Sea ducks yield fast and furious action


November 12, 1995|By Lonny Weaver | Lonny Weaver,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In one continuous, seemingly effortless motion, Norm Haddaway brought his 10-gauge pump action shotgun to his shoulder, swung the barrel on a fast departing whitewing scoter and fired. The duck fell to the surface of the Choptank River.

"See, all you have to do is put the front bead on the duck's bill, pull the trigger and keep the gun swinging," he instructed.

Sykesville's Kermit Henning, Taneytown area waterfowl buff Tim Flannery, Tom Elliott and I had been blasting holes into the rain-laden sky throughout the morning and we were still far short of our combined 20-duck daily bag limit.

I recharged my Remington 11-87 autoloading shotgun with the last three rounds of ammo remaining from my first box of 25 and had but three ducks to show for the expense. Shooting sea ducks is like trying to bag a limit of pheasant-sized mourning doves while standing on a rocking chair.

Haddaway is the grandson of an Eastern Shore market hunter and one of the premier duck guides operating on the Atlantic coast. Thanks to a series of national magazine articles and George Howard Gillelan's classic book, "Gunning for Sea Ducks," Haddaway is largely responsible for popularizing sea ducking throughout the Chesapeake area.

"Actually, my father and uncles began going out after them back in the early '60s to have something to do between the end of the fishing seasons and the start of the duck and goose seasons," he said.

When Norm was a teen-ager, his father got him started in the sea duck guiding business with visiting sportsmen looking for something different to round out the hunting season.

"These ducks have thicker feathers and bigger bones than regular ducks," Haddaway said. That's why he recommends magnum loads of steel BBs and, because of the ducks' great speed and the fact that that you are shooting from a bobbing boat, three boxes of ammo.

When using bismuth shot, which is far superior to steel loads and quite similar to lead shot performance, I like No. 4x for these and other ducks. A modified choke is a good choice, but the tighter shooting full choke is a bit better.

Following Haddaway's shot, we chased down a tribute to nontoxic steel shot -- a crippled duck -- then netted Haddaway's old squaw. Before we could get the open topped gunning boat repositioned among the five dozen decoys set out in rows and forming a rough square, two black scoters brazenly sat down in the middle of the spread.

Then, just as we readied our guns for the next flight, six whitewings broke from a larger flock and swept down.

Ten yards into the decoys, they flared as Flannery and I stood and emptied our guns into empty spaces.

We bagged the four common species of sea ducks that winter here -- old squaw, black (or American) scoter, whitewing scoter, and surf scoter, which are concentrated in mind-boggling numbers around the areas of Tilghman Island, Poplar Island and Cook's Point. Because the regular duck season was closed, we were prevented from adding bluebills to our list, but they were also abundant.

The sea duck season continues through Jan. 20. Our regular duck season, which is going to be very good throughout the Bay area, as well as the Potomac River, runs from Nov. 17-24, then from Dec. 14 to Jan. 20.

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