Green-wing Teal and the Curse of Seven

DSC_0034 teal and other ducks in a closed area near the KDC

Teal have always been a contributor to my duck harvest. However, until the last three years, they have been a minor contributor. Things changed when I decided to join the Kerry Duck Club, located near Volta in the North Grasslands.

Teal are about 90 percent of the take at KDC. You can try as hard as you like, but you’ll never shoot a limit of ducks at KDC that doesn’t have a majority of green-wing teal. They are dominant.

Because of the order of the draw, I didn’t have a chance to start out with one of the better blinds so I decided to hang around until the first wave of hunters was done and then fill in. It was probably ten and eleven o’clock before I made it to the blind and I was by myself.

I chose the same blind that I hunted last Saturday and my reasoning was that I might have a chance to shoot a goose (hopefully a white-front) as the geese have been present.

As I should have expected, The birds that were present were mostly green-wings. For almost an hour I watched them as they flew by, dive bombed my decoys and sometimes even landed in them. I waited and watched without shooting.

As long as I didn’t intend to shoot them, they looked like easy meat. Then, I finally decided to shoot teal as there didn’t seem to be any other options. On the first shot, the drake I was trying to shoot bobbed just as I pulled the trigger and I missed him, but surprisingly I hit the hen teal that was with him.

I was one for one – sort of.

The next teal came in about regular speed and he should have been a dead duck. Bang. bang – he flew off. At least I was still one duck for three shots – sort of.

And so it went. I wanted to hit them all and prove to myself that I could hit teal. After sixteen shots I had six teal. I was feeling OK about myself. Then the lull struck. The teal either wouldn’t fly at all, or they flew around the blind just out of range.

Every hunter on the club had killed seven ducks in the morning. I couldn’t quit until I had seven – I’d be shamed.

Every time I reached for a sip of water or a bite to eat, two teal would buzz by before I could get a shot off. Then two teal flew directly into me and I wiffed on two shots. I felt weary. I couldn’t leave.

Then came the shell count. Two in my gun, two in the box and four more in my pocket. Certainly I would get the last teal before they were gone.

I drake green-wing flew by along the edge of the decoys. I could hit him. Boom, miss – boom, miss.

Now six shells were left. The pattern repeated. Confidently I pulled up on the next bird. Boom – no joy.

More time passed and once again I wished that I could just quit with six teal and be happy. If I did, I’d never live it down.

A teal came in low on the water, I swung on it and missed. Then it turned skyward, presenting a unmissable shot. I held slightly in front of the bird’s beak and fired.

Down he went. I sent Lola and watched her retrieve the bird.

image2 Lola with teal

Lola with green-wing teal. Photo by Brett Kelly

I would not be the hunter responsible for lowering the KDC average for the day to below seven. That’s right, everybody got a limit of ducks. Without counting, I’d guess that to be about 25 hunters. When I reached camp I marked ’em down in the book. Rich Fletcher, blind BB –  7 green-wing teal.

 

 

 

Brett’s Day at the KDC

Thanks to our Kerry Duck Club partners we had a great “pot luck” style barbecue on Friday evening where we drank excellent wine and feasted on barbecued duck and goose.

The traditional Friday night duck stories got Brett in the right frame of mind for his hunt, but we weren’t sure about our chances of drawing one of the better blinds as my draw number was down the line a bit.

Turned out the draw went our way and we were able to hunt an excellent blind that shot very well and there was no shortage of ducks.

Since he had not hunted ducks for over two years, Brett and I anticipated it would take a while for him to get on target with the ducks. We expected that we would need more than one box of shells apiece if we were to fill our limits – so we carried 90 shells to the blind.

We didn’t expect that Brett would have just one duck when his first box was empty. He did kill his second teal on the first shell of the second box – from a new shotgun.

Brett's duck IMG_4150

Lola had a great day retrieving all thirteen teal and a goose. Here she is with Brett’s first duck of 2018.

That was a significant change to the program. It seemed as though something wasn’t right, so after the first box was gone, we agreed that maybe we should trade shotguns. The barrel on his Weatherby  pump shotgun was a bit long for shooting teal at close range and the stock seemed to be a bit long for him, especially given the rather heavy coat he was wearing.

We had nothing to lose, so I handed Brett my Browning over-under and after swinging on a few imaginary ducks,  he loaded it with some 2 3/4 inch #4 shot Kent shot shells.

first duck IMG_4152

The masked duck slayer with his first duck of the 2017/18 duck season.

When the next teal arrived, Brett shood and shouldered the gun. The bird turned to Brett’s right and flew low over the decoys. He proceeded to shoot it dead. New gun, first shot, one dead green-wing. We were learning again that when shooting quick shots at fast, close ducks, a fast swinging, short-barreled gun is an advantage. Neither Brett nor I shot teal well with the Weatherby and its 28 inch barrel.

The only bird I hit while shooting the Weatherby was an Aleutian goose and it came by on a straight line at about 45 yards, a target better fitted to the longer barreled pump.

But Brett wasn’t the only one struggling. Took me a box and a half of shells to kill my seven teal. In the end, it got down to one shell to fill Brett’s limit. Out of the 90 shells we had carried to the blind, only one was left.

A drake green-wing teal came at the blind from the south. It was low and coming fast. As Brett stood, the bird reacted by swinging to Brett’s left. Brett swung smoothly with purpose and fired.

final take IMG_4158

The bird continued on its way, so we ended the day with thirteen teal and the Aleutian goose that must have been lost.

We had a great time and will retell the story of our 2018 KDC hunt many times.

 

 

 

Lola and the Bald Eagle

 

When the bald eagle (above) attempted to steal a ground squirrel from the golden eagle in the second and third photos, it became an aerial battle.

Yesterday, I feared I’d be seeing another, more personal battle – over a teal that I had just shot. As my retriever, Lola, approached the downed bird, my hunting partner, Tom Billingsley, uttered the words, “Bald eagle,” as he looked upward.

Sure enough a bald eagle had just passed overhead flying in Lola’s direction. It was an eagle we had seen many times in the past. As the bird dropped lower and circled Lola with the dead green-wing teal,  I felt some trepidation.

My next thought was that Lola would probably just give the bird up, but what if she didn’t? I was thinking about firing a shot into the air to scare the eagle away.

Then a pair of teal flew past and I fired at the birds twice. One of them seemed to be wounded and the eagle immediately took up the chase, leaving Lola to retrieve the dead bird that lay in the water at her feet.

IMG_0022 Lola teal by Joe

Photo by Joe DiDonato

 

I was happy to have my dog back unharmed.

No kidding.

Quick Change

In early December, nary a duck could be killed at the Kerry Club. Then, on the crest of a strong north wind, the ducks magically showed up and it was limits for all – for about two hunt cycles.

On the day before Christmas eve, there were a few limits, but generally the hunting has been below par ever since.

Yesterday was again below par and many of the blinds reported one bird.

Arriving late, I hit the ponds with only two hunters on site and they quit about the time I reached blind C – historically one of the best blinds on the club.

About 1:30 PM, I knocked down a drake teal – the second bird at which I shot. The bird sailed about 150 yards to a tule patch where Lola ran it down.

IMG_4056 before the storm first duck

Lola recovered this drake green-wing teal in a tule patch about 150 yards from the blind. The weather was calm and I was using a jerk cord to create some motion in the decoy spread.

As the afternoon wore on, the ducks continually skirted the decoys or screamed in at speeds that made them difficult to hit. It was a testy situation and I worked hard to kill four teal with 15 shots. The action picked up with a significant wind from the northeast around 3 PM. About 4, with the weather calming, I picked up and made my way to the truck.

It had rained enough to create significant clay mud which stuck tightly to my boots. I stopped to snap a photo of the sun as it peaked through the breaking clouds.

IMG_4127 heading in

 

 

 

2017 Duck Opener

Recovering from my trip to Washington State, I didn’t have the will to get up early on opening day so I chose to get up at the regular time and drive down to the Kerry Club for mostly social exchanges.

However, I did make it out into the ponds. The result was a fat pintail drake that I ate for breakfast this morning.

Here is Lola with her initial retrieve of 2017. She wanted to keep it, but finally decided to let me have it.

IMG_3801 2017 opener

Wednesday I’ll get an early start with my blind partner, Tom Billingsley and we’ll see it we can bag a few teal.