Duck hunters and fireside stories for the holiday season

Published 10:49 am Monday, December 29, 2014

FRED BONNER | CONTRIBUTED GOOD EATIN’: These lesser scaup (bluebill) ducks are gathering around some kind of food in what can best be described as being a “feeding frenzy.”

GOOD EATIN’: These lesser scaup (bluebill) ducks are gathering around some kind of food in what can best be described as being a “feeding frenzy.”

Many of eastern North Carolina’s waterfowl hunters are betting on this last part of the 2014-15 hunting season to be a good one. After several “hum-drum” seasons in the last few years, some are even giving up the sport of waterfowl hunting, selling their decoys on Criag’s List and taking up knitting by a warm fire to relax.

I suppose that I must be among the few of the “Old Timers” who will still hang around for the last few days of this year’s season. I hope to have a few good hunts to tell the upcoming waterfowl hunters about how it was during the “good old days” of the last century when we still had a few waterfowl around to shoot. During that time, the waterfowl were not as abundant as they were in the old market hunting days when waterfowl hunters saw the skies over the Pamlico River and Sound nearly black with swarms of canvasback and scaup ducks.

South Creek near Aurora was the place to be in the 1950s when professional guides such as Mr. Bonner Daniels took out hunting parties on the creek in his old commercial crabbing boat. He’d take several parties at a time and deposit them in blinds all along South Creek. He’d then stand by at a distance to listen for the gunfire to tell him that the hunters had ducks down and that they needed to be retrieved. It was rare that someone didn’t take a limit of birds home with them.

One of the most memorable duck hunts that I ever remember happened just after Christmas in late 1956. An older friend who lived in the Pamlico County village of Hobucken had invited a friend and I to go along with him to hunt ducks just to the east and west of the Intercoastal Waterway where it entered the Bay River.

It was the kind of day that duck hunters dream about. The perfect duck shooting weather consisted of mixed sleet and snow driven from the northeast by strong winds. Surely the ducks would be flying and looking for a place to rest on a day like that.

We got into a 16-foot skiff near the old Hobucken Bridge just before the sky began to brighten and headed straight toward the mouth of the Bay River and Gales Creek. It was cold, wet and it looked like a fun day was in store.

After our friend and guide selected a good point on the north shore of the creek where we had some protection from the northeast wind, we went ashore and piled brush up to create a blind of sorts. After that chore, we helped put out a couple dozen bluebill decoys and returned to our new blind while the boat was deposited in a small gut several hundred feet west of our blind.

Even before our guide had time to get back in the blind, we had bluebills practically sitting on our heads. Not even waiting for the friend to get set up we began to frantically load up our shotguns and shoot. Our guide turned around, returned to the boat and picked up a couple of dead bluebills that we’d knocked out. “You ‘cudda’ at least waited to shoot after I got back,” he grumbled as he slogged his way back to the blind.

All morning the ducks kept flying in, either trying to land in our decoys or flying by close enough to offer us some good pass shooting. Not only were bluebills coming in to us, a few small bunches of canvasbacks also seemed to like Gales Creek as a place to rest after fighting the weather out in the open waters of the lower Bay River and Pamlico Sound.

As the morning wore on, the weather got worse. We didn’t have adequate waterproof and insulated hunting clothes then and we were really suffering from being cold and wet. The worse the weather became, the more the ducks came up into Gales Creek. We were having a duck hunt to remember and happy as three young duck hunters could be.

By early afternoon we’d had so much fun that I didn’t think we could stand it anymore. We had a good bag of birds and our friend commented, “We’d best quit shooting for a while. We’re about out of shells and we may have a limit of ducks, Let’s get in the boat, go back to Hobucken, warm up some, get more shells and then come back to shoot some more this afternoon. The state wardens may be out this afternoon even in this weather, but the ‘Feds’ will still be sitting in the Old Train Station up in Little Washington and drinking coffee.”

When we returned to Gales Creek that afternoon, the weather had not diminished much at all and the creek must have already had several hundred bluebills and canvasbacks around it. When the boat entered the creek, the ducks flew out into Bay River, circled around a little and decided that it would be best to return to safety in Gales Creek. We were waiting for them.

It seemed that the flights of ducks just kept on coming all afternoon. Occasionally a few would slip by our hastily constructed blind and go further up into Gales Creek to rest a bit. The upper part of Gales Ceek must have been a very desirable place for the ducks to rest a bit that day.

Before dark, we put the afternoon’s bag of ducks in the boat, picked up the decoys and prepared to go home. The birds were still flying, but our bodies had had about enough fun for one day. The cold wind, snow, sleet and water had taken a toll.

As we picked up our decoys, loaded up our afternoon’s bag of ducks and got ready to begin the long, cold trip back to the warm stoves in Hobucken, our guide started to check on how many ducks were still resting well up into Gales Creek. We slowly made a few circles up in the creek and then headed out as the guide muttered to himself that he “needed to sweeten things up a bit before next week.” It surely was nice of him to be thinking about how we’d have liked to have more sugar in our coffee.

Waterfowl hunting during days like that are, of course, a thing of the past. We have less waterfowl that we had during those wonderful days of the mid-1950s and a lot of us have learned that the “feds” and state wardens don’t just sit around and drink coffee even if the weather’s bad. We’ll sit around the warm fire and drink coffee and let a new generation of waterfowlers have at the really rough weather.

Here’s hoping that all our outdoorsmen have had a wonderful New Year. We may complain about things sometime but we really have a great country here in America. We outdoorsmen (and women) largely support our own outdoor sports with the taxes we pay on our gear and for the licenses we buy for the privilege of hunting and fishing in our great country.

Have a great New Year!