Volume 14, Issue 36 ~ September 7 - September 13, 2006

The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle

Fire in the Hole!

Fall hunting is exploding

Fire in the hole! is the military warning that a fuse has been lit and detonation is imminent. Here in Chesapeake Country, we have fire in the hole. The fall explosion is on its way. Bursts of tree color, the sound of whistling wings, high Vs of migrating waterfowl and the haunting call of the goose are all coming down on the Bay.

Hunters have been tossing in their sleep for months awaiting fall’s arrival. September is the opening of dove and the early duck and goose seasons. All of these have Tidewater traditions going back much further than the history of smokeless powder.

In Season: Doves …

Dove shoots hosted on the opening week of the season are as much social events as hunting excursions. Some are political gatherings, others extended family events and more are reunions of close friends who have shared this sporting bond for much of their lives.

The popularity of these dove hunts has spurred a commercial effort, as well. Farms that have the good fortune to be in the favored migratory route of the birds hold for-fee dove shoots combined with crab feasts, pig roasts and bull roasts and sporting clays competitions.

It’s just as well there are alternative activities planned, because the migrating mourning dove is a fickle creature. Large flocks of birds are currently trading about the Maryland countryside, but they can quickly be gone like yesterday.

Just the hint of a cold front and a helpful north wind can move thousands of birds far into the next state overnight. The dove’s cruising speed is about 65 miles an hour. Of course, thousands can show up from the north on that same wind, which gives the hunts a luck-of-the-draw atmosphere.

Even if there are a lot of birds, problems remain. Think about the difficulty of hitting a small, feathered missile approaching from an unexpected direction at near the velocity of a major league pitch. As it closes, it jinks, dives, climbs and then curves away from you all the while accelerating to even higher speeds.

That can explain why at the end of the day, we dove hunters often have a dazed look, a lot of empty shells on the ground and not much else to show for it. But we love the challenge and the company of our fellow hunters.

Early Ducks …

The early duck season is also cause of some unusual human activity. If you happen to see a neighbor holding a broom to his shoulder like a gun and trying vainly to point at the bumblebees buzzing around in the back yard, do not dial the local mental health hotline. It’s just an avid teal hunter practicing moves for the season that will start mid-month.

The teal is a small, beautifully plumaged duck that is generally the first species to pass down Chesapeake Bay in the great southern migration. They come to the Tidewater in three flavors — green wing, blue wing and cinnamon — and are an uncommonly agile bird.

Flying in small, compact flocks, their maneuvers when alerted are spectacular. For birds that can manage abrupt 90-degree turns en masse, the odds are strongly in favor of their coming out on top in any encounter with inexperienced wing shots.

Resident Canada Geese …

The resident goose season also comes the first of the month. A warming climate, favorable habitat and plentiful food have changed the migrating habits of growing numbers of Canada geese in the Tidewater. We have become host to an uncomfortably increasing population of over 65,000 of these creatures.

This early season helps relieve the stress these flocks place on their habitat, and it provides challenging sport to hunters willing to make extensive preparations to pursue them. They are not an easy conquest, but they are delicious.

Fine Fishing

All this is happening while Bay fishing for rockfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel keeps getting better each day. With colder weather, we should also soon see the arrival of larger ocean-running striped bass looking to take advantage of the masses of baitfish moving down the estuaries toward the deeper water of the Chesapeake.

Maryland outdoors people know there will be no better time to enjoy their favorite activities. It’s nature’s most spectacular season. Join us.

The deadline approaches for signing up for the class Light-Tackle Fishing on the Chesapeake for beginning to intermediate anglers taught by Dennis Doyle at Anne Arundel Community College on September 16. Register for class AHC318: 410-777-2325.

Fish Are Biting

The rockfish bite continues to get better. Trolling medium-sized bucktails, soft baits and red surgical hose is the most popular and successful technique to catch them. Focus on the channel edges and the mouths of the tributaries. Casting poppers such as Chug Bugs and Smackits to breaking fish can also be one of the more exciting ways to get your limit of rock and the bluefish that are often mixed in with them.

Trolling medium-sized Clark Spoons at about four to five knots is the recipe for Spanish mackerel, and blues as well. Fishing bloodworms and grass shrimp on the oyster beds will get you as many perch and spot as you want.

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