Some folks who don’t duck hunt have the impression that those of us who do are at least a little crazy.
One morning recently I might have been prone to agree with them.
It was 5 a.m. and Don Hughes of Vanceboro and I were standing on the bank of a large canal in Hyde County with guide, Capt. Grey Davis. Our high-powered headlamps revealed a waterway that could best be described as solid, a product of temperatures that had been in the mid-twenties for several nights.
Davis’ brushed-out duck boat was tethered to the shore but that was really unnecessary since it was locked in ice and not about to go anywhere.
At least that’s what Don and I thought, and we considered that it might be time to think about a Plan B. Davis knew better, though. This wasn’t his first rodeo and he set about putting Plan A in motion. The first part of that involved getting in the
boat and rocking it back and forth to break the 19-foot hull loose from its icy bounds.
With that accomplished, the next order of business was to coax a very cold outboard engine to join the party. At that point, I was still having serious doubts about how we were going to maneuver the boat down the frozen waterway. The guide got Don and me onboard and went about turning the boat around and beginning a very slow, crunching trek downstream.
I was pleasantly surprised that, although it was a laborious process, the craft could break through the ice. Its upswept bow rode over the solid stuff and then the hull broke through and made slow but steady progress. A few times, we seemed to
be stymied but the captain knew what to do; he backed up a little, gave it some gas, and on we went. After about 3/4 mile or so we reached open water and, hunkering down out of the wind, were on our way in the pre-dawn darkness.
After a short run we entered a shallow bay. The guide had done his homework.
Towing the boat across the skinny water the last fifty yards, he explained that teal, widgeon and other species had been using the area as a loafing and gathering site.
His assessment was that impoundments in the area had been frozen over for several days and the birds were looking for more hospitable accommodations.
Davis grew up in Trent Woods, NC and was a star athlete at New Bern High School. He developed an affinity for the game-rich woods and waters of Hyde County at a young age, however. Traveling there with his dad from about age 9 to fish and hunt ducks, he learned his way around the creeks, canals and open waters that give that region its unique character. He also learned how to catch red drum, speckled trout and other popular game fish, and where the waterfowl that migrate through each winter are likely to be under various conditions.
Davis put that knowledge to good use after we set out a mix of decoys and got settled into the boat blind to await sunrise. He arranged the dekes in groups based on species, each a specific distance from each other and the blind.
It was obvious he knew his business. For example, at one point he advised to not worry (in spite of what some “experts” say) if a couple of decoys were close together or even touched. He explained that real birds often sit like that, especially in cold weather. He was also particular about adding additional reeds from the adjacent marsh to the top of the blind to help hide us even better from approaching birds.
Everything was good to go as the sky started turning pink in the east – except the ducks didn’t come pouring in as we hoped they would. A few teal buzzed our decoys and a couple of widgeon banked closed enough to fall to our shots. But most of the ducks we saw stayed well out of range, settling down around the end of the marsh in an area we couldn’t access.
For an hour or so, we passed the time munching on sausage and egg tacos cooked by the guide on a gas burner, watching ducks trading in the distance and talking. Davis explained that, after high school, he went to Wingate College where he played baseball for two years and eventually earned a degree in Construction Management from ECU. After that, he headed back down east where he has made a living operating heavy equipment and guiding fishermen and duck hunters. The affable 27 year-old is obviously a man of many talents.
One of his skills is an understanding of when to make changes if things aren’t going the way you want them to. After awhile, Davis decided it was time to do just that. Climbing out of the blind, he moved decoys, combining one group with another bunch and moving a spread of teal closer toward where we sat. Apparently the changes he made pleased the ducks. Almost immediately, we began to get singles and small flocks sailing in with wings locked or winging overhead close enough for effective shots. For the next few hours, it wasn’t like a land-rush but there was a steady flow of birds to the decoys.
Our shooting wasn’t as stellar as we would have hoped (it never is) but, by the time we decided to pull the plug and go somewhere that it was warmer, we had three six-duck limits in the blind.
Our bag included widgeon, gadwall, teal, a shoveler, a scaup plus one merganser that I mistook for a teal. It was a good hunt, especially on a day when each of us looked like the Michelin Man bundled up against the cold wind.
Heading back to the landing we had to break ice in the canal again.
It could have been a day that was less than outstanding, maybe even disastrous given the conditions. The key to that not happening was having a guide who knew what he was doing and was willing to go the extra mile to make sure his clients had a safe, enjoyable hunt.
Grey Davis (Hyde Guides) offers guided hunts, either open water or on impoundments, during the waterfowl season and fishing trips anytime anglers want to go.
He can be reached by phone at 252-671- 0577 or by email at email@example.com.
Ed Wall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-671- 3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com