Capt. David Bitters is a writer/photographer and a striped bass/sea duck hunting guide from Massachusetts. His photos and essays have appeared in over one-hundred magazines. Capt. Bitters is currently finishing his first book, "A Sportsman's Fireside Reader – Tales of Hunting, Fishing, and Other Outdoor Pleasures." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also write him at P.O. Box 366 Duxbury, MA 02331.
I have always said that if God wanted me to shoot an over under, He would have made my eyes that way. Actually, it might have been my Dad who said that first. He was a straight-shooting Yankee and I assure you, both his eyes were side by side his whole life. Dad hunted with one double-gun for his ninety-two years. It was a second-hand, 12 Ga. Tobin that he bought from a market gunner named Lincoln, in Accord, Massachusetts, back in the 1930’s. I still have that old fowling piece, and even gunned ducks with it myself in my early teens. Some day, I am going to have it restored just like new.
Me? I grew up with a 20 Ga. double in my hands. It was my own gun and I got it for Christmas when I was ten years old, back in 1972. I hunted with it until 2009, when I pulled up on a pair of incoming woodies and it failed to fire - for the first time in thirty-seven years. My Dad paid $80 for my little double at F.W. Woolworth’s when I was nearing my tenth birthday. He wrapped it up and put it under the Christmas tree and I had to wait until Christmas morning to open it. The first thing I shot and killed with it was an empty milk carton out behind the house. I started my writing career that day, and have recorded every game bird and animal I have ever taken with that gun. I remember well my first grouse, woodcock, pheasant, quail, black duck, mallard, eider, rabbit and a whole mess of other game I have hunted with that wonderful, little double because I have written it all down through the years.
My side by side fit me like a glove when I was a kid, and it grew into an extension of my body. 28” inch barrels, 14” LOP, and say what you want about a cheap double imported from Brazil, but it closed up tight as a drum. It still does. I was so comfortable with my double that it gave me a lot of confidence growing up. I remember going 21 for 21 on clays thrown from a hand trap in the sand pit, using only the rear barrel. And that meant a lot to a young boy coming of age, especially with all of his friends watching wide-eyed, and then talking it up at school. Word got around that I was a shooter and hunter and that I was a pretty good shot. I walked a little taller in the hallways between classes and kids looked at me a little differently from that day forward.
My double has seen a lot of hard use and is scratched, pitted and worn almost beyond recognition now. But if it could talk, it would tell you about all the places it’s been, including duck blinds on the Massachusetts coast, pheasants in Ohio, grouse, woodcock and snowshoe hare in Maine and New Hampshire, cottontails and beagles in Indiana, deer in New York, and a whole bunch of other places I’ve had the pleasure of carrying it.
I know you will think I am crazy, but I’m going to find a gunsmith that won’t laugh at me when I bring it by. I know it’s a cheap gun, not worth anything to anyone, but I’m going to ask him to rebuild it for me from the ground up. But one thing I am not going to have him change. I want him to leave the scratches and the worn, smooth spots just as they are. And I hope he will understand.
One day last season, another hunter and myself put up a flock of seven-hundred black duck as we cut across the bay. That’s one continuous flock, all at once, of seven-hundred birds. Earlier, that morning, we put up another flock of two-hundred black duck. This has been the norm for many years where we gun on the Massachusetts coast.
According to the USFW, DU, and DW, the black duck is in decline. But from what I have seen in the past five years, you would never know it. The biologists tell us this is because the black ducks have shifted their range and we’re just seeing more ducks because they’re more concentrated. I remain skeptical. From my observations, I would say the black duck is thriving on the Massachusetts coast.
It bothers me to no end that our Canadian brothers can shoot four black ducks per day, but as soon as those same ducks enter the United States, we can only shoot one black duck per day. Why not get together with our Canadian brothers and level the playing field? Two black ducks per day, no matter where you gun. Of course, if you’re a Canadian, that would mean your daily bag limit of black duck would be reduced by fifty percent. Turn the tables and see how Americans would react if another country imposed such a restriction on us. What would Americans say then?
Eider duck numbers, everyone agrees, are way down. Maine to Massachusetts, we have all seen a huge reduction in birds in the past three years. Prior to 2003, we were seeing 2,000-5,000 flight birds per morning on the Massachusetts coast. Didn’t matter where you were gunning, the birds were thicker than flies. Three years later, we count ourselves lucky indeed, if we see 200-300 birds per morning!
The USFW and Tufts University are two organizations trying to figure it all out. I’m sure others are involved as well, but they need to toot their horn a little more and let us know what they are doing. I’d love to read full-length articles in magazines such as Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Outdoor Life, Massachusetts Wildlife, among many others, telling us about the problem and what biologists are finding out. On Cape Cod, thousands of eiders were found washed up on the shores in the summer and fall of 2007. Why? What can Sportsmen do to help?
Whatever happened to the media frenzy about Avian bird flu? “It’s definitely coming,” “get ready,” “huge death toll in American population possible,” were just a few of the threats. Warnings to waterfowlers were posted in all the hunting magazines. “Wear rubber gloves,” “wear surgical masks.” Cook your duck meat to a charred crisp!!! Forgive me, but I have to rank the Avian Bird Flu epidemic in America right up there with Global Warming and Darwinism. You don’t still believe in the big bang theory and that the human race came from monkeys, do you?