Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day Duck On The Upper Niagara River

My nephew Patrick took his first woodcock earlier this month. Today, in their seminal tradition of waterfowling the Upper Niagara River on Thanksgiving morning, Pat and his Uncle Dean tried to take his first duck.

It was 48° and calm, with a thin sun peeking on and off through some high clouds. I know this because, even though old Uncle Mike does not enjoy thrashing around in cold water in the dark at an uncivilized hour, I have my own tradition of bringing them an Egg McMuffin and a steamy cup of joe around 8 a.m.

A few birds were flying when I got to their blind, and a few shots had been taken, but missed, earlier. Since the lads were encouraged by the action, they announced that they’d hang in there for another hour or so. This intelligence set me to coughing, and, claiming an ague, I beat feet to the car for a hasty return to my cozy living room.

It was there that I got The Call. Patrick had made a nice shot on a lovely drake mallard with his 12 gauge Benelli Ultra Light. It is rumored that Uncle Dean made a right brisk retrieve, too. Nice work, Boys!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Deer Season + 25 Years = Drear Season

Within six months of our 1978 Christmas visit with my new bride's parents, I'd bought my first shotgun and my first beagle (Nancy's Dad took great delight in showing his city-boy son in law what he'd been missing). And - another first - I'd also joined a sportsmen’s club, a field trial outfit for “brace beagles." It wasn't long before the beagle men urged me to join them for deer hunts on our grounds. By 1981, I was eager for snow by Thanksgiving, as I found whitetail hunting a bit, and cottontail hunting a whole lot, sportier over the white stuff.

Lots has changed in 25+ years. Beagles became less attractive when they started jumping more whitetails than bunnies. Hunting birds behind spaniels in October had, I discovered, three things going for it that sitting on a frozen stump in December didn’t. Not that I didn’t have my days deer hunting. The lead photo shows the deer I took in November, 1986. When he stuck his head out between two pine trees, I whacked him right between the eyes with my 12 gauge Remington 1100 from the stump I was sitting on. No kidding.

So tonight I’m looking with dread at the 3+ weeks of deer season arriving tomorrow. Safety suggests that Gordie and I stay out of the grouse woods until the shotgunners have gone home for the season. I’m not picking on the deer hunters; I’m simply acting as a prudent owner who runs his dog on grouse in what will temporarily become “deer country.”

Worse yet, even though grouse remain open through February 28, good or even decent hunting conditions in the "second season" after whitetails close are never guaranteed. The hills of w. NY where I now do most of my grousing are famous as the dumping ground of the infamous Lake (Erie) Effect Snow machine. Those 25+ years have done nothing to make snowshoeing through 4 feet of snow more attractive.

I was doubly fortunate to find a release club where I can run my dog safely on pheasants during and after the general deer season. Because the club fills a gaping hole in Gordie's and my bird hunting season, I’ve come to be a lot less defensive about my membership. Hey, we’d all prefer to be chasing plentiful wild birds in unlimited acres of beautiful country. And God bless any who do! But as my fellow old coot wrote, “It ain’t me, babe.”

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Yankee Spankee Philly Thankee Hideki

Whenever a New York Yankees game is televised, it’s probably playing at Cold Duck HQ. In the post season, erase "probably." Nancy and I are huge Yankee fans.

We were delighted that the Yanks validated their regular season ascendancy with 11 wins in the post season. We’ve watched the Core Four - Jeter, Pettite, Posada, and Rivera - since they won their first title in 1996, and this Fall we rooted hard for them to win one more World Series together.

It'll be interesting, and maybe a bit sad, to see what happens in the off season. But right now we’re going to enjoy #27.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Patrick's First Woodcock

My nephew Patrick D. started walking the field with me long before he was old enough to earn his Hunter Safety Certificate. Pat took to upland hunting like ham takes to eggs. As soon as he was ready, he started learning the game at the skeet field.

When he was old enough, Patrick took his first bird at my release club. Shortly thereafter he went off to college, and had the chance to hunt only over the Thanksgiving holidays with me. We were fortunate to make the most of it.

Last year, Pat started chasing woodcock with Gordie and me. I knew he would like the challenge of this quixotic bird in our tough local coverts. I wasn’t surprised at all when Pat’s initial difficulty hitting the little buggers made the woodcock a challenging Holy Grail for him.

Today, after two seasons and almost a boxful of empties, Pat finally centered an outgoing bird in one of our historically favored micro-coverts. Shortly after Pat had taken the bird with his 12 gauge Benelli UltraLight, Gordie delivered it tenderly to my hand. I passed it to Patrick with a handshake, a verbal “well done,” and a wink.

I suspect that Patrick will enjoy that bird more than several times this evening. Pat might even think he enjoyed his first wild bird more than I did.