For day four of the rifle season for deer, November 6, 2014, Omer and I opted for a duck hunt on the Tay River. I saw goldeneyes on the Rideau River while running my dog Hera earlier in the week and hoped we would find some on the Tay, a goldeneye hotspot for us in seasons past. I was up at 3:00 am, having breakfast and loading my cameras, shotgun and shells–the last items I load in my SUV before setting out–and made my way to the garage where I store my boat and trailer. I arrived there in good time, the plan was for Omer to meet me there at 4:00 am and we would make our way together to the Tay River, which is about one hour’s drive from the city. Omer was running late, so we met up en route and continued on to the edge of the Tay River, shortly after 5:00 am, still in good time. Legal shooting time started at 6:20 am. This allowed us time to make our way to our site and set out the decoys with time to spare. So far so good it was, but what followed is a hunt that will live on in ignominy.
The water level was very low so we had some difficulty launching the boat. My duck boat is a 14′ fibreglass vessel with a v-shaped hull. It is equipped with a frame that folds down when not in use. The frame has panels of palm leaf attached making the boat a floating blind. The boat blends in very nicely with cattails, concealing us nicely when we are duck hunting. Luckily I packed my chest waders and got the boat safely off the trailer into the river. Omer started up the outboard motor easily and we were under way. However, as is the case when the water level is so low, we had difficulty navigating the river. Our destination was a marshy island where in a good year we could park the boat blind in the cattails. We ran aground on the sandbar that stands between the launch point and the island, then got caught on a submerged tree stump. When we reached the island, we found it was surrounded by a mud flat, meaning we could not park in the cattails.
We motored out to deeper water off the island and when I set out my hand carved goldeneye decoys discovered they were waterlogged and sinking. This set of one dozen decoys was carved by Barry Cowan, a local carver and taxidermist. Sadly he passed away in the summer of 2013. I went to high school with his sons. These decoys mean a lot to me and one was lost during the hunt, swallowed up by the Tay River. The remaining eleven decoys are now carefully preserved in my collection. I have one dozen puddle duck decoys carved by Barry also, carefully preserved in his memory. I put out some of my Higdon black and mallard decoys to complete the decoy spread and we motored as close as we could get to the marshy island. By then we were into legal shooting time instead of the half hour before I like to be set up and birds were moving.
Finally, we were in position with the blind set up and our shotguns loaded. As I sat in the dim light of early morning sipping a thermos cup of coffee, a flock of mallards came gliding into view over the decoys. I dropped the cup, grabbed my shotgun and promptly forgot what I learned over the years in shotgunning. I fired two shots, haphazardly, at the birds as they made good their escape. Omer was so startled he did not get a shot at the birds. No matter, this was not the first time I was caught not paying attention during a duck hunt. It seemed a good start to the hunt, seeing a flock of mallards decoying, but these proved to be the only birds that decoyed that morning.
As we sat and watched the skies we talked over old times. Omer and I have been hunting together after meeting more than a dozen years ago. He was a student at Carleton University, my employer, and looking for someone to introduce him to hunting in the Ottawa area. We had some great goldeneye hunts on the Tay River in seasons past, but this hunt was not one of these. We saw lots of mallards flying over the river. A few flocks, pairs and singles gave our decoy spread a look, but thought the better of it and landed well out range. A few diving ducks flew past, showing no interest in our decoys, but no goldeneyes were seen.
We got a a few passing shots at mallards and a trio of diving ducks, likely ringbills, without turning a feather. However, the piece de resistance came when a flock of Canada geese came winging off the Greater Rideau Lake, close to the water. As we watched them approach, they were on a course that was bringing them right to our boat blind, I watched with mounting excitement from behind the mesh of the blind. Then I blissfully forgot the cardinal rule in Canada goose hunting: when the birds are approaching, let them come. I forgot that judging distance from behind a mesh is difficult, especially for me. I hastily called the shot only to find the birds were just entering range; they were nowhere near as close as I thought. We emptied our guns, six shots in all, at the birds, missing spectacularly.
We waited a while longer until we were convinced the morning flight was over. It was about 9:00 am. Upon picking up the decoys I discovered we were one goldeneye decoy short of one dozen. Very well, the lost decoy remains at the bottom of the Tay River, an offering to the divinities of misfortune. We made it back to shore without too much trouble. I hope to give the Tay River one more try this season, before the river freezes over. For me the hunting season is not complete unless I get a crack at some late season goldeneyes.
I addressed the problem of replacing my hand carved goldeneye decoys, purchasing a set of Tanglefree Migration Edition Golden Eye Foam Filled decoys from Canadian Waterfowl Supplies. They were shipped the same day and I received them the next day. They look great. I can hardly wait to try them out in the field.