November 13, 2016
Last year, duck season kind of rolled around and caught me unprepared. I was also, to be honest, less than motivated. We had plenty of rainy, grey days, but it was way too warm to get very excited about duck hunting. Worse, it stayed warm all season.
On top of that, I still didn’t really know any good places to go. It was my first season being back in NC, and over the 20 years since I moved away, development pretty much swallowed up most of my old hunting areas. The places on the bigger water, along the Cape Fear pretty much require a motor boat, which I did not have. The old, freighter canoe and the kayaks are OK for some things, but beating against a 5 to 7 knot current gets a little tiring. I’m not the young man I once was, and I’m in nowhere near the physical condition I was in 20 years ago.
I’ve remedied some of that with the addition of a motor for the canoe. This has given me mobility in a very shallow-draft boat, and I’ve been able to get out and do some exploring in the local waters, both the Neuse and the Northeast Cape Fear. It’s also been a little chillier the past week, and despite the bright, blue skies, I was pretty fired up to get out on the opener.
It’s still early in the season, and up until this weekend, the temps have mostly stayed pretty warm. I didn’t have really high hopes yesterday morning, but figured some of the local wood ducks would give me some action. They did, but unfortunately, the action was to buzz by in the first shooting light, and then go on down and light around the river bend. I never even pulled the trigger.
I have also been really looking forward to getting in a full season with my new(ish), CZ Bobwhite. I’d been wanting a 20ga SxS for quite some time, and Kat hooked me up for my birthday last year. I didn’t really get a lot of use out of it last season, though. I had been a bit concerned because the gun tended to be very difficult to break open after a shot. At first, I wrote it off to just being stiff and new, but it didn’t really feel that way. During dove season this year, I killed a few birds, but had to pretty much break the action over my knee every time.
When I finally broke down and took a closer look, I could see a drag mark across the primer. That’s a pretty good indication that the firing pin is either sticking, or over-protruding. I considered trying to fix it myself, but decided against the risk of damage, and contacted CZ-USA about getting it repaired under warranty. They told me to fill out the form (a quick process), then they sent me a repair authorization and a shipping label. The standard turn-around time for warranty work is four to six weeks, but the rep I spoke to said it’s usually much quicker. We’ll see. FedEx picked it up on Friday, and I’m hoping to have it back by the time the duck season gets rolling in earnest.
Iggy, by the way, was pretty excited about the season opener as well. He’s not a big fan of doves, and usually spits them out when he gets close to me. Ducks, though… well, he hasn’t had a ton of opportunity, but when he has retrieved ducks, I can see that he’s in his element. I’m hoping the birds will come on down this season, so he’ll have plenty of chances to do his thing.
January 12, 2016
No matter how hard you wish it, a hooded merganser will not morph into a wood duck.
I tried, though. The three mergansers zipped into the decoys just after legal shoot time, but the shadows linger in the edges of the river swamp so I couldn’t get a bead on them when they landed. They came in low over the water, and skidded across the slick surface with that soft, swooshing sound. I could see the wake as they coasted to a stop, but between the dim light and the intertwining branches, I couldn’t tell what they were. A low approach like that usually indicates diving ducks, but all I’d ever seen in this stretch of the Northeast Cape Fear had been woodies.
The trio motored toward the decoy spread, silently cruising across the inky water, and as they broke into the open, there was no mistaking the big, white sail on the drake’s head. I blinked my eyes, hoping that they were just playing tricks. This had to be a wood duck. I really wanted it to be a wood duck. I needed it to be a wood duck.
But it was still a hooded merganser, as were the two hens sailing along behind him.
They put on a show for me, paddling around in the decoys, ducking and dodging. The drake stretched his neck and lifted his boldly striped breast up out of the water, showing off his full glory. It was a display that any wildlife artist would give an eyetooth to capture in oils or watercolors. But all I could think was, “why can’t you be a wood duck?”
The plastic ducks floating still on the water must have become boring, and the three mergansers paddled on upstream a bit. About 40 or 50 yards away, where the little cut opened into a pond, they idled away the morning. The sun rolled up over the cypress trees, painting the sky with that magical palette that rewards the early-morning outdoorsman. For a moment or two, I really wished I’d brought the camera.
But then I caught a glimpse of the mergansers at the edge of the swamp, and forgot about the scenery playing out along the treeline. I squinted my eyes, peering through the tangled cat claw vines and hanging cypress branches. Was that a white-feathered head, or was that the topknot of a wood duck? I knew the answer before the question, but that didn’t dim the wistful thoughts.
If that were a wood duck, how would I get the shot? I could slip over the side of the canoe into the shallow water. I could sneak along the edge of the cat claws, up to the trunk of that big cypress. Then I could step out, and as the duck launched himself into the air, I would give him a few feet and then, “BANG!” I’d let the little 20 gauge speak death.
But it wasn’t a wood duck. It would never be a wood duck. I do not possess the magic to turn a hooded merganser into a wood duck. So it remained a hooded merganser.
Finally, the three birds decided it was time to find something else to do… maybe go find some fish to eat or something… and they took off in that low, skipping, diving duck way. They came across the opening in front of my hiding place, streaking by in a telltale flash of black and white that tells the experienced waterfowler, “fish duck, don’t shoot.”
It would have been a beautiful shot, if they had been wood ducks. I’m pretty sure I could have made the single, and probably could have taken a hen too. But I don’t eat mergansers, so I don’t shoot mergansers.
If only they had been wood ducks.