By now there can be little question that it’s leaf-peeping time. While fall colors this year seem rather subdued compared to past years, it’s commonly thought that the dry conditions over most of the state are the cause. Lately, however, I’ve noticed some spectacular displays on certain maples that seem to defy the rules, showing bright red, yellow and orange hues that almost demand that one stop and admire.
I’ve seen (and taken) thousands of fall foliage photos but I have to say that nothing can duplicate the vivid colors of the original scene, especially early or late in the day when the trees seem to be on fire. It’s likely that we’ve passed the peak of color in our area but I hope everyone got a chance to enjoy the colorful scenery. This is the kind of stuff that makes living in the Northeast unforgettable. I’ve been all over the country as well as many places around the world but nothing beats October in Maine.
There’s no doubt that October’s ambience is an important reason why hunters spend so much time in the woods this month. All legal game species are on the agenda from now through the end of November, which means one is likely to bump into bird hunters, rabbit hunters, duck hunters, deer hunters, bear and moose hunters, all duly focused on their quarry and no doubt enjoying the weather and foliage as they wander the woods and waters of the state.
I am a big fan of all these pursuits but am especially fond of floating for ducks and geese in October. A few years ago I bought a small, compact, camouflaged kayak that allows me to slip into some of Maine’s smallest waterways, bogs and flowages where waterfowl are often found in good numbers. I tie my paddle and shotgun to the craft so I don’t lose either one in the process of paddling or shooting, and even with my bulky PFD in place I can sneak up on loafing birds without a sound or even a ripple. My favorite kayaking waters are actually deep, slow-moving streams that feature a barely perceptible current that carries me along at just the right pace for jump-shooting. With a bit of help from my paddle I can keep my kayak drifting slowly along the near edge of the flowage and get to within 20 yards of wood ducks, black ducks, mallards or mergansers before they realize the fix they are in.
I can legally shoot six ducks per day plus three geese and five mergansers, but I’m usually satisfied to take just one of each species and call it good. Even when I bump into an unsuspecting flock of geese I’m happy to come away with just one bird attached to my anchor line. I can make two meals out of one big gander and there’s no great need to fill the freezer because it’s already bulging with moose meat and the year’s garden harvest. Calls are for a long, cold winter but I don’t think I have to worry about starving this time around!
Duck hunting in a one-man kayak is, truthfully, not the most productive way to hunt October waterfowl because one has to focus as much on maneuvering the craft over and around obstacles of all sorts, plus being quick-witted enough to drop the paddle and grab the shotgun in the few seconds it takes for a flock of ducks to fly away. Ideally, I’ll drift around a corner of brush straight-on with my shotgun already up and ready, but not every event turns out to be ideal. Many times the kayak will drift away from the birds, or the ducks will be sitting at the far end of a pool and take wing without offering a shot. I never shoot as many ducks as I see and quite often I’ll see ducks that are long gone before I can pick up the shotgun. I don’t mind them fooling me once in a while as long as I can win the game occasionally. The rules of chance say I can’t lose every time.
Even when the ducks aren’t cooperating there is something to be said for paddling quietly along a flooded backwater with nothing but colorful fall foliage as the backdrop. On a clear day the scenery will be doubly impressive as the leaves are reflected to perfection in the clear, still water. On most trips I’ll bump into an eagle or blue heron, maybe some otters or a beaver, and even when the ducks get the drop on me it’s nice to see them flying low over the tree tops as they make good their escape.
Where the water is shallow and weedy I may see a deer, bear or moose, and quite often I’ll sneak up on a muskrat that’s busily munching on cattail roots. Not long ago I drifted around a tangled log jam right into a flock of over 50 blue-winged teal, one of the fastest of all ducks. They were up and gone in a flash, well out of range and soon out of sight before I could drop my paddle. One needs excellent vision and sharp reflexes to excel on teal shooting and I have neither, so the best I could do was wave my paddle at them as they cleared the treetops in the distance. Most of Maine’s teal (blue-winged and green-winged) will be long gone south by the end of October, but it’s still nice to see them, even for a mere instant.
When kayaking for ducks it’s a good idea to start out early in the day to catch the morning flight, and then be on hand again just before sunset to catch flocks of birds heading south after a long day’s rest in the weeds. It’s often surprising how many ducks will show up on an “empty” flowage near sunset. Hunt till legal shooting time ends and don’t be surprised if the most action occurs in the last two minutes of the day. It’s a good thing ducks can’t tell time!