Hunting sea ducks challenges gunners with wind, bird speed

Carroll outdoors

November 10, 1996|By Lonny Weaver | Lonny Weaver,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Boys, I swear I saw gravy dripping off those wing tips," bellowed Claiborne waterfowl guide Norm Haddaway as a flock of protected Canada geese flew out of shotgun range.

I had been looking forward to last Monday's sea-duck hunting trip with as much anticipation as an outdoorsman can muster. Norm Haddaway is one of the premier sea-duck guides working the mid-Bay area around Tilghman Island, and I've managed a memorable day with him annually for nearly a decade. With me were local sea-duck fans Kermit Henning, Bob Simmons, and Buck Perry.

Sea-ducking is like standing in a rocking chair while attempting to shoot pheasant-sized doves with a 50-mph tail-wind pushing them past the end of your shotgun barrel. The sport is just about as much pure fun as a person can stand in a single outing.

We left Knapp's Narrows in the dark of the morning, wedged between barrels of decoys, and made the run to a spot on the Choptank River we had gunned successfully last October.

Thankfully, Monday's hunt was carried on during a beautiful fall day. Last year, it rained in every direction, including straight up, or so it seemed.

"Amateurs and beginners usually use painted plastic milk or bleach bottles for decoys," Haddaway told us as he went about setting more than 140 decoys.

But, the professional hunter lectured, "I don't want ducks to just fly into my set. I want them to surrender. So, long ago I learned to use nothing but full-body decoys."

Even as Haddaway was setting out the strings of decoys, sea ducks began to pile into the mass of floating fakes. White wings, old squaws, American (or common) scoters and surf scoters are the sea-duck species that are found on the Chesapeake.

"A dozen of them are coming in behind us," Kermit Henning HTC announced in an excited voice, and we checked the steel-shot loads of BBs in our 12-gauge auto-loaders.

"Don't shoot that first one. Let him sit down, and the rest will follow him in," Haddaway advised.

The lead scoter set its wings and gently sat in the middle of the decoy spread. Moments later the rest of the ducks zoomed into the decoy set, and our guns began tossing empty cases.

"Gosh darn!" (or words to that effect), "we never pulled a feather," cried Haddaway. Lots of missing is typical of sea-ducking.

Haddaway advises clients to bring a minimum of three boxes of steel BBs or No. 2s. Bismuth shot, selling for about $22 a box at most local stores, is simply too costly.

Luckily, a source within the firearms industry told me last weekend, Federal will be introducing an affordable alternative to bismuth at this January's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT Show). The use of toxic lead shot is banned for most waterfowl hunting throughout the country.

A few hours into our hunt I needed a single duck to fill my daily limit, when a string of six made a big sweep and headed straight for our open-topped boat, skimming the water surface.

It was suggested that I be the only shooter, so I checked the load in my Remington 11-87 auto-loader and began tracking the fast approaching ducks.

The ducks flared just as they got into the range of my gun, so I brought the 12-gauge up quickly and swung the barrel past the leader. At the shot, the fourth duck in line splashed to the surface.

"Yep," Haddaway chuckled, as the rest of the gang rocked with laughter, "that's just the duck I would have picked out of that group, too."

The sea-duck season continues through Jan. 20, and the shooting historically remains great, right to the end. Call Norm Haddaway at (410) 745-5682 for hunt details and costs.

Great rockfishing at Liberty

The fall run of striped bass has started at Liberty Reservoir as large numbers of fish have been reported, mainly in the reservoir's upper portion. These fish are running between 16 and 39 inches. They are taking shiners, night-crawlers, and various spoons and plugs. Also, longtime anglers at the Nicodemus Road bridge are calling the crappie fishing there the best in the last 15 years.

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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