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Thanks to all the brilliant advice offered in this column, it’s likely that most of the deer hunters in our area have filled their tags and have little more to do but gloat about their early success for the rest of the season. I highly urge everyone else to stick with it and spend every possible moment in the woods, but what about those who have limited out on deer but still want to hunt?
All things considered, I would suggest heading for the nearest beaver flowage and trying your hand at duck hunting. There are several ways to enjoy this traditional sport and all methods will produce some shooting. Any duck hunting, of course, is better than nothing, and sitting at home all day is the one thing avid Maine sportsmen try to avoid at all costs.
In its simplest form, duck hunting consists of heading down to the nearest bit of open water (beaver ponds and flowages, river or stream bends, secluded lake coves or a point of land jutting into the water), waiting patiently there at sunrise or sunset and pass shooting at ducks (and geese) that happen to fly by. In this second split of the season the odds for success are high because increasing numbers of northern waterfowl begin trickling in, seeking refuge ahead of the snow and cold that’s right behind them.
Other than the mandatory non-toxic shotshells (which are the only shells you may have in your possession while hunting waterfowl), state and federal duck stamps, all you need for a successful pass-shooting foray is a shotgun and a way to retrieve your ducks. Options range from waders to a canoe, and I have stripped down and swam out to downed ducks more than once – a frigid experience in November! During the early season I had chest waders on and did my best to have my ducks drop in the shallow part of the marsh, but of course every one of them fell on the other side of the flowage. Try walking about a mile in chest waders through alders and flooded hummocks to the next bridge and up the other side to retrieve a downed wood duck! As one friend commented, “You gotta love duck meat to go through all that!”
Another, perhaps more enjoyable way to bring home a duck dinner is to build a permanent blind on the edge of a cornfield or waterway and call your birds in to a set of decoys. Blinds offer many advantages beyond concealment from the ducks – you can sit in a comfortable chair, bring a heater or stove for warmth and for brewing tea, you can organize your stuff more and you can sit around telling jokes while you watch for incoming birds. It’s likely that 80 percent of waterfowl hunting is done from a blind, and the success rate is high, so if you have a place, a blind, enough birds and the time to do it, hunting from a natural or man-made blind (or even a camouflaged boat) is a good way to go.
Jump-shooting is a popular and productive way to hunt ducks, especially during midday, when the birds are resting on the water in some secluded cove or beaver flowage. On foot, the hunter must creep, crawl and hunch his way into range, not always easy in flooded timber or in marshy cover. Every so often you’ll find a meandering stream with solid ground all around, which is perhaps the best of all worlds for the jump-shooter. If you can approach resting birds without being seen, down them near the water and retrieve them with little trouble you have found “the” spot – but don’t expect it on every trip. Most often you’ll have to work hard to get your limit, but the rewards are worth it.
All things considered, I like float hunting the best. You can sit and yet you can move, the scenery is constantly changing and if you miss a shot you know there are going to be more birds just around the corner. Because everyone else is still in the woods chasing whitetails, you can expect to have the whole lake, pond or river to yourself, and from now till freeze-up there should be ducks (and some geese) on the water every day.
Float hunting is easily done with a canoe or kayak, but it’s the most fun if done in pairs, with the stern hunter paddling and the bow hunter shooting. There are no great mysteries in successful float hunting; move slowly and quietly with the current, stay tight to the inside of any bends in the shoreline and check every cove, backwater or inlet for resting ducks. Done properly, you should be able to drift to within 10 yards or less of unsuspecting ducks, which will immediately leap into the air and offer you some of the easiest shooting in the waterfowling world.
Noise is not a big factor when duck hunting because they hear cracking branches, splashing and other sounds all day long, but you do want to drift as slowly as possible so the birds will be in range when they flush. When you see birds on the water, the paddler should drift and steer with the paddle while the shooter takes aim. On calm waters both hunters can shoot, but on rivers or streams the paddler must handle the canoe to avoid swamping, so his gun should be unloaded and stashed away in case of an upset.
Aside from great duck shooting, float hunting is also enjoyable because you’re likely to see deer, moose, bears, beavers, otters and all sorts of other creatures along the way. I always get a kick out of the way beavers wait till you are right next to them in the tall grass along the bank, and then they plop into the water with a loud splash, sometimes just inches away. I guess it’s their way of keeping hunters awake and alert while drifting downstream!
If you’ve got your deer and are looking for something else to do this fall, give duck hunting a try. As long as we have open water the birds will be here. How you decide to hunt them is up to you!
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