It’s duck season again. The time to shoot waterfowl opened all over the island of Newfoundland Sept. 15 at daybreak. Labradorians have been shooting since the first day of September.
It’s an exciting time for those of us who love the smell of burnt gunpowder wafting through the still morning air.
Imagine yourself crouched in a damp evergreen duck blind, peeping through the boughs at the very first hint of daylight on the eastern horizon. The hot coffee in your thermos calms the chills and shivers that threaten your stealth.
There are ducks already on the pond. You can hear them dabbling and feeding amongst the lily pads no more than a 100 yards from your hideaway; probably blacks. They are the smartest birds, with super-acute senses, but they suspect nothing. You’ve done your homework, preparation and scouting.
Well before the season you cut a path to this blind through the thick spruce that lines the shores of Secret Gulley. A full hour before daylight you crawled on your belly into this pond-side enclosure of sticks, branches and small trees. Now preparedness is about to pay off.
Pink fingers of light are penetrating the starry black sky overhead. The ink black featureless treeline along the opposite shore is transforming to living colour in high definition. Green spruce and fir are interspersed with the odd birch and alder, their leaves just beginning transformation from summer green to autumn yellow and red.
There’s a big bull moose at the water’s edge just a few hundred yards from your blind. He was invisible against the trees but now his silhouette stands out in the dawn’s grey light. The ducks are still feeding, not the least bit concerned about the moose. Ducks know who their enemies are.
They are still too far for a shot, and if you raised your head just for one look they’d surely spot you in an instant. You’d have nothing to show for your effort but the memory of their outstretched necks and rhythmic beating wings disappearing over the eastern ridge.
You wait for what seems like hours but in reality is just 20 long minutes. Finally, the birds get a bit restless with their feeding location and began moving along the shoreline towards your blind. It’s fully daylight now and the sun’s just peeping over the ridges to the east. You see the ducks clearly in the morning sun, swimming with purpose towards a new feeding zone. You’ve chosen your blind’s position wisely, on an outcrop of land jutting about 30 feet into the gulley. It separates two grassy shallow coves that you’ve watched birds feeding in all summer. It was not time wasted, although your spouse might differ in opinion.
The sun is glistening off their slick oily feathers and they’re almost within range of your Beretta 12 gauge. Just a few seconds to the moment you’ve waited for all summer. You can see their eyes now. It’s time to shoot.
The click of your safely startles them and they turn quickly, leaving their bubbling wakes trailing in the water behind them. Wings erupt into action as you raise your body and shoulder your gun, lining up the fleeing birds with your 28-inch barrel. You’ve practiced preseason and it all came natural to you; motion without thought.
The pin strikes the primer and two birds fold and drop to the water. The remaining birds bank hard to the right and you swing your gun with them, concentrating on one bird only, and leading the big drake by a few feet. Bang, and another duck collapses in mid-air.
You have one more in the chamber and you draw your bead on a bird quartering away at maximum range. You pull the trigger and the fleeing duck staggers in the air before a quick descent to the water, tumbling over a few times upon impact.
You’re a happy hunter, four ducks bagged in the first hour of daylight on the very first day of the season.
I’ve been duck hunting since I was legally permitted to carry a gun at 16 years of age. I bought “The Duck Hunter’s Bible” in hardcover and learned everything I could.
Out of my first paycheque from my first job I bought a Remington Model 870 Wingmaster, a superb balanced shotgun that still sits in my cabinet, well-worn but still pretty. That September, 1976 I believe, I built my first blind and shot my first duck. On my inaugural hunt I was nowhere near as cool as the hunter in my story. I did, however, shoot a black duck and managed to hook myself on waterfowling. There are much worse addictions for a 16-year-old to tumble into.
Duck hunting from a blind is tons of fun and is probably the best recipe for success, particularly for beginners. However, there is another way.
Spotting birds from a distance, typically with binoculars and then stalking them is, in my opinion, the ultimate hunt. High hills provide vantage to glass over numerous gulleys and ponds. Aided by quality optics, a hunter can cover much more country by eye than he or she could ever hope to on foot. When the birds are spotted, set the old legs in motion.
Patience is a virtue in most of life’s endeavours, 10 times so in duck hunting. It’s always best to wait for the ducks to come to you.
I’ve spent countless hours trying to sneak up on ducks and it isn’t easy, especially black ducks. They have wicked hearing and incredibly keen eyesight. And they are always on guard for potential threats.
If they’re feeding, at least one will always have its head up while the others pluck roots and vegetation from the pond. Usually I’ll crawl and creep to a location on the edge of the gulley where I think the ducks will eventually pass as they wander around. A point sticking out into the pond is an excellent choice. The birds will likely swim within shot as they feed here and there around the pond.
Experience is the best teacher in this regard. Cover, stealth and shooting lanes also play a role in your approach to a particular pond or gulley.
When all the elements fall in place and you smell the gunpowder, it’s incredibly satisfying.
Hunt safely and have fun.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.