Friday, March 7, 2008

Duck Camp - Part I by Steve Vose

While some outdoorsmen clamor on about the long held ritual of deer camp there is an uprising of a few on the fringe individuals who have shunned this sacred time honored tradition and have instead opted for the temptations of duck camp. One will undoubtedly ask what possible force in this universe could pull a man away from Uncle Frank’s venison chili, bad cigars, bodily vapors and late night poker games? To properly explain this divergence from the norm, I need to transport you back in time to November 19-21st of 2007 waterfowl season and to the days that marked the first annual Vose family duck camp.

During the three days of sea duck hunting, we had managed to hunt through mixed weather conditions in and around Blue Hill Bay, Naskeag Point and a few other areas. The ducks had been flying exceptionally well and our daily bag included a number of different species including Eiders, White Winged Scoters, Red Breasted Mergansers, Long Tails, Golden Eyes and Buffleheads and though each were healthy adult specimens many of the sea ducks still displayed plumage typical of early season birds.

Currently it is 3:00 AM, lying in bed a chill runs down my spine as I listen to the sound of the wind breathing freezing rain against the windowpane. In the distance, my alarm sounds its annoying whine and I slowly make the long laborious crawl back to complete consciousness. The rich aroma of strong black coffee comforts me as my brother hurries to fill our thermoses and make breakfast sandwiches. Now partially awakened by the fragrant aromas, I begin to dress and methodically add layer upon layer of hydrophobic polyester and Gore-Tex in hopes that the combination might just allow me to stay somewhat dry. As the mercury hovers around freezing on the ocean this time of year, proper dress becomes critical. Freezing salt spray and bitter north winds can contribute to making a trip on the ocean gunning for sea ducks a miserable experience for the uninitiated.

Most people would have to ask what kind of man wakes well before dawn in the chill of late fall to then sit in a boat as the salt spray and cold winds tear into his inadequate layers of clothing. To this, I would remark that those who have to ask have never experienced a morning on the Atlantic watching the first rays of sun break over the horizon, reveling at being the first in the nation to see the start of a brand new day.

We move though our various protocols and mental checklists and attempt to prepare as best we can for our long morning on the Atlantic. As we leave the house at 3:30 AM, I note that the deck thermometer reads 25 degrees Fahrenheit; from past experience I know that the temperature on the water with the predicted wind will drop that number considerably. After close to a decade of sea duck hunting up and down the coast of Maine, I have grown well acquainted with the fickle nature of the Atlantic Ocean and know well the ways of the wind, weather and waves and how they can change a good situation to bad in an instant. Sea duck hunting in late fall and into the winter is always an interesting endeavor. Preparation is key to having an enjoyable experience and this includes not only having the equipment to make the hunt safe but also keeping you from freezing into a block of ice.

The ride to the landing is a comfort, settling into the seat of the truck and slowly sipping my coffee I begin to discuss with my brother our plans for the morning hunt. “Well”, he says “our best bet is probably going to be Naskeag Point, I’ve been hearing that a lot of Eiders been down there recently off of Devils Thumb plus I figure that with the way you been shooting the last couple days you need all the opportunities you can get.” My brother always seems to not only know exactly where the birds are going to be flying but also possesses a studied knowledge in precisely what it takes to get me going.

After about 50 minutes of driving from Ellsworth, we finally arrive at Naskeag Point and begin the preparations necessary to launch my brother’s 16 foot V-Hull Lund. The landing already contains one sea duck guide service and as we make preparations to get underway two more guide boats pull up as well. It looks like it is going to be a busy morning and with some luck the clients in the other boats will get the birds moving and keep them moving all morning.

Seeing that our primary spot was already occupied we slowly head out across the harbor and set-up on the northern shore in our alternate location. Eighteen Eider decoys and twelve Scoter decoys are set out in parallel lines in front of the boat on two long one inch in diameter nylon lines, fixed at each end with old lifting weights. We then position the boat so that it blends into the rock ledge and anchor it in place. Lastly we raise the canvas blind system and sit back and relax for a few minutes before it is legal shooting time.

Tune is as the remainder of the story will be posted shortly . . .

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