Ducks and drakes, what the English call the game of skipping stones across water, came to mind as Nick and I made ready to set out on our second duck hunt during his stay with Mika and me. Ducks and drakes were what I hoped we would get into on this hunt, notably ringbills, a species of wild duck commonly found on marshes in Eastern Ontario in the Fall hunting season. This time the hunt took place on a stretch of the Rideau River a short distance beyond Merrickville. Thursday, October 13th was the sixth straight day Nick and I got out hunting together. I was woken by my clock radio at 3:00 am, but lingered in bed several minutes. I heard Nick’s alarm sound up in the loft where we put him up during his stay. I heard Nick’s alarm sound a few more times while I had a quick breakfast and gathered the shotguns, ammunition, cameras and thermos bottles to load in the car. Nick joined me at 3:30 am, sleepy, but raring to go. He had two pieces of toast for breakfast then we finished loading the car, hooked up the boat trailer and were on our way by 4:00 am. We stopped at a Tim Hortons to fill the thermos bottles with piping hot coffee and arrived at the launch site shortly after 5:00 am as planned.
The weather was balmy, about 15 degrees Celsius, but a strong southwest wind was blowing and it was overcast. I hoped this would stir up some ducks for us. We loaded the gear into the boat and launched in good time. Legal shooting time started at 6:43 am and my objective is to have the decoys set and the boat blind anchored in place 30 minutes before shooting time. Our destination was a marshy island my hunting buddies and I call “Goose Island.” It is at the edge of a marsh, overlooking the main channel of the river. We motored out to the island and moved to the lee side to set out the decoys. I brought 2 dozen bluebill decoys (they stand in for ringbills very nicely), 9 Canada goose floaters and 12 black and mallard (puddler) decoys. The bluebill decoys are rigged together on lengths of paracord anchored at ether end and the Canada goose and the puddler decoys are anchored individually. Nick drove the boat as I rigged and set out the bluebill decoys. This is a delicate operation; you have to take great care not to get decoy anchor lines caught in the propeller. We set out the Canada goose and puddler decoys together and had the boat anchored in position with 15 minutes to spare, not bad.
We had time to down a cup of coffee while we waited for legal shooting time. Nick was armed with my 12 gauge Browning BPS pump shotgun, my old workhorse, with a 3 inch chamber and 30 inch barrel. I brought some of the hevishot I used with this gun rather than steel shot before hevishot became too scarce. I was armed with my newer Browning 12 gauge BPS shotgun with a 3 1/2 inch chamber and 28 inch barrel. I use steel shot in this gun and to date find it works just fine. I get clean kills consistently. As shooting time got underway we heard the familiar call of a wood duck; it sounded like it was near the island across from us. I used my P.S. Olt double reed duck call to quack and chuckle, hoping the wood duck would decoy, only to find it was already in our decoy spread. The quacks and chuckles succeeded in driving it off before we realized it was there. Neither Nick nor I got a shot away as the wood duck made good her escape.
Seeing a wood duck was great as Nick is new to duck hunting in Canada, but I hoped our decoy spread would attract passing flights of ringbills. As Nick and I sat, watching the skies, I related to him some of my experience in gunning for ringbills in seasons past. In particular, I told him about the unusual behaviour decoying ringbills often exhibit: it is not uncommon for decoying ringbills to make a second pass over a decoy spread even when they are shot at on the first pass. I told him about the occasion I was hunting on this spot with the gun he held when a drake ringbill decoyed. I shot twice and missed, but then the bird came back for a second pass over the decoys. I got him with the third shot. I hoped Nick might see this for himself on our hunt. In the first hour of shooting time two singles (ringbills) quartered over the decoy spread, offering Nick a shot. He missed both times, to my initial surprise, but then I remembered just how easy it is to miss with a shotgun, particularly while duck hunting. Finally, in the second hour of shooting time, a flock of ringbills flying on the main channel of the river spied our decoy spread and came winging in. Nick dumped a bird (a hen) as the flock sped in over the decoys. As I congratulated him on making the shot, the remaining birds made a second pass (just as I said they might) over the decoys. This time I dumped a nice drake cleanly.
We watched as the downed birds drifted toward the opposite shore. The downed drake washed up in the cattails of the neighbouring island while the duck came to rest in a patch of matted vegetation off the shore. We opted to leave the downed birds on the water until we wrapped up our morning hunt before picking them up. We sat until 10:00 am, watching the skies. There were few birds. We fired a salvo of shots at a passing mallard; the bird was a bit high so really all we offered was a parting salute. I was surprised at how few Canada geese we saw. Typically at this stage of the season the skies around this stretch of the Rideau River are black with migrating Canada geese. We saw a few flocks on the horizon. Near the end of the hunt, Nick excitedly told me there were two ducks to the right of our blind, on the water. I peered through the cattails and saw the ducks he thought he saw were a pair of pied billed grebes. They are water birds and easy to mistake for teal, but are not ducks and not game. This reminded me of the importance of knowing how to properly identify your quarry while out hunting. It is also enhances your hunting experience when you can view the other species that inhabit marshes.
When we concluded the hunt we retrieved the downed ringbills before picking up the decoys. Nick got to see the birds up close and they were two nice birds. Picking up the decoys is as delicate an effort as putting them out as you have to take care not to get decoy anchor lines caught in the propeller. It took us a while to complete the task, but there were no mishaps. As we motored back to shore, I could not help feeling a little sad. This was the last outing with Nick and I really enjoyed taking him on our upland and waterfowl hunting expeditions over the past six days. I gave both birds to Nick as this was probably his last hunt for the season; whereas, I had the rest of the season ahead of me. Nick returned to St. Catherine’s the next day with a cooler filled with five Canada geese, two ducks, a woodcock and a hare. Nick demonstrated he is an accomplished hunter. I think he enjoyed his stay with Mika and me and the six days of hunting he and I had together. I hope we have an opportunity to get out hunting together in the years ahead. In the meantime, I am happy we had these six days together in this season.
Posted by Geoffrey