Volume XI, Issue 51 ~ December 18-24, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar

The Luck of the Draw

A good friend and hard-core waterfowler sent me a Hemingway quote that reads, “When you have shot one bird flying you have shot all birds flying. They are all different and they fly in different ways but the sensation is the same and the last one is as good as the first.”

It was easier for him to relate to Papa’s prose as his opening day of the duck season’s last leg turned out far better than mine. Oh, I saw plenty of birds, and they showed interest in my rig and that of Willy Agee, spread across a small creek off the Choptank River. We just didn’t shoot any.

After the golden marsh softened its reflective daybreak glow and streaks of pink blotted the frost-filled morn, scores of mallards, some teal and black ducks made busy among the airways. Our blind was abuzz with energy, from the dogs and us. Like others who ply outdoors skills, we craved the moment when anticipation, a fine tonic in itself, is supplanted by raging adrenaline. There can’t be anything more invigorating for tired bones and cluttered, lazy brain synapses than that boost of high-octane chemical.

Duck hunting is rich in such potential. Yet as in other pursuits, it contains an odd pairing when missed opportunities simultaneously haunt and humor your psyche. These seemingly incongruous emotions can in a single minute have you curse the event yet laugh at the cause.

In what was perhaps our only real chance of the hunt, four blacks skimmed across the top of the blind, killable no doubt. But our attention was diverted by the youthful nervousness of a still-learning pup testing her newfound freedoms and the patience of her handler.

Then came the real torture — sprinkled with amazement. The geese got up and started to trade between the farm feeding fields and the water. Our spot was along that main corridor. As many as 300 geese, mostly in packs of 30 or 40 birds, honked and dipped and fluttered above us.

Then the descent came. First it was a small group of four, gliding in like a floating diamond of feathers. Almost immediately, larger groups lilted to the spot, coming in droves, squawking furiously, feet extending like tentacles to the watery landing strip. The gentle swoosh curiously resounded and echoed off the trees.

All told, perhaps as many as six dozen honkers splashed within range of our blind, and all we could do was watch in wonder, practice our calling, snap some photos and coax the ramped-up dogs. And of course laugh and curse repeatedly. As if scripted by some warped, feathered jokester, goose season wasn’t slated to open back up for two more days.

Birds Are Flying
Earlier opening-day reports noted many more ducks in the Maryland marshes than last month. Such big river ducks as canvasbacks and scaup have massed in the open rivers such as the Wye, Choptank, Patuxent and Chester.

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Last updated December 18, 2003 @ 2:59am.