Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Smart Birds and Biting Winds, Part I

Your host...."It's frickin' freezing in here Mr. Bigglesworth!"
Well, what can I say. Waterfowl season is almost over in the Mid-Atlantic and it has been frustrating, rewarding, and educational, all in ways that I would not have predicted prior to the season.
Our resident ducks were chased out by an early hard freeze in November, our first flight of migratory ducks arrived around December 23, only to be chased out by cold weather around December 30, and every body of water less than 500 feet wide froze into sheets by January 2nd. Diving ducks showed up right around that time, but hunting restrictions on them are really tight this year. On the other hand, the geese have been plentiful, and hunting them this year has been really challenging but pretty rewarding.

So the Seaworthy Seamonkey, also duckless in Virginia, decided to come up and chase a few geese. We (and two more friends from North Carolina) had planned on a 4-day duck hunt across the eastern shore, but with high temperatures ranging in the 5 to 12 degree range, all the marshes were freezing, ducks are gone, and the marsh is no place for southerners not used to breaking ice and having to thaw out duck calls before blowing them (insert joke).
I was able to get the New Hunting Partner to let Tugboat hunt with us on the field that they secured this fall in northern Maryland. With highly educated and heavily hunted geese, extreme temperatures, and the physical exercise & stress of layout blind hunting, we know it would be challenging.

Backs to the 20kt NW winds - trying to keep warm
Four of us set out at pre-dawn for the field. With low temperatures in the single digits and high temperatures in the upper teens, and with all of the creeks, rivers, and ponds frozen, we really had no idea when the geese would fly. However, we knew that the fat, lazy birds had been eating corn (which provides good calories for survival, but almost no calorie accumulation for birds), and as a result, they would have to eat more corn! Bad for them, great for us.
The first geese didn't fly until nearly 10am, and most of the flocks that came in were extremely wary. It was clear that they had been hunted before - many were missing flight feathers and if they chose to commit to a landing, chose a landing zone right on the edge of the decoy spread. By about noon, we were competing with a flock of geese who had decided to set down in a nearby cornfield next to a highway. And I mean, literally, 10 feet from the highway. Almost all of our incoming flocks chose the very loud and very lifelike flock down by the highway, instead of our sketchy spread of still-life plastic jumbo geese. If there's one thing I've learned from hunting birds, it's that you cannot compete with real live birds. So we packed it up - 5 geese for 4 hunters - short of our bag limit of 8 but well-earned (and yes, one of them was mine).
Tug and I had two more hunts scheduled....with the birds growing ever smarter and the temperatures only growing colder. That'll be a more extensive update for later...tune in, y'all will enjoy.


Jon Roth said...

Wow, now that sounds like tough hunting. We've got the complete oppostite. Warm weather (70's), no wind but also educated and weary birds. Some things don't change.

tugboatdude said...

Seaworthy Seamonkey,very clever!

Kirk Mantay said...

I've been in the office all week, but the boys all report continued tough conditions...cold weather and smart birds. There are rumors that we got a new flight of ducks (as always, 3 days before the end of the season), but people are keeping REALLY tight-lipped about it.

J said...

The clouds in that picture look amazing!

Kirk Mantay said...

It was a crazy weather day...that wind was brutal....the polar high pressure was setting in and pushing all the clouds out. This hunt was in Harford County, off of MD 152.

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