I have a friend who is a contractor, who likes to hunt black ducks. He handles his downed birds with as much grace as a piece of scrap lumber. Not that he doesn’t appreciate his birds, he does, and he is a simple, but effective cook. But as much as I enjoy gunning with him, he and I are two different animals, if you will.
I hold my birds in utter awe - no, I don’t mean that - I watch in utter awe, when any bird I have shot at falls from the sky. After making a retrieve that would fill most dogs with envy, I sit in my blind holding the duck like a rare jewel, stroking its feathers, and turning it over and over in my hands. I have taken something from the skies of New England; a duck that has flown thousands of miles and will now be stuffed with sauerkraut, wrapped in bacon and roasted in my oven at 350 for 1 hr, 45 minutes. It is a miraculous moment and I bow and give thanks to the Maker.
I use to think black ducks never came into my spread because they did not like the way my decoys looked. Now, years later, I know better. I have watched pair after pair of wary black ducks fly over a flock of six-hundred real black ducks swimming, feeding, preening and quacking their heads off, only to land two-hundred yards away in a ditch. I can sympathize with the giant flock because I know just how they feel. Hurt, rejected, and frustrated for starters. You can throw in confusion and utter despair but keep that to yourself. Duck hunters don’t have to share everything...
The season long over, I have but one black duck left in my freezer along with lots of “road-kill” venison. That’s another story that I can’t get into now. Right now, I am dreaming of a black duck that pulled away from a big flock flying across the marsh. He has seen my three LL Bean cork decoys bobbing in the breeze and my hand-carved African zebra-wood call is to my lips. I utter the hail call, feeding chatter and then three quiet hen quacks… He swings down wind and then turns into the breeze, fighting his way to my decoys with all the speed of a sparrow in a tremendous gale. Suddenly, he is there – hovering at twenty yards over my blocks! I rise, mount, and fire my gun three times. My duck wheels, climbs into orbit, and disappears over the horizon, passing a flock of migrating starlings on his way, at warp speed. But like I said to the eight-point buck that walked past my stand unscathed this season, just wait until next year, my friend. Just wait until next year…
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?
Since this is my first column for Shotgun Life, a bit of background is probably appropriate. I was raised in New England and have been involved in the outdoor sports since a young man. At one time I wrote a weekly column for a newspaper about hunting and fishing. In recent years I have been in the shooting sports industry as an industry professional managing a company that manufactured sporting goods and imported shotguns from Italy. I just recently decided to return to my first love of photojournalism.
Although my first shooting trip to South America took place in 1972 I didn't get to shoot in Uruguay until 1997. In retrospect I hate that I missed shooting in that country and enjoying those wonderful people for so many decades. This had been a winter trip, so the duck and partridge seasons were in full swing. Of course, it was summer back here in the USA.
I had never thought of Mexico as a bird-hunting destination, but spending a week there has really changed my perspective. Some of the most exciting and fun hunting I've experienced recently can be had out of Los Moiches, Mexico where a variety of bird hunting is available along with excellent fishing and train touring as well.