Conditions were not particularly favorable for a return to our "secret spot" in Central Maryland (more on its "secret-ness" later), but in a 7-day early duck season, how can you stay away? Mike and I headed back down for a quick hunt, knowing very well that the wood ducks would fly early, and that no new mallards or other "big ducks" had arrived in the area. We got into the swamp around 4:45am and thank God, we were alone this time. We got set up quickly and just counted down until the 6:51am shooting time. The moon had waned quite a bit over the week, and it was dark in the timber. Really dark.
9AM, sunny skies, and still shadows everywhere.
In the darkness, we had wood ducks everywhere around us. Several landed less than 10 feet in front of us, swam around, and flew out. Several more nearly struck us in the head, as they flew through the timber at somewhere around 40mph, about 3 feet off the water. We knew the shooting would be quick, and very challenging.
This wetland has a ridiculous amount of duck food in it - smartweed, millet, tickseed, and obviously, lots of buttonbush.
We were right. Shooting time arrived, and ducks were all over, and we were still in a pitch black hole. Stress was high because we knew the birds would stop flying early, and yet we had no light. I finally spotted a pair of wood ducks over the trees who were locked up, and headed into our hole. I lost them in the dark treeline, but got another glimpse as they came close. My fingers were cold and I furiously tried to hammer the safety "off" as the birds sailed within about 2 yards in front of me. Unfortunately, the safety WAS off, and in my excitement and finger-numbness, I just couldn't make it happen. If I would have pulled the trigger, two birds would have gone home with me. It was so dark that Mike, standing about 10 feet to my right, had no idea that any of this was going on, and in the dark, could not see the two wood ducks which had now LANDED in front of him. The ducks, however, realized that something was wrong, and flew out, right at Mike's face, which was the first time he knew they were there. He shot, mostly out of surprise, and missed.
By this time it was about 7:15am. We had no other birds work close, and by 7:25am (sunrise was 7:22am), all the shooting on nearby farms, public land, and the River had stopped. We stuck around until about 9am, but did not see a single duck, at any altitude, after about 7:30am. The ducks were done.
The next "split" opens in about 3 weeks and hopefully by then, we'll have a few more birds in the area and some better game plans. Tugboatdude and myself have the first two weeks of January circled for travel to find big flocks of birds. We've got spots, or at least lodging, lined up from update New York, to Southeastern PA, to central VA. We are fighting all urges to make plans now, but it is tough!
One more day of early duck....let's see how it goes.