Duck hunting Hilton

Paul Smith
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Next Saturday is the first day of waterfowl hunting for autumn 2013. It’s an exciting day for many hunters

The Duck Hilton.— Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram

In my younger years, I anticipated opening day for ducks like a kid waiting restlessly for Christmas. I’d be getting my gear oiled, prepped and totally ready, while ordering new stuff to add to my hunting collection.

Duck hunting and my gathering of waterfowling implements began around the time I turned sweet 16. That summer I bought a copy of the “Duck Hunters’ Bible” and read it from cover to cover in two days.

I realized that I had nothing of substance to hunt ducks with. I did have my Dad’s single-shot, 36-inch barrel Iver Johnson 12-gauge and a pair of long rubbers. That was it. I needed decoys, a duck caller, camo clothing, and a gun that could fire the legal limit of three shots. I wasn’t going off hunting with a one-shot handicap.

It’s funny how attitudes and ideals change with time. Last year I shot a moose with a single-shot, muzzleloading rifle. I’ve also found use over the years for my father’s old single shot, but in the autumn of 1976 it just wasn’t going to cut the mustard.

Dad was enjoying a fine laugh at the expense of my duck hunting preparations and purchases. It was most fortunate that I had a decent summer income working at construction work in the big city of

St. John’s.

During the hour’s drive from Spaniard’s Bay each morning, I’d tip back my sleepy head on the truck’s head rest and dream about ducks, decoys, blinds and shotguns. I was also starting my studies at MUN that September, but that minor matter seemed trivial compared to my first foray in the forest with a shotgun.

I ordered a new 12-gauge from Outdoor Stores, a mail order outfit based in Winnipeg. They had everything a young man could possible want for the hunting life. I spent endless hours thumbing the pages of catalogues and magazines. There was no Internet, and that’s the only way we had to get information in the ’70s, along with chatting with others. It was a very different world.

I certainly made a fine choice on my first shotgun, even without advice from all the website gurus. I bought myself a Remington Model 870 Wingmaster for $285. That’s the upgraded version of the standard 870 pump action, complete with a finely finished walnut stock and deeply blued lustrous steel barrel and parts. It still holds a place of prominence in my gun locker and only death will separate us. That’s if I can’t figure out a way to take my first shootin’ iron with me.

I bought a bunch of other stuff as well, but there was one item in particular that required more research. Actually, I’ve been researching this one all my life.

I had decided that my first duck hunting adventure would be an overnighter, and not just a by-the-side-of-the road affair. My plan was to hunt a pond that required a two-hour walk. That meant that I would need a tent that I could carry in, or tie to, my packsack. At 16, I had done lots of sleeping in tents and plenty of walking in the woods, but the two had never actually combined. I needed a backpacking tent.

Tent technology has changed dramatically in the last three or four decades. I bought a new two-person Kelty tent just recently, planning to use it this fall, and it weighs in at an amazing five pounds. It sets up in five minutes or less and can sustain gale force winds. I might devote a full column to tents a little down the road. There’s so much to say about something that on the surface might seem simple. Suffice to say for now that my 1970s vintage backpacking tent, which I still have in my gear collection, is a far cry from my most recent purchase.

After an ample measure of thinking and pondering, I ended up buying my first duck hunting tent at Canadian Tire, a very utilitarian Boy Scout style canvas shelter that fit nicely in a pack and did the job at hand quite adequately. I didn’t try it out in a hurricane and I certainly have no intentions of taking it mountain climbing. But for a night at Northern Mountain Pond, this rudimentary camp scored five stars.

A tent couldn’t possibly be more simple. It has two short poles that are sectioned into two pieces for packing. To set the tent you just spread it on the ground and secure it in place with six pegs. You could actually get by with only four. Then lift the front, unzip the door, and crawl in so that you can fix the front and rear poles in place. You attach a line to the top of the front pole and tie it straight out to another peg, or tree, or rock.  Doing the same behind gives the camp its basic pup tent geometry.  Pulling out lines from the side and pegging them in place, finishes the job. You have accommodation for two that’s ready in just a few minutes.  

The downside to the pup tent is that it can only be set where you can secure pegs in the ground. You will run into problems on either deep snow or rocky cliff-like surfaces. The pup tent’s advantage is simplicity. A broken or failed part can be replaced, improvised, or repaired quite easily.

Modern dome-style backpacking tents will free stand so that no pegs are required, but they are much more complex and susceptible to failures that could ruin your day. I’ll write more on all this stuff later.

I’ll finish the story of my first duck hunt.

Paul Drover and I came home from MUN on Friday evening and packed our rucksacks for overnight at Northern Mountain Pond. I carried the tent and Paul carried a bit of extra grub. We arrived by the pond just before dark and set the tent in a tiny clearing about 50 feet from where I had prepared a duck blind a week earlier.

We lit a campfire and ate an evening meal of beans and bologna. I wasn’t worried much about my cholesterol in those days. We chatted awhile and crawled in the tiny camp for the night. We slept like logs.

Before daylight, we were in the blind and waiting for ducks. I had been watching this pond for weeks and knew that birds would likely arrive shortly after daylight. Paul doubted me, and was giving me a bit of a ribbing about geese and golden eggs. He had not appreciated the walk and heavy pack.

His tune changed when the sudden swooshing of wings broke the morning’s silence. The ducks flew in right over our heads and splashed down on the water right in front of our blinds.

There were no golden eggs but we managed to bag our very first black ducks on Day 1 of our hunting careers. I owe it all to the “Duck Hunter’s Bible” and a simple canvas tent.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted


Organizations: Canadian Tire

Geographic location: Winnipeg

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