09/25/09 — New decoys add fun to duck hunting

View Archive

New decoys add fun to duck hunting

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 25, 2009 1:47 PM

Whenever I've gone weeks without sleep, arising well before dawn to pursue web-footed fowl, I remind myself that hunting is a passion for myself and others like me, as well as my job.

The best way to keep alert during those incredibly early hours is best done by keeping the avocation or vocation fun.

Some sort of deprivation in my childhood made me covet beautiful decoys. No rubber duckies graced my bathtub, so perhaps that absence is what has filled my storage area with shelves stacked from floor to ceiling with decoys. Each generation of working decoys grows more realistic, until even a hunter with binoculars has trouble telling a decoy from the real thing, unless the real duck turns its head to preen.

So it was with high anticipation that I opened the boxes UPS dropped on the porch. They included the latest Greenhead Gear Pro-Grade Green-winged and Blue-winged decoys, along with boxes filled with other species. Not only were the teal decoys painted in realistic colors, they were also molded into different shapes identified as "rester," "surface feeding" and "high head" on the box.

September teal season has a shaky history. A few years ago it began as an experimental season to allow waterfowl hunters the opportunity to harvest surplus ducks that migrate to other places where they are not hunted before the continental U.S. regular waterfowl seasons arrive. The limit was established at four blue- or green-winged teal, or cinnamon teal in combination, with cinnamon teal a bird of flyways westward of the Atlantic flyway.

During the first four experimental years, North Carolina hunters showed that they could not or would not identify teal during the teal-only season and in the words of one old waterfowler, "we like to have lost" the hunting opportunity.

However, education efforts by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and grouping the state's teal season with other southern states into one early teal zone brought the percentage of non-teal harvested within USFWS guidelines for continuing the early teal season in this state.

There's still a continuing problem with the early teal season. The birds do not migrate on a schedule that can be predicted within the 10-day window established by the USFWS. There are always a few teal around, somewhere sometime in September, but exactly where they are and when they occur can cover a wide variation as should be expected with a game bird that migrates thousands of miles in a few days.

The evening before the season opened Sept. 9, I added some lines to the new teal decoys and tied on 8-ounce storm sinkers. The Greenhead Gear rigging kits had yet to arrive, so I stuck with the old tried-and-true method.

Hauling my boat blind out of storage, I fitted it into the fishing rod holders on the old johnboat and headed out for a morning of teal hunting. The air was warm and the water still. Marsh grass seemed to poking up through a mirror stretching to the horizon that reflected all the clouds drifting across a lazy sky.

But clouds of teal did not materialize. I sat there reveling in the morning with my new companion, Tink, a young female Labrador retriever. She filled my old dog's place, resting comfortably on the decoy bag that had held two-dozen teal decoys moments before.

Marsh hens laughed at me for having only steel shot as the tide rose to new-moon height. They virtually surrounded the boat in the flooded needlerush and cordgrass, taunting us with their raucous voices.

After a few hours of fruitless waiting, I fired up the motor and picked up the decoys and headed for home. On the return, the boat motor dropped a cylinder, which I suspect my mechanic will discover is the result of ethanol contamination in the carburetor.

The limping outboard ended my teal season. But the next season is just around the corner. During the second short season, which occurs in early October, most other ducks are legal game, although it was established mainly to take advantage of wood ducks that migrate just after the teal.

There's a box of Greenhead Gear Pro-Grade Wigeon decoys and a box of Greenhead Gear Wood Duck decoys, along with three boxes of Greenhead Gear Mallard decoys still sitting in the living room, ready to be rigged and deployed. Like houseplants, the decoys will have to be watered frequently to keep them happy.

And keep me happy, too.