Ducks & Geese
January is not for quitters. While many of the Northern tier hunters have put away their decoys and hung up their waders, the hard-core are just getting going. Those of us who love the sport so much that we would travel 5 hours to shoot a limit of Canadas or a brace of thundering bluebills will enjoy this month. It weeds out the faint of heart from those who just can’t get enough. So pack up those decoy bags in the truck and load the boat. Double check those tires and axles for wear. Make sure your spare is in good condition. Dig out your warmest ducking gear and, if you have a little propane heater, bring it! We’re headed south to Long Island Sound. Fill the thermos full of coffee and fire up the old pickup. When we arrive on the CT coast we will pitch into a “Diver’s Special” motel, then check out the local access at one of the many refuge areas on the Northern shore of the Sound. Surprisingly, most of these accesses are clear of heavy ice. Names like the Norwalk Islands, Lordship Point, Salt Meadow, Great Meadows and Calf Island await late season die-hards with concentrations of hardy black ducks, red-legged mallards and lots of scoters and geese. One point of consideration: be aware of the tides in the Sound. Time it wrong and you’ll be sitting for 6 hours on a salt flat waiting for the water to come back in and let you sail off. One of my favorite late season locations is the little wildlife management area off of Stratford, known as Charles E Wheeler. Charles “Shang” Wheeler was a remarkable hunter back when there were ducks enough to “blacken the sky. ” He was a master decoy carver and conservationist. It is this little piece of real estate where I cut my teeth on the late arriving bluebills and Canada geese. We would put in at a small access on the West side of the Housatonic River and cut downstream to the main channel of the swamp, then back upstream into the tidal pools. We would try to time our hunts so that we were in the pools just as the tide began filling them and we’d wait for the birds to come in to feed on the beds of eelgrass and invertebrates. I remember hunting one January afternoon with my father in my little homemade flat bottom boat with a chicken wire blind stapled to 2x4’s and woven with local salt hay and cattails. We sat only about 2 feet off of the top of the water as it had come in. It was evening and the geese started to return to their roost. The first flight of 3 birds came in silently from behind us, out of the sun. We never saw them. At the last second I turned my head and started to stand when I heard a faint “herrrronk.” I dropped to my knees just in time and found that my father was struggling to do the same, the giant Canadas barely missing our heads. There was no time to shoot. We sat down in utter amazement that neither of us had been hit by the big birds. We laughed for quite some time until the next big flight bore down on our spread. We harvested a few nice birds and called it a day as the sun glowed a golden orange and light green behind the buildings of the city. On the way back across the river we could smell steaks being grilled in a restaurant on the shoreline. We pointed our boat toward the yellow lights of the dining room and carved our way through the darkness, home.
If you find yourself appreciating some of the articles you’ve read here in the past year, I’d like to invite you to join us at the Yankee Sportsman’s Classic at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction, VT on January 14-16. This is one of those true wonders of the winter. It’s a lot like being in a candy store the size of Walmart, but for families. There is every possible kind of booth and seminar. Last year there were over 15,000 attendees and this year there will be more than 45 seminars on everything from turkey, deer, bear, icefishing, trophy heads, tracking and raptors. But my favorite is still the Duck and Goose Hunting Vermont seminar, where I get to meet my readers and compare notes on our seasons. We put on a slideshow/movie, display new equipment, talk about new strategies, what worked and what was just a gimmick. We exchange comments and opinions about the seasons, bag limits, best and worst days, weather impacts. Heck, we even share some of our time-proven secrets and locations. We will be giving some calling demonstrations and if you want to join us bring your own calls and let’s rock the house!