Thursday, December 4, 2008
When a small craft advisory becomes a gale warning...
The hardest thing about trying to get great friends down for eider hunting is that vacation time doesn't always mesh with mother nature. Today, we discovered that is always great to have another plan and in my opinion, a few ducks are better than none at all...
For some time now, my friends Sniper and J-Dog had been trying to set aside a day that would not only work for them but also me. We had thrown around dates, checked vacation schedules, and exchanged a trillion phone calls. The day of reckoning would be December 4th, and all of us agreed to keep our fingers crossed.
Over the course of this week, I had been noticing that the National Weather Service had been changing the extended forecast for the worst while my buddy Snipper had been watching every other forecast in great spirits and optimism. Newsflash, I rely on the weather buoy and the forecast that corresponds with it, so Sniper wasn't selling me on anything. It was going to blow and our chances for a safe hunt were in my eyes diminishing with each link to the weather service website. But I had a hunch we could pull of a quick couple of hours first thing before the tide turned and the wind increased. So I informed Sniper to meet me at the landing no later than 5:45 a.m. and be ready for a quick morning.
With a three hour drive, Sniper and J-Dog managed to be right on time. I had already launched the boat and warmed up the outboard. The wind was pumping from the southwest and I began thinking about evacuating plan A and moving to plan B. But I wanted to put the guys onto some great gunning, not just gunning.
We motored from the marina and entered the reach only to find some substantial seas as the tide slapped against the wind. Spray was flying, the boat was handling the circumstances but these conditions were beginning to provide some great insight into how difficult our hunt would be to how any continued effort might lend itself to becoming dangerous. I turned the boat around, headed southwest back to the landing in the face of the 25 mph plus winds and found shelter in the channel, east of the marina. Plan B had officially become in order, but we again would have to face the wind battling the tide for a short while. However, there would be less water under the hull and the chop became more manageable as we forced ourselves towards a cove that provided some needed shelter. Within minutes we arrived, set up two separate lines of eider and scoter decoys running parallel in a southwest/northeast direction and anchored the boat just upwind of the spread.
Red sky in the morning...
After a few sunrise photos and some distant buzzing by some old squaws, we found the gunning sparingly at best. Every so often some goldeneyes would pass to the west, or some buffleheads keeping their distance from the eider decoys. Then about one hour after legal shooting, Sniper fired upon a hen coot and dispatched it immediately. That one shot forced many on the western side of the bay to scatter, but the promise of more ducks seemed a tad short.
The wind obviously had an immense effect on the ducks as they battled the wind if they flew high and the other ducks acted weary of our boat swaying west, then east as the sturdy southwest wind gave little relent. Then a slough of ducks approached from the north and had little intention of turning, after getting the okay for shooting as they all were ducks, the boys launched a spray of steel skyward at the closest intruder. I knew this what something special as the bird began to fall in demise. Once again this year I lay witness to the harvest of a black duck over eider decoys. During opening weekend, I had brought down a young drake and had commented on it in "Amazing, truly amazing..."
J-Dog takes credit for this special feat, and I explained to him that for me, a black duck is a prize duck to be appreciated. Not to downplay the sea ducks I love, but nothing seems more challenging to me than the black mallard. And to get one over my duck hunting boat, that then becomes quite rare!
Just before I called the day at 11, the boys got a chance to fire at a group of surf scoters, aka patch head coots. I honestly believed they were a bit out of range but my wishes were neglected as shots rang out and one fell instantly. Shortly after retrieving the duck, the boys got buzzed again by the remaining three with no results, and finally by one more that survived the gauntlet for another day.
Pick up took no time and the sail back to the landing gave us wind and tide in our favor. Shortly after loading my Lund onto the trailer, we reconvened at my house to view the footage I had taken and made up a quick video in their honor.
I know I didn't take a shot, but to have great friends have an opportunity to sea duck hunt and have it recorded makes for quite an experience. Even though we didn't satisfy the limit, hunted in a gale force warning (only did we find this out once we got back), and retired early, I wouldn't change today for anything. We were safe and shot well...