No recollection of duck hunting memories would be complete without these fishy fowl included
Now that I’ve covered my favorite memories about common dabbling and diving ducks in my previous two blogs, it seems appropriate to reminisce about sea ducks and, yes, even mergansers. I’ll never claim to know much about sea ducks, as I’ve only taken a few dozen. Mergies? I’ll plead guilty to substantial firsthand experience with those fish-guzzling devils. But both have starred in some memorable hunts.
Scoters sometimes visit our inland open-water diver sets in the Midwest. I’ve lumped the three North American varieties — surf, black and white-winged — together because I’ve had fairly equal experience with each.
My first encounter with scoters (in that case, surfs) remains memorable because we were so surprised. A big October storm blew through, leaving the lake calm the following day. Two friends and I motored out slowly from a harbor to set out bluebill decoys but ran into a massive — and massively lost — flock of loafing scoters. We were gung-ho and none too sharp, so we set up about 300 yards away to see what happened. We shot four or five before the survivors got smart and relocated.
Nowadays, I’m always happy to see scoters (they’re most often white-wings) because of the variety they offer. Compared to the bluebills and redheads we’re accustomed to shooting, approaching scoters resemble huge bumblebees with tiny, fluttering wings. They’re neat ducks, and I’m always thrilled when one graces our boat.
Many Midwestern hunters actually have substantial experience gunning longtails, as thousands of these swift, sleek ducks winter on the Great Lakes. Internet forums and social media have turned longtail hunting into something of a zoo, but it’s still fun.
As with scoters, we take a few longtails with our inland layout rig. The last one, a big drake I took this past November, floated into our spread from behind on a windless day, seemingly hovering like a specter over the inside line. I paused for a moment before firing, just to appreciate the unique sight.
My incredible two-day experience with common eiders came about solely because of Linda Powell at O.F. Mossberg and Sons, and a great group of Ducks Unlimited volunteers in Maine. The guys treated me and several other writers to a classic sea duck hunt, with white-knuckle boat rides and long sits on seaweed-covered rocks. I can still picture the two big drake eiders I took the first day. One now resides in my living room, along with a gorgeous hen from the same hunt. And did I mention we ate fresh seafood every day? Man, I love eiders.
I swore off shooting mergies years ago, as I no longer want to kill anything solely for the sake of shooting it. But during my formative years, the big dragons often provided great targets of opportunity. One Thanksgiving weekend, when other ducks seemed nonexistent, we resolved to take a three-man, open-water limit of mergies just to say we’d done it. Action was nonstop, as the big birds bombed our spread in a shallow bay laden with dead gizzard shad. After the smoke cleared, 15 sawbills lined our boat, with one stray greater scaup. And funny, but when I got home, one of my buds had “gifted” me his five mergansers.
Full-plumage red-breasted drakes are cool-looking ducks. I haven’t shot many of them, but one stands out. About 15 years ago, open-water diver hunting was slow. In fact, we hunted for two hours one day without shooting. Someone suggested that I pass up my turn in the boat so we could quit early, but I stubbornly refused, vowing to get at least one duck. Forty-five minutes later, a lone red-breasted sailed across our spread, and I scored the only bird of the day. For some reason, my buddies didn’t seem too impressed.
Here’s a caveat to my statement about forgoing mergies: I still shoot drake hooded mergansers. Hens get a pass, but drakes are simply too awesome. And if I have to eat two fishy-tasting breasts, so be it. Hoodies started my waterfowl taxidermy addiction in 1988, when I shot a beautiful little drake one November morning. My friend and I marveled at the ornate duck, as we’d never seen one close up. The mount still sits on my workroom shelf, and although the feathers have seen better days, I always think of that morning in the blind whenever I look at the bird.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.