Thursday, October 19, 2017

Shoot more ducks and pheasants NOW!

Shoot More Ducks 
The nip of the early morning air, frost and the brilliance of the fall foliage all work in unison to signal the arrival of my favorite month, October. During this magical time of year, I can think of no better place to be than sitting on the edge of a marsh with my dog, watching the sun creep up to the horizon anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first ducks of the season.
Being successful during the waterfowl season requires scouting, scouting and more scouting. Every season, I go through extensive lengths to find new areas, to find that hidden, off the grid, ducking hunting nirvana. While location certainly is a huge component linked to success, several other items are also critical.
Calling, ducks into shooting range is important and doing it effectively takes a refined understanding of basic duck sounds and behavior. Hundreds of instructional videos have been created to teach people how to call effectively. Watch those videos and out call the guy hunting in the blind next door practically every time. Busy and lack the time to invest in receiving a master’s degree in duckology? Well, let me share five quick and easy secrets to help increase success this October.

  1. Buy a teal and wood duck call. These two additions are extremely effective in calling in these two species when standard “quack” calls will fail to do so. Both the teal and wood duck call are easy to learn by reading the instructions on the back of the package. These calls will add an entirely new dimension to any sportsperson’s duck-hunting arsenal.
  2. Hunters should not be seen, so limit movement and cover up the often forgotten face and hands with camouflage face paint or netting so as not to spook approaching ducks.
  3. Decoy spreads to be properly seen from the air need to contain a lot of movement. This is accomplished by including spinning wing decoys, jerk chords and any other products that create water disturbances, mimicking happily feeding ducks.
  4. Quack, quack, quack is the basic call of the mallard and black duck. This is the “King” of duck vocalizations. Use heartily to call to a ducks wing tips and tails to turn them and lightly in the morning when the marsh is coming alive. Do not call loud and repeatedly, overdoing it frightens ducks.
  5. Late in the season it pays to add white colored decoys to your set-up, as doing so will yield visits from both hooded and red crested mergansers. Take old mallard decoys and paint them white and black to mimic mergansers.

In Washington county wood duck and teal become almost non-existent after the first two weeks of October, so get on them fast and hard before they disappear! Find your own secret waterfowl hot spot by exploring Fourth Machias Lake (DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, C-2). This lake has a great boat launch on the northern end and a healthy population of resident Canada geese and late season mergansers.
Let’s Shoot Pheasants!
For those of us in Washington County, we will need to drive several hours south if we want to shoot a pheasant this month. Pheasant season runs from October 1 – December 31 and hunters may harvest 2 birds of either sex per day. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in cooperation with several Fish and Game Clubs, stocks approximately 2,300 pheasants throughout York and Cumberland counties every year.
According to Brad Zitske a biologist with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, “the pheasant program was initiated many decades ago to include only Cumberland and York counties because it was believed that the birds would not be able to over-winter further north. Interest in the pheasant hunt is mostly locals, many of whom are members of local rod and gun clubs and their participation is vital in helping stock and maintaining sites and acquiring landowner permissions for new sites.”
Odd I know, but that original law (L.D.2193, “An Act to Institute a Pheasant Stamp Program for Cumberland and York Counties”, has not been challenged, to my knowledge, since the law was implemented in 1993. Considering the effects of global warming and the successful expansion of the wild turkey into all areas of Washington County, I think we need to contest this law and get some pheasant hunting sites established in Washington County as well as other areas around the state!
Pheasants are typically hunted with the help of specially trained dogs but that should not dissuade those lacking such a specialized K9 from hunting them. Teaming up with another hunter or hunters will help to tip the odds in your favor but a solo hunter can still take pheasants.
If hunting with others, have one hunter slowly walk the edge of cover, occasionally stopping to panic birds into flushing, and post a buddy at the end of the cover. Birds that do not flush will often run to the end of a row of cover before erupting in a whirlwind of feathers. Having a hunting partner block this escape route, practically guarantees more birds in the bag. Safety is critical when hunting with multiple hunting partners, so make sure everyone is wearing blaze orange and obeys the safe shooting zone rules. Talk continuously to rattle birds and ensure everyone knows the locations of the other hunters.
If hunting alone, walking and stopping will often panic birds, forcing them to flush in range. Some birds will flush as the hunter approaches, but even more will hide in the last few feet of cover. Once a hunter nears the end of a row of cover, a fast walk will often surprise birds that assumed they had more time, hunters should just be very careful where their firearm is pointing and watchful of their footing. Sometimes birds that still refuse to flush can be forced to do so if the hunter kicks the brush or speaks loudly.
Once a bird is shot, a hunter should not take their eyes off it until it either goes down or flies out of sight unharmed. If the bird does go down, the shooter keeps his eyes on the mark and directs the other hunter(s) to the spot. If hunting solo be sure to carefully mentally mark the exact spot but marking it with an unusual tree or other landform. Walk straight toward where the spot and use care to not let your eyes drift off the location.
Pheasants are also a good bird to start young hunters on because they usually hold tight and are larger and more predictable targets than ruffed grouse and woodcock.
Hunters must purchase a pheasant permit in addition to their regular hunting license. The permit is available online or from the normal license vendors. With prices at local shooting preserves exceeding $30 per pheasant released (not necessarily harvested!) the pheasant permit is considered a very good value for the hunter. For information on updated 2018 release sites be sure to Google, “Maine Pheasant Hunting Program”.

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