Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Hunt Not According to Plan

Ice ice baby, too cold, too cold
We'd followed the weather to the "n"th degree.  We'd made plans, reservations, invitations, and brother T and I had even scouted the evening before, seeing great promise of both open water and flying waterfowl.  This could be a good one.

Frozen brain...or osage orange
Like so many things in hunting, the big things turn with the small.  The forecast called for cloud cover to paste over the big full moon by 9pm, and for snow to begin by 5am and end by 9am, with air temperatures around 28 degrees.  This would play both the ducks and geese right into our hands, as we were going to be hunting on the only open water for several miles around.    But the clouds didn't come until 2am, the temperature never dropped below 31, and around 6am, pellet ice started falling from the sky.  We hoped it would switch to snow, as we took the long, dark walk down the beach to our chosen hunting spot along a tidal inlet.

Second step's a doozy
We set our carefully chosen decoys in the inlet's churning waters with also carefully selected heavy decoy weights.  The ice continued to fall, but at least the decoys stayed put.  At first light, we heard thousands of ducks and geese but saw no flights.  As the falling ice began to agitate the geese standing out on ice floes, they started transiting - jumping from one loafing area to another, never going more than a thousand feet or so.  Around 730am, the ducks started flying.  Just not how we'd thought they'd fly.

I was set up on the downwind edge of the hole in the ice, where we'd seen several groups of ducks land the prior evening.  Our three other hunters lined shrubs and trees along the open watch patch next to the beach.  We hoped for decoying birds but got dive-bombers instead.  A duck would decide to cruise the inlet at 50mph and 10 feet off the ground and "BOOM.......BOOM.....BOOM!" would result until the bird escaped or was knocked down.   Some gadwalls escaped, some bluebills, buffleheads, and mergansers did not.  Always good to have birds in the hand.

Around 830am, it became clear that I had underestimated the seriousness of the weather.  It was 32.5 degrees and the half-frozen precipitation was starting to make its way down my neck, into the wrists of my gloves, and everywhere else.  I started getting cold.  Worse, the dog started getting cold.  While conditions were really perfect for an all-day duck hunt right there at that spot, we had no real protection from the elements and were simply not prepared (i.e. back up gear in dry bags, firewood, etc) to spend all day on that beach in the raining ice / icing rain.   At 900am we called "retreat" to the upper fields, hoping that we could stay out of the weather in a goose pit and of course, hope that a goose might fly over.

Yeah, bad move.  The goose pit steamed as our body heat boiled off the water in our soaked gear.  Worse yet, the relatively warm air and ice pack offshore brought in an enormous fog bank.  It was serious stuff.  We heard the geese get up off of the ice and leave, but never saw a single one.  Around 3pm, we ended the hunt with the same number of birds we'd had in-hand since 8:30am.  

This was one of those hunts that gave me a lot to think about.   Thank goodness we didn't spend all day in the goose pit.  And thank goodness we didn't stay on the beach.

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