Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Almost" Doesn't Count

No wind and lots of sun = tough hunting on Maryland's Eastern Shore
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As Tug prepared to end his 30 day hitch on the boat, and our (I guess, now annual) hunting spree approached, we talked quite a bit about how excited we were, and how the weather seemed to have spared us from a bird-less weekend, since previously frigid air temperatures (lasting from roughly December 20 to January 15) had crept back up into the 30s and 40s, keeping a lot of wintering birds in place here in Maryland. We had a lot of expectations for the weekend, but what we really got was a whole set of lessons in lowered expectations, as the old MadTV skit goes.
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After some last minute shuffling, we left my house with a truck full gear early friday morning. Light snow, dense cloud cover, and temperatures in the mid-30s were predicted for the entire day, so we weren't in much of a hurry. The weather would have birds feeding all day. We arrived at my duck club around 730am, and a few geese were already flying. We set up quickly in a goose pit - no one else was hunting on the entire farm. By about 10am, the sun came out, the wind died, and while the geese were still flying, we were only able to attract pairs and triples to our spread of roughly 60 silhouette decoys and 10 or so fullbody decoys. The geese were cautious, and flying high, giving them numerous opportunities to look for any "problems" before they came within shooting range. It was a little frustrating, but we were banking on the afternoon hunt anyway, so we weren't deterred.
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In the afternoon, the owner of the duck club invited Tug and I to hunt with us at the club's island blind, which basically is on a 60 acre roost for about 1,000 geese (see pic above). By this time, there were no clouds and no wind, and in addition, we had seen no geese fly since about 11:30am. No geese flew until birds returned to the roost.....about 40 minutes after shooting time. It was an amazing display of nature, with all those birds returning to the roost all at the same time, but yet again, a disappointing hunt. And at least it wasn't "just us." The landowner has been hunting that spot successfully for over 30 years.
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The next morning held great promise and much anticipation, especially given our failure to kill any game so far. We planned to hunt geese and ducks from layout blinds, in corn stubble, next to the farm pond. We ended up with over 100 decoys set up and witnessed the greatest display of "almost" in history. We were not aided by some old/lazy duck club members, who showed up around 9am and set up for a goose hunt at the goose pit nearest to the blind, about 150' up on the hill from our position. We also weren't helped by the weather - sunny and not the slightest breeze in the air. And the resulting 300 geese who put down 300' from the pond - out in the waveless river.
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Dozens of groups and flocks of geese looked closely at our setup and flared away at the last minute. A few (very few) were killed by coming too close, but no birds landed in the spread, or even tried. Here we were, at the epicenter of the Atlantic Flyway's goose wintering grounds, and having trouble finishing off geese, despite having literally hundreds of geese take good, long looks at our setup.
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It's hard to explain the level of frustration I had because it was really nuanced. First, let's get real - it's hunting, and these are (relatively) smart birds who have already endured a 1,500 mile trek through the hunting grounds of the Northeast. It's also near the end of the latest seasons on the east coast....January 23 with a late end date of January 30. The geese have seen an awwwwwwful lot even since arriving in Maryland in late November.
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Add onto that the fact that relatively few geese were hatched this summer in eastern Canada. There was late snow cover, and reproduction was poor, so let's consider the fact that most of the geese in Maryland had survived a previous hunting season in Maryland (or several seasons), possibly on the same river, around the same farms (with the same goose pits and duck blinds).
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And let's not forget the fact that other hunters are having the same issues this year...the yo-yo'ing weather conditions, combined with smart, older birds...it's as hard as it's been in recent years. Everybody, from the first-timers to the professional guides-were feeling the pain in Maryland this year.
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So as much as I'd like to complain about having three (basically) unproductive hunts in two days, I think I'll pass. I'm looking forward to a goose hunt in the snow on closing day, and during the off-season, I'll day dream about those days in mid-January when we almost got them.

2 comments:

tugboatdude said...

Why so blue big boy?Don't be down on yourself.The hunting was only part of the adventure.In 20 years we won't even be thinking about that part of the weekend.We will be talking about the attempt to get to the lodge and the guy with the union underwear with holes in the worst places.I had a blast and I'm looking forward to doing it all over again next year.

Swamp Thing said...

I hear ya. I'm not that down over it. Fact is, I'm a little relieved to have had "any" real hunting this winter due to Henry's grand arrival.

I'm a little disappointed the season hasn't been better, but I'm not overly down about it because at least this year, it was mostly factors that were way, way outside of my control (goose hatching in Ungava, for example).

I'm already looking forward to fishing this spring, and the first time I can comfortably get out and go surfing around April or so. It's all good.

And I kind of wish I had pictures of our night time journey through the "sand dunes and icebergs." But I'm kind of glad I don't, too.