Wingshooting

Spring shotgun hunting is almost an oxymoron. Snow geese in the cold, wet, Dakota wind is one wild, sometimes productive option. Even better is shooting 20 ducks in a morning, a half dozen upland birds at midday and a few hundred doves and pigeons in the evening — without the cold and wind. You can do that in the spring − in Argentina.

This cutover cornfield hunt in rural Orangeburg County, South Carolina could take place just about any agricultural area. The Canada goose population continues to increase everywhere, which results in liberal bag limits for wingshooters. Goose hunters have to spend time scouting the field before any sunrise hunting plans can be executed, and while there is no guarantee that shots will be fired, it helps to know that if conditions cooperate then a box or two of shotgun shells is warranted.

Rather than hunt alone, the Old Duck Hunter said he needed “a good pair of eyes” to share his blind on this cold December day.

Almost as if by feel, he maneuvered the ancient, battered aluminum boat through dark winding channels. His mind’s eye remembered these familiar twists, snags and channels after 70 years of running this backwater. These eyes dodged trees that weren’t even growing when he hunted this swamp as a child. Ahead, something lifted from the water with whistling squeals.

Every March in the Red Hills Region around the bobwhite quail hunting capitol of Thomasville, Georgia, an invitation-only field trial has taken place for the past 36 years that celebrates the rich tradition of African-American bird dog trainers who have been thriving on the local plantations for generations.

If you’ve strolled the tents at the Southern Side by Side or the grassy vendor row of Orvis’ Sandanona Game Fair you’ve seen ruddy Gregor McCluskey manning the BraeVal collection of sporting apparel – the Buffalo Plaids, Shepherd’sTweeds and Uplander Gun Checks.

Safari Club International, long-known for big-game hunting and conservation programs, is making a significant push into wingshooting, which we expect to accelerate next year with the appointment of Paul Babaz as the organization’s next President.

Step outside, smell wood smoke and your brain screams FIRE! While most of us would rush to call 9-1-1, Elmore DeMott is more likely to grab her camera and head for the nearest quail plantation.

Ms. DeMott is the most prominent chronicler of “prescribed burns.” These managed fires, a staple of Southern quail plantations, are like man-made lightning that’s used to nurture the habitat and reduce wildfire risk.

Story | Photos by John N. Felsher

“Shoot,” I yelled as birds exploded in all directions from thick reeds just a few feet from us. “There’s another one. Fire! Here comes a straggler. Get him.”

In seconds, my son Steven pumped out three rounds from his Remington Model 870 20 gauge, scoring a double. More birds flushed from the dense cover while others raced into the canes to escape on foot as Steven tried to reload as fast as he could. Hastily dropping one shell into the chamber, Steven nailed another bird struggling to get airborne.

“No” is the favorite word of Englishman Robin Watson when it comes to teaching his British Labrador Retrievers their gamebird craft.

“I train a lot around the word ‘no’ because it’s like in the wild when animals growl at each other,” he explained.

The acrid smell of two-stroke exhaust mixing with the sweet smell of the cedar transported me back to a bygone era – a time of wooden decoys and boats and huge duck numbers.

The boat was a cedar sneak boat over 50 years old. In the water 200 yards distant, the decoys were mostly hand-carved wooden blocks. Although not as old as the boat, the decoys were still carved with the same care of the decoys of old.

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