There are few bigger thrills than hunting for sea ducks


October 25, 1992|By LONNY WEAVER

Sea ducking, in case you have never enjoyed the thrill, is sort of like shooting pheasant-sized doves with a 40- or 50-mph tail wind behind them while you're standing on a rocking chair. It is just about as much pure fun as a person can stand in a single outing.

This will be only the fourth or fifth year that I have gone out after sea ducks, but I was hooked the moment a string of them zoomed past Norm Haddaway's boat.

I had been looking forward to that first outing with great anticipation, partly because of Haddaway's growing reputation as perhaps the country's premier sea duck guide, partly because of his reputation for unforgettable quotes and to see for myself if these ducks were as difficult to bag as rumor had it.

If I recall correctly, our party consisted of Frederick's Jim Gilford, Bob Gooch, up from Virginia, a friend of Haddaway's, Bob Simmons and me.

"At least once a week I take a day off from guiding and go hunting on my own with maybe a few friends," Haddaway said as he steered his boat out of Knapp's Narrows at Tilghman Island.

"Amateurs and beginners usually use painted bottles for decoys. You paint them black except for a square white strip and they do work.

"But, I don't want ducks to just fly into my set, I want them to surrender. So, I use nothing but full-body decoys nowadays," he said as he set his lines of decoys out in the mid-October waters of the Chesapeake.

Even as we were setting out the decoys, sea ducks began to pile into the mass of floating fakes. White wings, old squaws, scoters and surf scoters are the sea duck species that are found on the Chesapeake.

"A dozen are approaching from the rear," Gilford said.

"Don't shoot the first one . . . Let him sit down and the rest will follow him in," said the guide.

The lead scoter set its wings and gently sat on the glass-smooth water off Poplar Island. Moments later, the rest of the ducks zoomed into the decoy set, and our guns began tossing empties.

Lots of missing is typical of sea ducking. These ducks are on you before you know it. They come in quite low, usually in a single line and fast.

Though the limit is five a day, I strongly advise you to bring along at least three boxes of steel BBs or No. 2s. Use an improved cylinder or modified choke with your 12- or 10-gauge waterfowler and count yourself lucky if you go home with an unbattered shoulder and a couple of loaded shells rattling in the box.

Until recently, Haddaway was one of a small handful of bay area guides specializing in sea ducks. Since the fall rockfish season was put into place a few years ago, he has offered a "Cast and Blast" package consisting of rockfishing and sea ducking that is very popular.

"My father ran a bar in St. Michaels, and when I was 15 I began taking out sports who stopped in after a morning of goose or duck hunting," he said.

His grandfather was a market hunter, and Haddaway said, "In my younger, wilder days, I fed my share of ducks. My grandfather though, he was something. I remember his battery gun and three barrels of Crisfield decoys. I sure would like to know what happened to them because they'd be worth a fortune today. I guess they're the same place as the gun."

The sea duck season began on Oct. 9 and will continue through Jan. 20. If you have never tried it, I encourage you to correct the oversight, and I can't think of a better fellow to do it with than Haddaway. You can call him at (410) 745-5682.

Dove season recap

The first third of the three-part dove season concluded yesterday with mixed success in the area.

Late corn cutting operations and a cool September-October made this shoot purely a hit-or-miss affair. Weather predictions seem to indicate that any migrants may be long gone by the time the second shoot gets under way Nov. 18-27. Luckily there are plenty of resident doves around.

Though I have found cold-weather dove shooting prospects to be generally unpredictable, I seem to have better shoots during the midday hours. Unlike the more popular early hunt, hunting hours for the coming November shoot and Dec. 21-26 hunts are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset. You might try using slightly heavier loads for these cool-weather hunts.

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