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Volume xviii, Issue 1 ~ January 7 - January 13, 2010

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Fish are Biting

But it’s too cold to fish. Ice and extremely low temperatures are stopping even the hardiest anglers from venturing forth. When the weather finally breaks and the waters clear, pickerel should still be in good fettle. The yellow perch run was already in its early stages at the head of the Bay before the recent frigid blast. It’s the early bird that gets these golden goodies, and they’ll be running soon. White perch are still holding on their wintering grounds in the main Bay in 40 to 60 feet of water, usually over shell bottom. Deep jigging with shad darts or small-feathered lures tipped with bloodworms can fill a bucket with one of the best-eating fish on the Chesapeake. The rock piles at the Bay Bridge are a good place to start looking for these tasty treats.

In Season

What’s bad for fishing is great for waterfowling. Snow and frigid weather are moving lots of ducks and geese into the area. Hunters are reporting significant increases in waterfowl in the mid-Bay, and limits of both ducks and geese are becoming much more common than they have been to date. The late firearms season for whitetail deer is open January 8-9 in our area; expectations are high for a significant harvest.

Wing-Shooting for Beginners

Practice on clay pigeons, or the geese will outsmart you

The geese were descending with cupped wings. Spilling air as they rocked from side to side, the birds quickly lost altitude as they approached. For the longest time as they swung around us, high in the sky and eyeing our setup, they were well out of range. Then, much too suddenly, they were over decoys and almost on top of us with wings flaring out and feet extending. Someone yelled, “Get ’em.”

Awkwardly bursting up out of the darkness of our pit blind, we were momentarily blinded by bright sunlight. By the time we had regained our vision and shouldered our shotguns, we found ourselves swinging on birds that were gaining altitude fast. This was going to be difficult.

I swung out ahead of a bird exiting on my side of the group and fired. I could hear the sharp thwack of shot hitting feathers. The goose faltered. It fought to regain its balance as I covered it again and fired. This time the big bird collapsed. At the corner of my vision, I saw two other birds falling as shots thundered around me. Then silence.

“Didn’t think we were going to get any of those guys,” I said. “I wasn’t ready for them to get in range that fast.”

“That’s probably a good thing,” a companion replied. “If I start to think about it, I usually miss them.”

Everyone agreed.

Tricks of the Trade

Wing shooting can be a complicated and split-second affair. There really is no time to think about it while it’s happening. If you’ve got to figure out what to do while you’re doing it, it’s already too late.

At a range of 35 yards, you may have to shoot as far as seven feet in front of a bird moving at a right angle to you to bring it down. But just as it is seldom traveling at a perfect right angle and rarely at exactly 35 yards, it is probably also ascending or descending, accelerating or decelerating, drifting from whatever wind is blowing and definitely not flying in a straight line. The permutations are endless, and each one affects your aim.

Neither is the ammunition simple. A shotgun cartridge is constructed of a plastic tube that forms the body of the shell with a brass head enclosing one end. In the center of the cartridge head is the primer cap. This cap contains a chemical compound that combusts when struck sharply by the gun’s firing pin.

That combustion ignites the powder charge in the cartridge, which then pushes a plastic cup — bearing a quantity of small, round shot — out of the shell and down the barrel of the gun toward the intended target.

The shot charge, exiting the barrel, widens as it speeds across the distance. At its maximum effective range — approximately 35 yards for the non-toxic, steel shot commonly used in water fowling — the shot pattern spreads out to a diameter of about 36 inches. This pattern allows for some degree of error in pointing the gun, but not much.

A competent wing-shooter has to rely on practice to achieve any level of consistent performance. Trap, skeet and sporting clay shooting are shotgun games to sharpen and maintain a sportsperson’s skill.

Relying on gaining the necessary experience by shooting game in the field is a recipe for frustration. There is just not enough game available, nor are bird limits generous enough, to allow you to become a skilled wing shooter in this manner. Unless you enjoy constantly missing your birds, practice is the only way to become a good shot.

So if you’re in the field, practiced, armed with a good waterfowl gun and lucky enough to have birds come into range, remember all you’ve just read. It probably won’t help you hit your target, but if you’ve missed, it’s a good list of alibis for easing the embarrassment. That’s what I usually use it for.

Saltwater Angler Alert

To improve the accuracy of recreational catch estimates, all anglers who intend to target striped bass (rockfish), shad, herring or any anadromous species in Maryland must now register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Log onto NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program and click on the Angler Registry link, or call the toll-free registration line —
888-MRIP411 (674-7411) — between 4am and midnight EST daily.

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