Another Typical Sea Duck Season
By Bob Humphrey
Sometimes I think the fates are aligned against me. Then again, maybe I’m just my own worst enemy.
For the last couple several years I have looked forward to sea duck season much more than I had in the recent past. I suspect part of that is owed to a summer’s worth of seeing raft upon raft of eiders, followed by the late summer arrival of migrant scoters, all of which stoke the fire and fan the fowling flames.
“This is it,” I told myself, my son and my waterfowling companions two years ago. “This is the year we start early, right off the bat, in October. Forget the puddle ducks. We’re going straight for the ocean, while the weather is still nice.” And it almost worked, until Maine’s waterfowl biologists decided the sea ducks needed a scaled back season, and so delayed the opener until mid November.
I understand. Eider populations have been dwindling and could certainly use a little less hunting pressure. But why early season? The gunning doesn’t typically heat up until the mercury falls. Migrant eiders haven’t arrived yet so we’d be shooting mostly local birds, birds that will likely see far heavier gunning pressure along the coast of Massachusetts in December and January anyway.
Most of the scoters (are they imperiled too?) that inundate our offshore waters in October and early November will also have passed through, meaning a missed opportunity, at least for us. The folks in Boston Harbor and Cape Cod will no doubt reap the benefits of our non participation. And the guides and their out of state sports don’t really gear up until December. Seems like resident waterfowlers are being unfairly punished.
But, I digress.
So, a mid November opening will cost me six weeks of potential gunning. “There are still some nice-weather days in November,” you say, in an effort to assuage my angst. That’s true enough, but I can’t leave the local woodlots until I fill my deer tag, which didn’t happen last year. So it wasn’t until the ground, the air and everything in existence had frozen rock solid, and after the fourth time I shoveled snow out of the boat that we actually got out on the bay, only to discover the eiders were, for the most part, gone. Those that were around had been shot at enough that their tiny assemblages wanted nothing to do with our decoy strings.
Jump ahead to 2017, where I saw more summer birds than I had in a decade or more, and the scoters were already piling in while we were still tuna fishing. I knew it would be anther six-week delay, but invested in a Ure-a-Duck motion wing decoy just the same, anticipating the type of hot-barreled action we used to enjoy in years past.
I even marked the date on my calendar, November 10, and told my buddy to be ready when that date rolled around. Alas, once again an unfilled deer tag kept me off the bay right through early December, until I finally conceded defeat and waited for a weather and work window to arrive.
Admittedly, it was a bit of an experiment – a scouting mission to a new location – and a warm-up, for lack of a better term. The action was unexpectedly slow. We probably saw a dozen and a half eiders, and the oldsquaw were done flying by an hour after sun up. But we did find a few more rafts inside, on our way back, building the anticipation for our next, hopefully soon, effort.
That’s when somebody woke the gray gods of hunting – who had nodded off after the closure of deer season – and reminded them of their mission. Suddenly aware I was about to launch a serious assault on sea ducks, they summoned southern winds, which kept us on shore until the snows came, then turned to rain, which turned to ice when the bottom fell out of our until-then seasonable temperatures.
Teens, single digits. They never used to dissuade us. We’d go out in the worst, battling ice-coated boat ramps, ice-choked waterways and ice-caked facial hair, all for the sake of something that tastes like a partially digested anchovy. We used to sneer in the face of anchor rodes frozen stiff in coils, rubber gas lines frozen into a brittle state and fingers and toes frozen so numb so deeply we wouldn’t feel them until long after they were blasted by the truck heater. We shrugged our shoulders and endured dead batteries, leaky chest waders and decoy lines tangled into snarled masses.
I guess I’m getting old because that just doesn’t really appeal to me anymore. I’ve find a great deal of comfort in warmth, and warmth in comfort. The glow of the woodstove on my cheeks is far more appealing than the sting of ice pellets. Speaking of cheeks, I prefer the cushions of my recliner to a slab of iced granite. And I don’t take for granted luxuries like being able to pee without having to remove six layers of clothing and expose my extremities and appendages to single digit temperatures.
Unfortunately, one day soon my phone will beep, and I’ll find a text message telling me it’s time. Pride, shame, stubbornness and pure stupidity will win the day and we’ll venture once more out on the bay. After all, it’s a short season and we’ve got to make the most of it.