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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Atlantic Odyssey

A waterfowling adventure down America’s most historic flyway
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Our partners on the island open up again on what must have been a small flock. We can hear the hunters but cannot see them until the fog thins out. Someone’s duck call is in dire need of fine-tuning. But minutes later, more shots are fired.

A hundred yards or more to our left, Prince, accompanied by his black Lab, Scout, dispatches a pair of wood ducks. Far to our right, George Diplock Jr., whose father introduced Brown to duck hunting, takes a mallard, a mallard/black duck hybrid, and a pair of blue-winged teal in relatively short order.

Teal? Bluewings are normally long gone from these parts by this time of year. “But when it’s 75 degrees, why would they go anywhere?” says Wally Martin, another of the DU volunteer flock. Good point.

I shoot miserably at the few opportunities that arise. Brown is one duck better. Gunnar is noticeably bored. Maybe tomorrow.

A fine mist greets us the next morning. Canada geese rise off their roost as we make our way across the bay. Two wood ducks are swimming in the decoys. The temperature is 53. But we do gather a couple of mallards. And Prince bags a treasured black duck. By my unofficial count, in two days this bay yields 27 ducks, including those taken from the island blind.

“Winter stayed late, and we had a cold, wet spring,” Brown says. “That hurt duck production, as well as woodcock and turkey numbers.

“You’re going to have to come back and do the sea duck thing with us sometime,” Brown adds. “That’s a whole different ballgame. And, we stay near Stonington, the lobster capital of the world.”

Count me in.

Rochester, New York

We could hear the truck coming up the blacktop from a distance away. When the headlights veered into the pasture where we were parked, it became obvious company was about to visit. But who? Our host, John O’Brien, who had walked to the bottom of the gentle hill to roust his nephew from his farmhouse, had not mentioned that anyone else was going to hunt with us this morning. The sky is pitch black. No stars.

The pickup pulls alongside us and stops, maybe 20 feet away. Truck doors slam shut in unison. Ducks Unlimited Regional Director David Afton and I squint to try to make out the silhouettes of the two approaching figures. We have no clue about the identity of the visitors. Who are these guys?

“I’m Vic, and that’s Vito,” barks a husky voice from out of the darkness. Visions of displaced Sopranos cast members flash across my brain.

Nah, as they drew near, the camouflage clothing reveals they are just another pair of duck hunters—good guys. Not a Bada Bing to be heard anywhere.

We gather on the periphery of a 140-acre private marsh the last day of October. O’Brien, who became a Ducks Unlimited volunteer during the 1960s, had set up this hunt just outside Batavia. Because O’Brien has had a hand in restoring two additional local marshes, there were other choices. But he thought this spot might provide the best opportunities.

“We haven’t been seeing a lot of ducks yet, at least not as many as we usually do by this time of year, but this place hasn’t been hunted in a couple of weeks,” O’Brien says. “There are local ducks around, and some of them usually end up here.”

Having the foresight to bring along only hip waders, and the water being too deep to ford without getting wet, I become the recipient of a canoe ride—with Afton and Vito doing the pushing and pulling. Dakota, Afton’s chocolate Lab, becomes a hitchhiker.

A muskrat hut serves as our base of operations. A dozen decoys are tossed along the edge of the cattail marsh. There is plenty of open water, a slight wind, and only a sliver of moon. Canada geese gabble on an adjacent pond where they had spent the night. Four green-winged teal strafe our spread before shooting time.

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