Thanks to an understanding boss and saint of a wife, I've been able to hunt several times in the waning weeks of the 2012-2013 waterfowl season. It has not, in any way, been a banner year, but I've treated it like the blessing it is, anyway, as the memory of the last horrid season still hangs over me. The biggest change, though, is ducks on the brain. Listen to this:
I've seen and heard more ducks - and more species of ducks - than I have in at least four duck seasons. I've watched tundra swans land on the water. Teal, gadwall, wigeon, black ducks, mallards, wood ducks, bluebills, buffleheads, and even the lowly ruddy duck. I've intentionally not shot at ducks because I didn't really want to eat them (bufflehead, ruddy duck). I've intentionally not shot at ducks because they were just a bit beyond 40 yards out, and I was sure that more might be coming. The latter is true for geese as well, although the memory of a few passed up "easy" 45-50 yard belly shots are haunting me more than I thought they would.
Over the last decade, I've cut my teeth on hunting "new birds" - those who have just arrived, under cover of darkness, from New York and Pennsylvania. Hungry birds who do not know which fields have goose pits, which islands have duck blinds, and which farms are owned by anti-hunters who bait waterfowl. The birds figure that all out in less than a week, I believe. To keep hunting "traditionally," then, we need a continued cold air mass, snow and cold air to our north, and new flights of birds with no local knowledge.
But we don't get those things any more. We're all having to face the possibility that the look and feel of winter in the Mid-Atlantic is changing - not drastically, but quickly. 10 years ago, a major duck hunting problem in almost every January was the fact that my hunting spots would all be frozen over, and ducks wouldn't have used them for days or weeks because they were frozen. January 2010 was the last January like that (daytime temperatures in the teens), and even so, air temperatures stayed in the 70s until just a month prior (December 2009).
To be adaptive and hunt, when there are actually ducks and geese "around," is not a burden - it's a freedom I don't know, though I can and should know it. I'm exuberantly waiting my opportunity to use it. To learn more. And maybe that's the one thing I learned on this foggy, sleepy morning in the goose pit. It's time to try some new tactics and be free. Fewer 10-dozen goose decoy setups. Fewer mornings with multiple welded duck boats floating around placing 5 dozen floating decoys. Maybe just a morning or two stalking the shoreline with a half dozen of my very best decoys, hoping to get a shot at a bird or two to make the effort worthwhile. I have ducks on the brain, and I can't wait to try.