Dawn of the mergansers


Gord with a nice drake whistler taken on the Tay River.

Looking back on old entries from my hunting diary I found one detailing a late season diver hunt on the Tay River on November 5, 2006; what is memorable about this hunt is the triple I made on a decoying flock of ducks. The only catch was they were hooded mergansers. I only realized this as I slapped the trigger and three birds fell dead on the water. Readers familiar with mergansers know this species of wild duck is unfit to eat as they eat fish and taste of it when cooked. For this reason, I try to avoid shooting them. It was a good hunt. I enjoyed the effort and the company of my hunting buddy Gord.

Dawn of the mergansers it was yesterday morning when Gord and I took to a marshy island off one of the Rideau lakes for a late season duck hunt. I had a little trouble getting up at 0300 that morning as I had an adverse reaction to a co-worker’s homemade cheesecake the day before. The cake was delicious, but she mentioned using eggs in making it. I am allergic to egg whites. I was reeling from nausea by the end of the day. After a few hours of sleep, I was feeling much better. I arrived at Gord’s house shortly after 0500, and we made our way in the dark to the spot he originally intended us to hunt. We found two other men there already, which surprised Gord. Undaunted, we moved to a secondary location, which proved to be quite a hotspot as the morning flight got underway. We put out thirty-six bluebill decoys, eight goldeneye decoys and three magnum mallard and black duck decoys. The boat blind was anchored at the edge of the marshy island, giving us a commanding view of the decoy spread.

Before long, a lone ringbill came flying in, quartering over the decoys. I shot and killed the bird cleanly, though the ringbill went down in a steep glide. I was concerned the bird might be a cripple, so Gord and I set out promptly to retrieve him. We found him dead on the water to the right of the island. We made the retrieve and got back into position. I heard the familiar whistling sound of goldeneyes in flight and spied a pair winging past, high and out of range. They landed on the water to the right of the boat blind, beyond range, but swam toward the goldeneye decoys we had put out. I watched as they made their way closer to the decoys, and when they were close enough that both Gord and I could make a jump shot safely, called the shot. I succeeded in missing cleanly with two shots. Gord dumped the bird he shot at cleanly. When we retrieved it, a very lovely drake, it was in pristine condition. We set it aside carefully to preserve it for the taxidermist.

A short time later, a small flock of what proved to be hooded mergansers decoyed. I swung on one of the birds and fired, only realizing as I slapped the trigger they were mergansers, and three birds fell, dead on the water. Gord was quite impressed with my triple, despite the fact the birds were mergansers. We try to avoid shooting mergansers, as they are unfit to eat. There was a drake among the trio, which was set aside for the taxidermist. The hens can serve as training dummies for the retrieving training of Gord’s English Springer Spaniel, Abby. I ended up shooting two more mergansers, limiting out with five mergansers and a ringbill in the bag. Gord and I finished the shoot, each downing a merganser from a passing flock. I shot at a decoying mallard and missed, and we saw a great many ringbills, most of which avoided our decoy spread. There were Canada geese in the distance landing in a protected bay, and a hawk flew by during the morning. Between bouts of shooting, Gord and I had a good time chatting, drinking coffee and hot chocolate. In all, it was a great morning of duck hunting. Next time, however, we will make a more considerable effort to avoid shooting mergansers.


Posted by Geoffrey

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