and throttle up a bit, we kept on.  Rounding a few more turns he pointed to a blind or two and spoke of whose they were and where we might be hunting that afternoon.  Cabins appeared in the distance, the famous watch houses still standing firm in the winter storm.  Soon we pulled up to a makeshift dock.  The planked landing led up to an old screen porch full of firewood.  We began the task of unloading cargo and wood.  The cabin already occupied by family from the morning’s hunt came out to greet us.  They had returned to the warmth of of the wood stove and we chatted over coffee and a white bread lunch.  I began to learn the history of the place and this cabin and others, the historic stories of the area were filling the air.  The family crew had their own boat.  They had also enough of the harsh weather and were preparing to head home, away from the remote frigid conditions surrounding us.  We on the other hand were going to stick it out.  “She’s makin’ ice” the older man said, “it’s gonna lock up tonight” another agreed.  The snow and wind continued outside with no end in sight.  Well here we are, I finally made it up the bay and its 1pm, time we start hunting.

Our blind was a mere half mile away, from the cabin windows we could see the flocks of buffleheads swimming around our boat.  Black ducks in the distance were fighting against the wind, still flying in the middle of the day.  Hot hands were opened and all the gear I brought was put on for warmth, it was cold outside, brutal cold.  We motored off and headed to the blind.  This was a REAL duck blind, the 19ft skiff could be totally hidden below, the shooting was done from an elevated platform 8 feet above the water.  Concealed in cedar trees from the summers bushing, we were set.  A spread of black ducks and wigeon lay in front of us, struggling against the howling wind and ice.  The storm had now whipped into full force.  It was now ice not snow pummeling our backs.  Thank goodness we were facing away from the wrath.  Placed as close to the national park of Assateague as one can get, we were hunting right across from a large freshwater pond on federal land.  In the lull of the wind we could hear the ocean crashing.  A group of swans rose from the pond and quickly settled back down.  Both of us holding our swan permits, I felt as if I was transported to the waterfowl mecca.  

First Pintail

We had been in the blind no longer than ten minutes when the first bird came in sight.  “Damn, thats a drake pintail” said my friend, I could hardly make out the fact it was a duck at this point.  He headed our way as if he wanted to hide among the cedars with us.  The words “Pintail” set off a thousand receptors for me, to this point I had never taken my first pintail and here we are ten minutes into the hunt with one bearing down.  “Take him!” he announced without thinking of lifting his own gun.  My two shots rang out through the whirling storm, neither found their mark as the bird banked into the weather and eased away.  The emotions that come from a missed opportunity like that are strong.  There was no better setting than that bird hanging in the wind in front of us yet I whiffed.  My #3 Kent pellets were merely dust as they disappeared into the void without finding their mark.  My head down, I turned to my guide, who laughed, now thinking that he has taken some worthless shot to the duck hunting divine.  Reloading, just like the horse I fell off as a kid, I had to get back on.  The luck was with me that day.  

“I’ll be damned” he said “he’s gonna do it again.”  Now, no duck in their right mind comes back to a spread after being cracked.  Here was a pintail breaking all the duck rules.  Fighting through the wind he peeled back in from his 200 yard detour.  He wanted me, I wanted him, that is the plain and simple as I figure it.  This time he came from the back side, but we were watching.  It didn’t take a call to shoot this time, the mighty sprig came slowly into range.  He was not concerned with the decoys, he wanted to be close to the cedars and close to me, in he came.  The single crack from the Benelli hit true.  I do not think I even pumped the empty shell out.  He fell at the base of the blind with a soft landing in the snow.  Not a feather damaged as my guide pulled him from the marsh.  A perfect looking bird, the high and mighty drake pintail was mine after all these years.  We were twenty minutes into the hunt.

Damn, 6 pages in now, I know some of you guys have red knees from reading this on your phone on the toilet, can’t believe most of you made it this far.  We’re almost done 🙂  Hell, maybe I will leave this line in the story, thanks Bud Light and writing at 10pm in Greenland…

The Black duck.  The majority of my shooting is done at this elusive fowl.  Wary as he is most mainland mornings, in a storm on the back of Assateague he just does not care.  Coming in like buffleheads, the blacks would seemingly sit still in the wind before they would touch feet to the base of the cedar blind.  We had taken our limit for the afternoon early and we were trying to do things right.  Fat black ducks, Jersey blacks, they were dumb over here.  Gadwalls buzzed our blind, a few shots sent two drifting to the far bank.  The buffleheads were like flies, we would not stoop to shooting “dippers” this trip and left them for the kids in the days to come.  The flock of fifty bluebills stayed just out of range taunting us as the bounced from the federal pond, over the woods and back again.  The ice kept on, it was cold, I was cold, the world was cold.  My jacket pockets full of ice and the hothands trying their best to fight were not keeping up.  At least once I pulled up to shoot only having my hood drop in front of my eyes shutting out my chance.  The hard core Chincoteague guide sat in perfect happiness as ice formed around his chin, I was nearing my end.  I’ve been to Antarctica, to Greenland, stood on the ice caps at the ends of the earth.  The cold that comes from the Eastern Shore in a moist dead of winter storm rivals no other.  I looked at my phone, almost begging for shooting time to be over for the afternoon.  We had a nice bag of birds including the pintail I had come for, but we kept on.  It was making ice and our decoys bobbed in the water with more ice on them than plastic.  Only the hardest of us have beat pounds of ice off a decoy bill.  I’m sure most of you reading this are in that category.  We quit with five minutes to go, two more black ducks pitched as we retrieved and beat ice off of our stools.

My fingers we not working correctly as we tied the skiff up.  I was dreaming of that wood stove inside.  A quick unloading of the birds and gear we were done.  The generator fired to life and the lights spoke up in the dark main room.  The next thirty minutes I spent with my new hot cast iron best friend.  Feeling slowly came back in my fingers, enough to open the Natural Light stowed in my cargo.  I was to be the night’s cook and for dinner I had brought all the fixin’s for cheese steaks, Wigeon and Black duck cheese steaks of course.  I did an entire filming of how to cook duck cheese steaks, which also did not survive the camera fail.  Regardless we ate good, and drank good too.  The ice and snow relented to clear skies however the wind kept up and that led to a drastic drop in temperature.  The Oyster house had minimal insulation (none) and the temperature would drop ten degrees per two feet you got away from the wood stove.  I stayed next to my iron friend for the rest of the night.  My dozen other silver can friends joined the party as well.  I was told to check out the “stars” well I was not expecting what I saw.  Looking out that crisp windblown night, I have never seen the sky so clear, only miles from where I grew up this was a different world.

Livin’ Right

Eleven degrees the thermometer read outside, not much more inside the kitchen either.  “She made up” he said as we surveyed the ice surrounding our small shanty.  The boat however was not locked and pools of open water dotted the horizon.  The blind we hunted the day before would be inaccessible this morning, we tried…  It was cold and the two of us were slow.  So cold in fact that we did not even try to hunt the first flight at shooting time.  This was up the bay and we did not have to be early.  The sorrel Assateague pony stood across the creek, backing her rump into the woods blocked by the gusting wind.  The dippers gathered at our dock front joyfully playing in the water unfazed by the drastic freeze outside.  As the sun peeked over the eastern bank of Assateague we put on our gear.  Dried and warmed by the night’s fire I felt rejuvenated to get back out until I stepped off the porch.  Siberia or Greenland, You could pick one and that is what I felt as the biting wind ate at my bare face.  All the cabins had been occupied that night and we watched as six other boats passed us before we left our warmth.  The Zuke’ was ready and fired up like it was summer.  A quick jaunt toward yesterday’s blind showed us just how thick the ice was.  Our next target was toward the mouth and more to the open waters of Chincoteague bay.   Busting ice the entire way, I guarantee he will ever have to paint the bottom.  We chose a blind near a very small pool of open water and set our spread.  There we sat, watching the sun rise and the wind whip.  We sat and we sat.  The day was too cold even for the fowl.  Except the dippers that would come and visit our decoys every few minutes the sky was barren, not even a cloud.  Time for a new plan.

Hunger and cold was taking over, we never even lifted the gun that morning.  The wind was brutal and the birds were locked.  We had to re-think things.  The guys of Chincoteague and all of the seaside hunt the tide.  Totally different than bayside hunting.  Seaside birds feed and move at low water.  It was ebbing when we were packing up the decoys and sledding them across the snowy marsh back to the skiff.  The wonder bread sandwiches were an absolute delicacy at this time, the mustard a bonus.  A few phone calls were made and I hear discussions of the shoals.  The Chincoteague shoals, full open water hunting and another first for me.  This area of shallow water between the mainland and island was home to many tower duck blinds.  These stand up to fifteen feet above the water.  We were lucky to get permission to hunt one of the premium in the fleet.  Large enough to house the skiff below with a ten foot climb up to the tower.  Bushed by the finest Chincoteague cedar bushes it was a duck mansion.  

The temps were still in the low 20’s although the sun was bright.  We set our spread of every decoy we had around the tower.  The waves were smaller here on the shoal, hindered by the shallow water.  Reminiscent of yesterday, we were in the blind no longer than fifteen minutes when a flock of birds were spotted low to the water headed our way.  These were different, they were larger, darker, slower.  “Brant” he said as they swung around to our backside.  The shot was perfect for him but he only ducked down and said “Get em!”  Reaching over my friend I laid the barrel to a landing Brant and with a crack he fell.  I quickly retreated and as I did he swung at the remaining flock and bagged his own.  A perfect combination of two single shots between us.  Another first for me, I had never targeted a Brant.  This bird was destined for the taxidermist and was adding to a healthy taxidermy bill I already had started.  

I want to add here that we ate both of those Brant at a party the following week.  Touted as the worst possible bird you can eat, not a single morsel was left on the hors d’oeuvers plate.  Although everyone else raved on it, my friend still commented it had a mud flavor…

He climbed down to the skiff to retrieve the prehistoric geese as they were quickly making their way east along the shoal.  Alone in the blind I watched him run almost a quarter mile away before picking up the last one.  As he did I could see him stop and point.  Looking over my shoulder there was a darkening in the sky.  First skimming the water then jaunting up like a flock of blackbirds the group of sixty Pintails came at me fast.  I had no idea they were sprigs, I just knew they were birds, and looked like ducks.  Here they came falling fast into our spread, there were more than I could count.  Just as they wanted to make our tower their home I hit shoot mode.  I couldn’t wait them out like I was instructed, I was overwhelmed.  “Let them land” he said later, I should have.  With the first birds in range I let the shotgun bark a single shot, and a single bird fell.  The rest peeled off so quickly a second shot was pointless.  Here I was by myself, the chance of a lifetime worth of Pintails ready to pitch and I jump the gun.  Like a goddamn kid, I have heard it before.  That is the excitement that gets me, and when it doesn’t then maybe I need to stop hunting.  It got me then, hopefully I can control it a bit more next time.  The skiff idled up and picked up the single hen Pintail.  In perfect shape she would join the drake to complete one of the best waterfowl hunts I had experienced.

As we eased into the public boat ramp at Chincoteague that evening, the local mallards guarding the dock were swimming around our engine looking at us like we were there to feed them.  It was getting dark, it was cold, and our bag was close to full.  A couple snatches from the truck out of the icy ramp and the skiff was back on dry land.  The doors of my truck were frozen shut from the ice storm, prying them open the V10 came to life ready to leave the island.  A quick picture was snapped, but more than that were the memories made of the trip.  To hell with the video, I lived it, I have the story, and now you do too.  

An Icy morning

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 16:14h, 15 March Reply

    That was an awesome read . Although there are a lot of seasons and things to do coming up , this makes me wish it was waterfowl season again right now ! Thanks

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 16:16h, 15 March Reply

    That was a great read! wish it was gunning season again right now !!!

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