Thursday, February 11, 2016

Nebraska Mallards: A Guide to Your First Western Duck Hunt

Well by now, many you have read the diatribe that was my Nebraska turkey hunt report.  But we didn't initially plan the Nebraska trip for turkeys, because...that's just not us.  We planned it for ducks.  And if you haven't hunted the Mississippi or Central flyways, just imagine sitting against a hedgerow as the sun goes down on a windless December evening.  Not a single blade of grass is moving.  And then a breeze picks up - the first wind in two days.  You wonder what it is, until you look up and realize that there are thousands of mallards 300 feet off the ground, whose wingbeats are CAUSING THE BREEZE.    While we weren't hunting ducks at that moment, that memory typifies Central Flyway duck hunting for me.   More mallards than I had ever seen.

But I saw them the next morning.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Swinging For the Fences: Goose Hunting on the Wye

Literally the only picture I took this morning.
If I could goose hunt anywhere in Maryland, it'd be on the lower Chester River.  But if it couldn't be on the lower Chester (which, at $1500 - $4500 leases per person, it can't be), it would be on the Wye River, just a dozen or so miles south.    The Chester, known as "AP Goose Ground Zero" is the first area to fill up with Atlantic Population geese, usually in November.  As the numbers grow, small groups of geese filter north to the Sassafras (where I've hunted since 2009) or south to the Wye and Choptank.

But that first big flight of geese never came in this strangely odd El Nino winter.  In the last week of the season, I was invited to hunt geese with some work friends on a farm that usually generates limits of geese.     A typical morning might have you see one to two thousand geese, and kill a 6-man limit of 12 geese.  

So we hunkered down and waited, and in the end probably saw about 60 geese total, shot and missed at one goose, and went home empty handed.   This might not have happened, had the guide not told us to arrive at 9:00, leading some of the hunters to arrive at 9:10; and of course about 30 geese had landed around the pit at 8:55, and a few more at 9:05.   I would have gladly given up another hour of sleep to have arrived at 8:00.  Sigh.

But that's how hunting goes, and that's how many hunters' seasons have gone this year on the east coast.  As one buddy told me, when I asked if they'd killed geese, "No.  We did not.  And I hope they freeze to death."    A harsh sentiment to be sure, but after watching a few dozen fickle geese toy with us in a frozen, snowy corn field, good riddance to them.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Season's Last Bow Hunt

I'm not one for moral victories, but at least the only real
trail in the woods is the one that goes right past my tree stand.
I have a new fire in my belly for bow hunting, but life has been trying to put it out.  I don't know what has been the biggest obstacle:  1) my failure to take a turkey with a bow in Nebraska, 2) a beautiful, relaxing Florida fishing trip in December, 3) the bitter cold temperatures immediately upon returning from Florida, or 4) spending 7 of the last 10 days of the season either shoveling out from Baltimore's worst blizzard in history; and/or spending 7 of the last 10 days dealing with school cancellations.

But knowing there are big deer, and plenty of them, in the woods is a strange motivator.  I put on three layers on top and bottom, along with Hot Hands in my gloves and boots, and trudged through well-packed, knee deep snow out to the tree stand three hours before sunset (hoping to maximize my chance of seeing something).




Like half of my bow hunts this season, I saw nothing.  There were very few tracks and trails in the woods, which told me that the deer were likely hanging around bird feeders in nearby back yards.   It was a quiet afternoon and after awhile, I got into almost a trance state (don't worry, I wear a full body safety harness in the tree) and thought about a lot of things.  When I kind of snapped out of it, it seemed like every time I blinked, it was darker.   A pink sunset over the next ridge told me that the hunt was over, and the season was over.

After my last hunt in most years, I'm done thinking about hunting gear, hunting tactics, and 330am alarm clocks for awhile.   But unlike previous seasons, I'm excited to consider what I can do better next season.    I think next season might be a classic.   I'll be writing soon about what it'll take to get me there.



Monday, February 1, 2016

Back in the saddle - late season bow hunt

The last time I'd climbed in my stand, it was late November, unseasonably warm, and the leaves were still on the trees.  How naked I now felt, 20 feet up, with nothing shielding me from acres of land.  Granted, perception is an illusion here, because a man standing still in a tree is generally not going to be seen by anything or anybody, including deer.

I got in the tree a little late, about 2 hours before sunset, and I was hoping that the cool temperatures - predicted for the upper 30s but actually stalling out around 34, would prompt some deer movement.  I was pretty disappointed.   Of course, I made the cardinal sin of getting out my phone.  When I looked up from texting my boss, there was a spindly 6-point buck on the next ridge, staring at me.  Even if I was watching for him, I wouldn't have seen or heard him approach, and the 80 yard shot through the treetop branches would have been impossible.  But as he stared at me, now frozen stiff and staring back, I knew I was busted.  He flicked his tail and bounded off.

And that was it.  Very few birds in the woods.  Few squirrels.  And no more deer.