At 6:40 a.m., Vito drops a drake mallard. Dakota goes for a long-distance swim. And on and off the rest of the morning, mallards, singles and pairs, make intermittent visits. For some odd reason, my call is working better than usual. Two particularly trying mallards have me winded after an extraordinarily long pleading melody. But, after they circle, circle, and circle again, we get them both.
Our group calls it quits before noon. O’Brien is scheduled to leave for Lake Erie later in the day to spend a couple of days hunting divers out of a boat blind.
“If you get over near the refuge in the next couple of days, you’re probably going to get into some geese,” he says.
This is Finger Lakes country, a sleeper waterfowling venue if there ever was one. Montezuma and Iroquois national wildlife refuges are relatively nearby, and between them they encompass more than 18,000 acres. These refuges, combined with western New York’s agricultural landscape, can yield outstanding mallard and Canada goose hunting.
Afton picks me up at 3:45 the next morning. We have a substantial truck ride ahead of us. Somewhere in the distant darkness, Tim Furness and his Webfoot Guide Service crew are setting up the decoy spread. Canada geese will be today’s targets. Hopefully.
“We like to get the geese right at your feet,” Furness says in the low light of early morning. “Anybody can shoot at 50-yard geese, but why would you if you can get them in close?”
More than 200 mixed decoys surround our layout blinds. Canada goose full-bodies and silhouettes make up the bulk of the spread, with mallards comprising the remainder. A brief safety reminder is provided as we scramble to get situated. Furness leaves nothing to chance.
“We scout every day,” he says. “There were two or three thousand geese here late yesterday afternoon. I think this is going to work out well.”
Webfoot Guide Service leases acreage throughout the region. No one site is overhunted. In addition to geese, this outfit also actively pursues puddle ducks and divers—the right way.
“The ducks aren’t really here yet,” Furness says. “They’re starting to show up, and we’ve had some good days, but in general the duck hunting has been sort of slow. The weather has been really mild.”
Charlie Signorino assumes much of the calling duties this morning. Now in his third year with Webfoot, Signorino works his magic on unsuspecting Canadas from daylight until 8:45. By then, four gunners have killed 11 geese. We’re one short of the limit.
All birds were taken up close and personal. And that’s better than good. Breakfast awaits.
Tuckerton Bay, New Jersey
The first brant arrives as if clocking into work, right on time. The bird is flying left to right, not too high. This visitor has taken a hard left at the mouth of the tidal creek and bears down quickly on the decoys in front of our camouflaged boat blind. The tidal flow has the entire rig bobbing and twisting. Bang. One shot. One bird.
“And what’s so hard about this?” I ask Fred Everson, my host and soon-to-be-named New Jersey Ducks Unlimited state chairman. “You keep telling me how tricky brant can be.”
“Just wait,” Everson says. “Just wait.”
This was our initial shot of the morning. And it came after watching flocks of 20, 40, and 100 brant sweep by us on the way to a favored feeding hole. The big groups have ignored our decoys in favor of dining on eelgrass. Our best chances are going to come from loners or small groups.