KENT ISLAND, Md. – I looked at the permanent blind sitting just a couple hundred yards off the northern tip of Kent Island, staring directly into a slow, west wind.
Though a county in England, the likely origin of Kent Island’s moniker, kent is Scottish word – past tense of ken – that means “know.” That day, as we drove from Smithsburg, Md., to the island, we knew many things.
Mostly, we knew coming into this waterfowl hunt that we’d have the wind in our faces. This concerned me; I worried the birds we were after wouldn’t land in our spread, as ducks land into the wind so their big bodies can slow down properly. Regardless, we chose to stick to the plan and hope for the best.
As we all began to get situated in the blind and the sun began to rise, the only birds flying at first light were cormorants heading west toward their next destination. We stared in awe as the third flock passed overhead, wondering where the legal birds were. Then, before the thought could sit on the air, the all-to-familiar honking of a Canada goose broke the near silence.
The bird was behind us, and as it cruised overhead I raised my Beretta A300 Outlander, waited for a shot to present itself and blam!
The bird’s body seized up with the shot, then went limp and fell into our spread. I could see his head was drooping but wasn’t down, so I let an insurance load fly and quickly killed it. That was the first bird of the day, as well as my first with the A300 as I had just purchased it a few weeks before the hunt. The two shots gave us all some energy moving forward, which was needed since we’d be standing there for a while without any action.
The trip to Kent Island, though in a new spot, has become a pilgrimage for a few of us. My favorite guide, Capt. Brandon Moore lives there and operates his business out of Stevensville, Md., a small town just past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We typically depart from Kentmoor Marina and hunt further but because the special sea duck season was over, we decided to occupy the well-constructed blind just off the coast of the island. It was the last week of waterfowl season in Maryland, too, and figured aside from the west wind the conditions the Weather Channel called for would lead to a solid outing. We had to give Moore credit, too, he warned us about the west wind and the minimal bird activity it brought. But, we were persistent.
Over the next three hours, Oldsquaws – now called long-tailed ducks – buzzed our spread. A few of us were able to get shots on the birds, but they were too quick and escaped the hail of pellets. Then, at 10:45, as if a switch had been flipped, the bluebills began piling in.
“Hold, hold, hold, OK take ‘em!”
A flurry of six people shooting ended with no birds down. Though disappointed, another group came in almost immediately. Another flurry and two birds were hit by the guys in the left half of the blind. They fell away from the buzzing group, out toward the open water and hit the water. As Moore’s second mate, Stephanie Shields, and his fill-in, Trent, went out to retrieve the dead and mortally injured birds, the latter got out of Shield’s range and then did a death dive – sea ducks will commit suicide if they’re mortally wounded, according to Shields – but the other was dead upon arrival.
We were upset we lost a bird, but as soon as the two arrived back at the blind a pair of bluebills came towards us.
“Get down,” said Kurt Schaeffer, the guy next to me and a Chasin’ Tail regular. “Hold, hold…”
It’s always fascinating to watch ducks fly into a decoy spread. The intent they have, then the lock and the slow down. As I watched those two birds do just that, completely dialed into our setup, Schaeffer broke my trance with a quick, “Now!”
He and I popped up, shouldered our shotguns – his a fine Italian Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 – and put the two bluebill drakes to rest with one shot each.
That was enough to make my day. Which was good, because the action died down once again after that.
With most hunting situations there were disappointments. Waterfowl sorrows typically come as questions like, “Should I have taken that shot? Was it really out of range? Did I blow our cover, or did it not want to come in?”
Our disappointment that day wasn’t really anything we could change. Around 9:30 a large group of Canada geese came out of a cove to our north. Instead of breaking and flying into our spread, or even just floating into the decoys, they decided they wanted to swim behind us. Further, we didn’t see many birds, and of course on some of the bigger groups that buzzed our decoys we, for the most part, missed. And, of course, that west wind certainly played a role in the slowness.
But among those disappointments were things to be happy about. After 10 months of COVID-19 pummeling the United States, six guys were able to take part in a waterfowl hunt. Of the six, we knocked out one goose and three bluebills – two drakes and one hen – of which we parceled out fairly. Before this article’s publishing, I had already processed the goose for many great meals to come. It was a first for at least two of us to see a bluebill. It was my first time killing a bluebill and a goose. And, out of everything, a 10-year-old had joined the group for another hunt.
When we talk about the R3 movement, we often forget what it’s all about. Obviously, we want to get those new or reactivated hunters an animal. But Max, the 10-year-old, was clearly enjoying himself. Standing on the left side with his dad, Pete, with his .410 over-under, he never once complained about the sub-freezing temperature or the lack of action. It was a relief because many situations like what we dealt with that day could turn most hunters off, whether a child, teen or adult.
On the other side, nearly every generation was accounted for during that hunt. Two in their early 60s, one in his 50s, one who was 40, me in my mid-20s and then Max, just over a decade old. Normally, I’m the youngest in the group, so it was nice to see a new face experiencing everything I have over the years. I hope that he’s not the only one, that youngsters around the country are picking up the sport whether through small game, waterfowl or big game pursuits. I also hope they take it into the future, learn from us and continue the conservation legacy we all desire to carry on.