Parker & Gus show the Old Guys how it’s done
In previous seasons, I have reported on the exploits of one new hunter. Here in New York, we have a Youth Waterfowl Weekend 2 or 3 weeks before our Regular Duck Season. For the past 4 years, I have enjoyed the privilege of helping out with one of my gunning partner’s grandsons on days afield. Parker and his Dad drive over from the Bay State – and this year it was my job to put birds in front of both Parker and his new Lab Gus.
After three consecutive years of drought, our wet year has finally provided some duck habitat here during September – previous years having offered only water-free wetlands. This year everything came together. Whereas I normally expect ducks to start using the Farm in late September, I began seeing scores of birds – mostly Mallards and Woodies – in late August. In the 20 or so years since we created the Hemlock Swamp and the Hickory Swamp, I had never seen such use (nor had I seen such an ecologically diverse wetland community). Things were looking promising. So, when partner Cap’n Cod’s honey hole 10 miles north of here was showing no web-footed fowl, we moved the operation further south in Washington County.
Although we had seen as many as 50 or 60 birds using the Hemlock Swamp, the week preceding Youth Waterfowl Weekend was showing a dozen or so Mallards, a handful of Woodies and a pair of Blue-winged Teal. This half-acre swamp is tough to sneak, so I surveyed it only near the end of each day. A single Great Blue often joined the fleeing birds. I stayed away altogether on Friday and presumed that at least some birds would show up on Saturday morning – enough birds for a lone gunner and his retriever.
The birds did not disappoint! After years of trial-and-error, I had found that the optimal spot for a hide was right in the middle of the swamp. At the base of a big snag, I cobbled together a simple blind – ample for two gunners. I initially made this blind for Long Island friends Craig Kessler and Fred Wertz. They have enjoyed some great Woodie shooting therefrom – when there was water.
The Hemlock Swamp is long north to south. The north end is wooded – Hemlocks and Red Maples – and the south end opens onto a cornfield. The birds tend to approach from the cornfield. They might settle down right in front of the blind – or they might streak overhead, intent on the wooded water.
Because the flight pattern is highly predictable, safe spectating is a natural. About a hundred feet behind the blind a big Hemlock decided long ago to lay down across the Swamp. So, three spectators – the proverbial Bumps on a Log – could observe the goings on as well as from any “luxury box”.
I cannot begin to provide a blow-by-blow account of the 2 mornings – because there was too much activity. Each morning, we convened at the shop, then strolled about 200 yards down the mowed “yuppie trails” to the Hemlock Swamp. Both days, the birds arrived in small bunches, spaced minutes apart. Boy and Dog were equal to the occasion. They came home Saturday with 5 birds and Sunday with 4. Parker is cool-headed with his 20-gauge and dropped 3 doubles over the weekend.
I enjoyed watching Grandpa teach Grandson to teach Gus the finer points of finding and bringing back downed birds from real duck cover.
Here is Gus returning his first-ever wild duck to his master’s feet.
The blind in the background was for my Dad. In his last few seasons, he had the Hemlock Swamp all to himself on Opening Weekend. He could no longer wade into swamps, so I made this one to meet his needs – a short walk – on a yuppie trail – to a stand-up blind on the east bank.
This photo was taken before Gus hunted up bird # 5.
Cap’n Nemo practicing his bump-on-a-log. The off-season is the best time to hone one’s skills….
Two short mornings with the warm, late summer sun and good breakfasts with good friends. I think we all feel that the 2017-18 season has gotten off to a fine start.
All the best,