Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tundra Swans - a Waterfowler's Dream

North America’s largest waterfowl, the tundra swan, is like an angel.  During the summer thousands upon thousands mate and nest in the harsh tundra of Northern Canada.  Then, in one of nature’s wonderful events, the tundra swan sets to the skies and winter either on the Pacific coast or anywhere from southern New Jersey down through the Chesapeake Bay area to its southern most point, North Carolina.

North Carolina is one of the few states allowed to offer permit hunts for the swan.  The numbers are so great, the US Navy had to abandon plans on a landing field in Northeastern North Carolina.  In an attempt to prove that a naval landing field would not cause issue with the swans, the navy had several of its jets make low flybys in the area.  The result; thousands of birds erupted from the fields, blackening the sky, and making it unsafe for air traffic.

Driving through Northeastern North Carolina during the winter months, one can gaze out in the many fields and farmlands and witness the flocks grazing.  From a distance, it appears as if hundreds of white trash bags are fluttering in the winds.

To hunt these birds, one is usually set in a field draped in white or camouflage, and remains motionless until the birds begin to land.  Trash bags can be used for decoys as a cheap alternative, or guides will usually have Canadian Geese decoys painted white with black bills.  Someone accustomed to hunting the large birds can call with his mouth without using a manufactured call.

The first big hunt I carried my son Turner on was for swans.  We set up in a drainage canal with some 50 or more decoys about 40 yards away from us.  My son, still a little nervous at the time, shot twice on the day.  The first shot hit one of the birds, which I followed up with a shot of my on to put it down.  His second shot was a tremendous blast folding the bird nearly 60 yards away.

Over the last few years (5 or 6 actually) my hunting buddy, who we will call Adam as you may remember from earlier columns, has been after a swan.  We drew permits together a couple of years ago, however the guide we were going with came down with the flu during the later part of January, and we ended up missing our chance.

ADAM and his first Tundra Swan. One shot.
This year, my buddy we will call Adam, finally had everything set up.  I knew he was excited for the hunt.  Sure enough, I received a text message from him Thursday.  One shot.  I guess he had a little redemption from the geese we missed a couple of weeks before.  Note:  the reader submitted trophy photo of the fellow named ADAM holding a tundra swan is not necessarily the same hunting buddy who we just happened to call ADAM in the past few columns.

Regardless, Adam can attest, the tundra swan is one beautiful creature to be given the opportunity to study, observe and hunt.  It is a trophy that all water fowlers should strive for at least once.  And it is also one more reason North Carolina’s hunters and outdoorsmen should feel fortunate about the opportunities that exist in this great state.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Goose Revenge

Revenge is sweet.  Really it is.  Saturday morning sitting in the chill of the duck blind, I could not help but wonder if the geese would make an encore appearance.  After all, they knew they had defeated me and my hunting buddy just one week before.  Over fifty birds flying just above eye level converging in a massive flock of honks and squeals had somehow avoided five shots of steel.
The wood ducks were up early, starting just before legal shooting time.  Ringnecks were likely mixed in with hooded mergansers as well.  Occasionally I would see several grebes swim around the corner of the trees peeking in my direction, then swim back.
Off in the distance I heard a familiar sound.  Far away, on the other side of the swamp was a decent sized flock formation of Canadians.  Much bigger than a duck, their flight seems slow based on their actual speed and their size.  A wood duck or merganser on the other hand seems to zip through the air effortlessly and with a purpose.
No, not these geese.  Their only purpose was to rub in my misses from the previous week.  Their slow path around the circumference of the swamp was just to antagonize me.  How did I miss last week to begin with?  I could have swatted them down with the end of my barrel had I tried.  Was it the incessant noise?  I am a hunter.  I do not get caught off guard and I am certainly not intimidated by the flying trash bags.  I replayed that situation in my head the entire week.  I was caught up in the moment.  Instead of shooting where I should have, I was overcome by the size and proximity thinking subconsciously that a blast from the end of my double barrel would bring the bird down.  And I may have been right had I been using BB shot or even 2 shot.  But I was hunting ducks and was armed with 4 shot steel.  If shot in the right place 4 shot would suffice.  However the right place is the head and neck and I was simply putting the steel in the air knowing it was an easy shot to the body.
I would not fail this time if given the chance.  Still armed with 4 shot, as ducks were the main prey, secretly inside my heart, I wanted a goose.  The small flock peeled away from the edge of the swamp and headed to a protected area to the south.  I sat there thinking this hunt was likely over.  Then, to my back, I heard it.  Several cackles.  There were not many, maybe two or three at the most, but they were looking for a place to land and feed.  I squatted down and peered over my right shoulder.  They were getting closer.  I slipped the safety off.  Again, the locator honk sounded.  Their path would be directly overhead.
Two birds appeared just behind the pines to my rear.  They were high, maybe 90 to 100 feet.  Maybe more.   Just as they passed overhead, I pulled the trigger.  BANG!  The trailing bird cupped his wings and began a decent.  He was hit.  The lead bird sounded his dissatisfaction in the event.  I watched the trailer settle down below the tree line 100 yards to the Northwest.  The lead bird turned trying to figure why its mate had decided to land.  For a while, I thought it may circle back around for me to get a shot at it as well.  It finally broke from its pattern and flew off to the distance.
After hunting for a while longer, I drew the decoys and left the blind.  I wondered if I would locate the goose.  It was hit, but based on the way it was landing I was not sure if it would be mortal.  I eased the boat through the swamp having to pull the trolling motor several times and use a push pole to get through the weeds.  Is that it?  There was black, white and gray lying on top of some swamp grass.  As I got closer, I could make out the neck was folded, the head underwater.  Yes, I had gotten my trophy.  It appeared to be a nice shot, the steel patterning well on the head and neck.  Not an instant kill, but not one that would cause suffering either.
Death is something a hunter must always endure.  It is the necessary end to the means of the hunt.  I felt a sense of accomplishment.  However, the revenge part; not so much.  Yes, I had learned something from the last hunt and my instincts put me on the spot for the clean kill this time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Magnificent Duck Hunt

We finally had a brief spell of truly cold weather, and with that, duck season has been ushered in.  When I was younger, I actually hated duck hunting.  The cold weather, the preparation of decoys, boats, and warm clothing was just too much for a young fellow with lots of energy and little patience to endure.  However, with age, I have come to respect the passion a waterfowler exudes for his quest.
If you are a waterfowler, aka duck hunter, you are at the top of your game.  There are many varieties of ducks, geese, mergansers, and coots and one must learn flight patterns and silhouettes, sounds and calls of each in order to be both successful and lawful.  North Carolina not only limits on each, but also on each breed.  So you have to be able to distinguish a mallard from a black duck from a pintail from a wood duck.  And do this while they fly at 40 mph in wind, rain, and cold.  Yes, it is not for the beginner.
I no longer look at duck hunting as a burden.  I see it as a challenge and a thrill.  While I know what I could see fly in the area I hunt, I still wait with anticipation for what may come down the flyway.  Did I get a drake (male) with vibrant colors, or did I bring down a hen (female).
While I consider myself, well, AWFUL at calling, it still sets my heart beating when I see a high flyer take a turn to my lame excuse for a ‘come back’ call and cup its wings for a landing in the decoy spread.  Oh, and the surprise when the universe is abuzz with honks and cackles from a large flock of Canadians can really pump the blood through your body.  My hunting buddy and I sat with excitement this weekend when two different flocks of geese decided to merge just in front of our blind.  One came in from 10 o’clock, the other from 2 o’clock to form a large group of low flying heavyweights in the waterfowl world, and we could hardly hear the shotguns fire from the riot they were causing.  Keep this part a secret, as it could ruin my reputation as a decent hunter…out of five shots between the two of us, all we got was feathers raining down upon us as the geese continued over top as if we were more of a nuisance then they were.  (I will keep my hunting buddy’s name anonymous for the same reason, so we will just call him Adam for this story).
We did bring in some birds though.  One of which has to be classified as one of the most beautiful waterfowl in the world.  In fact, a quick Google search of the words beautiful and waterfowl had this one listed in several lists.  While most hunters in the know will list the mandarin as the most beautiful duck, the wood duck is listed right there with it.  Another fact, the wood duck is so proliferate in North Carolina, it is called the Carolina duck in most of North America.  It’s green, black, and white crest and magnificently painted bill of red, yellow, black, and white makes it stand out against most others.  They prefer the swampy areas, are congenial, and have a unique call compared to others.  A whistler, it has a short, high pitched blast and can be heard from a good distance away.  It is not the ‘quack’ most associate with ducks.
Fortunately, as I have come to love the waterfowler’s life, I have been able to experience this creature one on one.  Just another reason to participate with nature.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Here is the inaugural issue of BowAmerica, the e-Magazine for Bowhunters.  Subscriptions are free so be sure to sign up in order to get your issue each month.  Each issue contains stories on traditional, compound, bowfishing, women bowhunters, target and competition archery, wild game recipes, how-to and do-it-yourself, bowhunting life, and starting with February's issue, habitat and game management as it pertains to bowhunting.