Sea duck population peaking now's the time for good hunting

Arundel outdoors

November 05, 1995|By Lonny Weaver | Lonny Weaver,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Despite last Wednesday's daylong rain, Kermit Henning, Tim Flannery, Glen Burnie's Tom Elliott and I joined Claiborne guide Norm Haddaway for a dynamite sea duck hunt off of Cook's Point.

Haddaway, who operates Chesapeake Expeditions guide service (410-745-5682), is probably one of the most innovative and most experienced sea duck guide operating on the Chesapeake Bay.

To my knowledge he was the first sea ducker to have shunned strings of cheap, plastic milk carton-based decoys and painted wooden blocks for high-quality traditional decoys.

Local sea duck populations are just about at their peak right now. Common scoters moved into the Chesapeake area around the first week of October, and surf scoters followed about two weeks later. Just recently whitewing scoters moved into the area and this week old squaws began appearing. We bagged all four species and saw huge numbers of them.

When Canada goose numbers began to shrink in the early '80s, Haddaway and a handful of other enterprising guides began to offer combination sea duck/goose hunts to boost business. Generally, you would hunt Canada geese in the morning then top off the afternoon with sea ducks.

"My father and uncles were the first to regularly gun sea ducks back in the early 1960s and they did it to fill in the gap between rock fishing and the start of the regular duck and goose seasons," Haddaway said.

These ducks come into your decoy spreads very fast and low. So low, that they are often right on top of you before you see them. Their flight speed is so fast that a gunner commonly will swing on the lead bird and drop the third or fourth in line.

"I tell people gunning with me to put the front sight on the bill of the duck, pull the trigger and keep swinging," Haddaway said. "Lots of people get too far ahead of them because they're so fast, but most shoot and then stop swinging the gun."

Another thing that makes shooting so difficult is the fact that you are trying to shoot while standing or sitting in a bobbing boat. I try to overcome this obstacle by waiting until the last possible moment to mount my shotgun and fire in one motion. Haddaway instructs shooters to stand when they shoot.

If I were a millionaire, I'd use bismuth shot, which is non-toxic and a billion times more efficient and humane than steel. Bismuth is essentially identical in performance to lead, but runs around $30 for a box of 25. You can go through a box of shotgun shells quickly when gunning for sea ducks.

The majority of us then are stuck with using steel shot, which of all the tricks played on waterfowl through the ages, is the dirtiest one of all, in my opinion. A sinful number of waterfowl are crippled and lost to steel shot every hunting season.

I began the soggy morning with a broken box of BBs and brought down the first duck of the day, an old squaw, at about 40 yards. Next, two birds fell to the same load, but when I broke open a new box of 12-gauge, 3-inch magnum steel #2 shot I noticed an increase in wounded ducks that required a finishing shot.

The ducks were so numerous that we were done in under two hours. So, after a quick run back to the dock at Tilghman Island, we packed away our hunting gear, switched from the open top gunning boat to a conventional covered Bay charter fishing boat and knocked off limits of striped bass. "Blast and cast" is a popular option offered by our guide throughout the fall fishing-sea duck seasons.

The sea duck season continues through Jan. 20 with a daily limit of five.

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