CHINCOTEAGUE ISLAND, Va. – It didn’t feel cold until the group was being taxied out to the blinds on the edges of Queen Sound Channel off Chincoteague Island. Luckily, the nearly nonstop blasts from the 12-gauges warmed us up.
But more on that in a moment.
The trip started out as it always does: The group met at the Park-and-Ride in Smithsburg, Md., before loading up the truck and hitting Interstate 70. The three of us – Patrick Vega, Bill Fisher and myself – immediately broke into a conversation about everything from the current political atmosphere to the topic of our hunt – ducks.
“Are they [buffleheads] considered sea ducks?” Fisher asked.
Not a bad question on the heels of our conversation about our trip to the Chesapeake Bay to chase scoters and oldsquaw. The answer to that: Yes, they’re considered sea duck – one of 15 species that includes four different eiders, three scoters, two goldeneyes, harlequins and three mergansers.
As we pulled into the Valero to meet our guide, Capt. Matt Mason of Marshland Charters, it was about an hour and a half from legal shooting time. After meeting up with the fourth guy in our group, Al Moyseenko, we all took turns relieving ourselves in the single-head bathroom and drove down the road to the dock where Mason’s Carolina Skiff was waiting for us. We quickly loaded up our gear, sat down and taxied out to open water.
Mason’s livelihood and the gentleman’s rule
Mason has been in the Chincoteague area for more than 40 years and has over 35 years of hunting and fishing experience.
He sticks to guiding fishing tours in the summer, but as soon as late-duck seasons open he turns to chasing tail feathers alone and as a guide for paying customers. His website says he “takes pride in customer service and providing his guests with an authentic experience,” which is exactly what he does.
Mason has over 40 blinds around Queen Sound and Chincoteague Channel at his disposal, all of which he’s built and tends to on a regular basis. The interesting part about all those blinds: residents of Accomack County don’t need a blind permit. That being said, they’re not considered private property.
“We go off the gentleman’s rule around here,” Mason said. “Yeah, people come out here and use them but they usually [ask me first].”
Sometimes people don’t follow that rule, a disgruntling part of the game for Mason who knows all too well how it goes.
“It just screws up my guiding [when random people are in my blinds]. I have to change my plans depending on the tide sometimes [multiple times] before I even take people out, so to show up and have people in there is irritating,” he said.
Breaking waves and curtailing the flock
To say it was cold while taxiing to our blind was an understatement: The late-December air cut through our coats, waders and gaiters as we cruised to our 5-hour homes. Thankfully, it didn’t last long as we pulled into the first blind about 10 minutes after leaving the docks. Vega and I unloaded, hopped into the blind and got ready for first light.
Mason threw out eight decoys, something that caught me and Vega off guard.
“Man, this is some real minimalist duck hunting,” Vega said laughing, noting the difference between our more-than-20 decoys in the Chesapeake Bay.
But that didn’t matter, because as soon as it was time to start shooting a bufflehead drake and hen came floating into my shooting area. Two shots, two birds down, and it didn’t stop there. Plus, to make it better, Mason came back with more decoys to add to our original group. In total, we had around 16.
Through the next five hours, Vega and I saw plenty of ducks and knocked down just as many. The only ones that escaped us were the ones out of range. In total, we knocked down 15. I limited out on both hooded mergansers and buffleheads, while Vega limited out on the hoodies and was one shy of the bufflehead limit.
There was a chance at some brant, too, but they proved to be as elusive as other waterfowl hunters tell you.
On the other side of the sound, Fisher and Moyseenko ended the day with nine birds – all buffleheads.
When it comes down to it, all hunting is fun, but something we all couldn’t stop saying was, “Man, what a time.”
Whether it’s the camaraderie of sitting in a blind and freezing together or the pure joy of harvesting an animal to eat later, it was more than enough joy to go around just before Christmas. On the drive back, Vega and I discussed all the ways we would cook our ducks while Fisher quickly fell asleep in the passenger seat. Soon after Fisher dozed off, it was my time to fall asleep, full of fried chicken and fries from the local Royal Farms. A hunt for the memories.