Going to Extremes
by C.D. Dollar
Without question, it was one of the strangest hunts I have been on, replete with wildly intense storms and slogging through the thinnest of water and stickiest of marsh. It also featured a wide variety of ducks, which was a nice bonus. Of course, all this could only happen down on Fox Island.
A couple of Mondays ago, I was hunting Cedar Marsh, a public area just north of the Maryland-Virginia line, with Bart Jaeger. Though some years apart in age, Jaeger and I share a few commonalties. Each of us played lacrosse for Washington College on Maryland's Eastern Shore, though at different times, and currently both of us work for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
On this day, we were together to indulge in a shared passion: waterfowl hunting. On Sunday evening, we met in Crisfield, loaded our gear into the skiff, then made the run out to Fox Island lodge. Tangier Sound was "slick-cam," which in these parts means there wasn't a ripple on the water. We cheered on Monday's forecast, which called for rain and wind.
How does it go? Be careful what you wish, for you just may get it. We got weather all right, nearly more than we bargained for.
Monday morning arrived accompanied by light rain and southwesterly winds: a perfect day for gunning. When we reached the mouth of Fishing Creek on the southeast side of Cedar Marsh, there was no water to speak of. The tide was out so much that even the canoe was useless. So we slogged the canoe up the creek and after what seemed an eternity, legs aching, set up on a nice point that provided a good lee for our decoys. Then we waited.
Dawn broke with little fanfare; the low ceiling blocking out all direct light. By mid-morning, the wind picked up substantially, and with it came thunder boomers that sounded like sheet metal being pounded by vandals as it rolled across Tangier Sound. Where there is thunder, there is lightning. Jaeger and I exchanged anxious glances whenever bolts of raw energy would make a spectacular touch down.
Two things kept us on the edge of that marsh instead of out of the weather. Right or wrong, we believed we were better off lying low in the needlerush than trying to cross open water. Secondly, we'd have felt bad if we missed a good hunting opportunity with only a couple days left in the season.
Surprisingly, the ducks were lying low as well. Our first chance came when a pair of pintails tolled to our rig. The hen fell, landing several hundred yards away but Jaeger hustled after her. Other action was compacted into two hours in the middle of the day. A few gadwall here, then some widgeon.
A highlight came when about 10 gadwall buzzed us. We whiffed on the first volley. With the wind so strong, all it took was for them to cup their wings and they were gone - before our second shots left the barrel.
The last pair of the day was a bit of an oddity: a black duck and drake mallard. The green head was a bull, and both fell for our feint. While we were discussing what fates might have brought these two birds together, a gorgeous canvasback glided toward our spread. Its russet, chestnut-red head set off by its glossy, black chest mesmerized me. Furthermore, we were caught out of position and empty-handed so all we could do was gaze at it with our mouths agape.
By mid-afternoon, the lightning subsided, or so we thought, and we picked up to head for home. This time the strong wind and flood tide conspired against us. The menacing wall in front of us looked like a summer squall, the kind that wraps around you and seems to come from all directions. Jaeger must have seen it too, because we picked up our canoe strokes in a big way.
When we reached the skiff, the wind was tearing across the Sound, the rain hurting my face when Jaeger stomped on the throttle. The gray-white clouds billowed with such unbridled fury that they might well have been expelled from the bellows of hell. With only a mile or so to reach shelter, lightning strikes seemed everywhere.
I was looking for a waterspout when we scared up a massive flock of redhead ducks - easily 1,500 birds, an incredible sight. Out of sheer awe for its power, I roared back at the storm, hooping and hollering like one of Atilla's warriors.
The Fox Island flats were our saving grace, their shallow depth preventing the seas from building to any consequence. Just as we secured the boat to the piling, hail the size of pearls spit from the sky.
Less than an hour later, there was not a cloud in the sky. It was so clear that you could see Alcor, the rider in the Big Dipper's handle (I guess I have 20/20 vision).
| Issue 4 |
VolumeVII Number 4
January 28 - February 3, 1999
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