Bud's Hunting Adventure by Bud Halfermalz
A Duck Hunters Dream
This is a story about a duck hunt that duck hunters rarely get to experience and more often than not can only dream about it. This hunt took place on Thursday January 23, 2003.
Let me back up to the day before to set the stage. I drove down from Charlotte to the Outer Banks early that Wednesday morning. I was hunting with Outer Banks Waterfowl at their Herring Shoals marsh location. By the time I got to throw some decoys in the water it was 11:00 am. Vic Berg, owner of Outer Banks Waterfowl, was already out guiding his hunting party for the day when I got there. The wind was hard out of the north and was really pushing the water out of the north end of the sound. Because of the low water Vic, who was hunting Pintail Point, left his decoys on shore in the marsh so as to lighten the load going back to the boat launch that evening. The forecast for the next day were more strong winds out of the north and six to eight inches of snow most likely coming in the morning hours. For once the weather forecast was right.
I was staying with Vic and Ellen Berg at their beautiful house in Kitty Hawk. The plan for Thursday was for Vic, Ross Hawkins (a mutual friend who lives at the Outer Banks) and myself to slip out to Pintail Point in the morning and see if we could take a couple of ducks. Four AM came early that morning and we already had a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Vic got up but begged off, as he had been on the go with his guide service everyday since the season reopened in early December and really needed the rest. Leaving Vic behind, I was off to the coffee house to meet Ross and from there to the boat launch at Oregon Inlet.
Ross and I, along with our two Chesapeake’s (Zeke & Sassy who are father & daughter), were in for a struggle to get to Pintail Point. We were at a low tide, the wind was hard out of the north at 25-30 knots and the snow had intensified. We proceeded to load the boat with guns, ammo and bags. Anyone who’s familiar with the boat launch at Oregon Inlet will understand when I say we could have used a ladder to get down into the boat.
The four of us went off into the darkness. The spotlight was useless because of the blowing snow but because we were at low tide and it had been snowing for several hours the shorelines and sand bars were covered up white and actually told us where the main channels were as we weaved our way out. We only had to get out of the boat once to get across a shallow part of the channel. We got to within 100 yards of the blind at Pintail Point and had to stop because we ran out of water. From there we carried everything to the blind.
Because Vic had left his decoy rig on the marsh the night before, we decided to use some of them instead of carrying my decoys up to the blind. While I took the boat down the marsh to find some water to anchor it, Ross went ahead and started putting decoys out. As it turned out, it did not take long as we had no water in front of the blind. The area in front of the blind was a mantle of white for as far as you could see. We ended up putting a half dozen pintail, a dozen widgeon, a dozen gadwall and three or four teal decoys out on the snow covered sound. All the while we were doing this the wind and snow continued to intensify. The work was done and we were ready to hunt.
The blind on Pintail Point sits on the north side of the Herring Shoals Marsh and faces to the north. On a normal day you would have a big spread of decoys sitting in front of you. As I mentioned before, we had no water at all and our field of vision was limited to 50 yards down wind, at best. You could not look into the wind as the snow was coming so hard and fast you were forced to close your eyes. The wind chill was in the five to ten degree range.
Ross and I did not know what to expect but we both agreed if we were going to shoot any ducks they would have to come upwind across the marsh. We knew there were a lot of pintails, some gadwalls and a few teal around. Would they fly?
Legal hunting time came and went with no action. With the snow blowing and the low ceiling it was still to dark to see anything. That changed about 7:15 am, when we say a couple of flocks of birds off to our left and another flock to our right heading for the Bodie Island refuge. I’m not sure how they knew where they were going. The wind and snow continued to intensify. Zeke and Sassy took refuge behind the blind out of the wind waiting patiently for some action. They were both covered in a mantle of white and the only reason you knew they were Chesapeake’s were those big yellow eyes staring at us.
A short time later, we saw a couple of birds coming across the marsh directly at us. At it turned out we were standing up in the blind to stretch and warm up a little. With the snow and wind, the birds were still on a string right at us. As they got within range, we could tell they were both drake pintails. Two shots and we had two pintails on the ground. One pintail hit the ground right next to the blind and the white Chessies became brown blurs for the retrieve. The second pintail skied and the wind carried it back into the marsh some 50 to 60 yards. In fact, it was almost out of sight when it hit the infamous needle grass. While I kept a line on where it came down, Ross took the dogs back in to the marsh to look. When he got down wind from where we thought the bird hit the ground, he turned into the wind and started working the dogs backs towards the blind. For anyone who hunts these types of marshes, they know it is almost impossible to find a downed bird in the needle grass without a dog. It was only a couple of minutes and 10 to 15 yards when Sassy got the scent of the bird and made a dive into the grass coming up within a second with our pintail. Aren’t Chessies great!!!!
Now we really had to be on our toes as we had just filled our pintail limit for the day. Because of the weather conditions we had a three to five second window from the time we first spotted the birds to identify and shoot. Almost like hunting in the fog. We also had a theory now on why the ducks would come to us. It wasn’t because of the decoys because they were covered in snow with just their heads visible. We surmised that the ducks were looking for structure to guide them across the marsh as they made their way to the Bodie Island refuge. I keep harping on the weather but when we stood up we looked like two tall snow covered bushes.
For the next couple of hours this is exactly what we did and it worked like a charm. Flock after flock of ducks would come across the marsh directly at us. Most were no more than twenty yards up and if you hadn’t guessed it by now they were all pintails. This late in the season they are fairly easy to identify as they have their long pins for which they are famous. It was truly a site to see these sleek birds up close and personnel.
By this time Ross and I had almost resigned ourselves to the fact that maybe pintails were the only ducks we would see this day. We must have gotten a little complacent when in the next instant a squadron of greenwing teal blitzed us. They came out of the blinding snow and back into it so fast we didn’t have time to raise the guns. Were we going to get some action other than looking at pintails? Zeke and Sassy were hoping so because once again they had taken on a thick white mantle of snow.
I hadn’t mentioned this before but every hour or so we would go out and get the decoys out of their snowy cocoons and prop them back up on top of the many snow banks than had formed during the morning. The tide was also coming up and we were beginning to see patches of slush and water where we could place some decoys.
It was now almost 9:30 and Ross and I had each pulled the trigger once. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement coming down the shoreline toward us. The birds were flying low almost level with the top of the marsh. It was a pair of teal and they flew right in front of the blind. We had to turn around and shoot into the snow but two shots later we had two teal down on the snow. The dogs were off in a white blur to make a quick retrieve without getting their feet wet. All of a sudden it seemed that teal were everywhere and we took four more over the next couple of hours. Ross also made a nice shot on a lone black duck that tried to sneak by us during this flurry of activity. The black fell back in the needle grass but once again the Chessies came to the rescue and delivered the bird to hand. Something I had never seen before and it happened twice- teal landing in the snow right next to the decoys. Let me rephrase that. They landed right next to the decoys head as the rest of the decoy was buried in the snow. I think the weather really had these little birds totally confused.
It was now 11:30 but it was still snowing and blowing as hard as it had been all morning. We had nine birds in the blind and it was agreed to give it one more hour to see if we could complete the limit. I mentioned to Ross that their had to be at least one flock of gadwalls out their somewhere and we should hold off on the teal. With that said we made one last trip out to rescue the decoys and make them look presentable again. Some were buried in the snow while others were covered with a thick layer of slush.
Yes, the pintails were still flying and we did pass up a couple of opportunities on teal but believe this or not five minutes before our appointed quitting time we spotted a flock of ducks come out of the snow in the center of the marsh and were more than likely heading for the Bodie Island refuge across the bay. They were flying lower than the pintail had been all morning and they were too big for teal. To our surprise when the flock came to the edge of the marsh they made a beautiful left turn and came right to the decoys. Before the snow settled there were three birds down and one last time those white Chesapeakes turned into brown blurs to make the retrieves. By the way they were gadwalls.
All good things must come to an end. It was time to pack up and head back to the boat launch. We picked up Vic’s decoys and put them back on the marsh to once again be covered in snow hoping that someone may be able to get back out tomorrow. The wind and snow was still relentless but with the tide up and the wind at our backs the trip back was uneventful.
We had been out in this blizzard for more than eight hours and enjoyed every minute of it. With the temperature hovering in the teens and the forecast for more cold overnight probably meant that my duck hunting would be over two days shy of the seasons close as I suspected the sound would be frozen solid in the morning. Just to make sure we were back at the boat launch next morning at 5:00 am and my prognosis was correct.
On the positive side. What a way to end the season! We took some nice ducks under very harsh conditions and the two dogs had a great workout, which should carry them into next season. I have been hunting ducks for forty five plus years and this will rank right up their as one of the most memorable I have enjoyed especially with great company and mans best friend at our side. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy every day I’m in a blind hunting ducks. This one was just special.
My thanks to Vic and Ellen Berg at Outer Banks Waterfowl for this duck hunting opportunity. You can enjoy the same. Check it out because duck season is only nine months away.
Outer Banks Waterfowl.
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