November 7th OPENING DAY NJ COASTAL SEASON
Location: Atlantic City, NJ
Hunters: pvn6616 & JoeyO
I moved to South Jersey long ago from the Shrewsbury/ Navesink River area because I was a very lucky young boy who had a dad who loved to waterfowl. He had a close friend who owned property on the Wading River down here in South Jersey where we were able to come and gun. Imagine flocks of up to 100-200 ducks circling your decoys. Blacks, Mallards, Pintails, Woodies, Teal, Ringed Neck ducks...needless to say it left an everlasting impression on me to chase the mighty black duck. I have shot plenty of broadbills and cans up north but with the declining populations and bag limits it wasn't any fun putting out those large spreads. When I was 18 I moved down here and got in the marine business (convenient) and began my career as a south jersey waterfowler. Living in Brigantine, just north of Atlantic City, gave me endless miles of wide open marshes to learn and explore.
When I was younger my Dad brought my buddies and I down to these very same marshes to hunt the Brant and I saw lots of other waterfowl then. I would ask Dad why we didn't come here to hunt Ducks and he said cause you can't get them out here. I never understood that, but then again, we had the luxury of private property with a very well built blind with a full kitchenette built in, so in his defense, why bother.
I tell all of this as a precursor to the reason why Mr Potts's little bufflehead is surrounded by huge cork blacks, mallards and pintail decoys. He does appear out of place but I love to hunt the puddlers, and its OPENING DAY! Besides, he showed up a week early yesterday and he wasn't even invited on this hunt. He stowed away in the decoy bag when I wasn't looking and I wasn't going to leave him sitting in the boat alone all morning.
JoeyO was at our designated meeting place at 4AM when I pulled up, in full camo, looking ready to go. We drove down to the marina and hopped into my 17ft Whaler and took off at an easy pace as it was low tide and it is not easy traversing the INterCoastal Waterway in the dark, where it goes from 20 foot deep to 2 foot deep in the blink off an eye. We made good time until we rounded the point and had to cruise into a shallow bay. The depthfinder read 1.8 ft and we got out and walked the boat a couple hundred yards in. No sooner had we jumped overboard and another boat rounds the point and flies right byy us. Someone else had the same idea and scouted the area too. I wasn't nieve enough to think I was the only smart one, but I thought I'd be the earliest. Oh well, I don't want to go into details about the thoughts that went thru my head at that point, but like I said earlier, it's a big marsh. Joey and I worked hard setting up and were settling down just a legal time. We hadn't even gotten our guns loaded when a single teal lands in the decoys. Two minutes later a pair of mallards drifts over the decoys and lands somewhere out in front of us without us again being loaded and ready! It was a clear and still morning and I could see opportunity fading fast. As it grew lighter other hunters guns were heard going off in the distance and Joey was getting edgy. Fifteen minutes went by with nothing when all of a sudden a single doing 90- left to right skirts the outer edge of the decoys. I raise the gun and drop it cleanly in the weeds beyond the decs, wade out, and with Joeys help marking it locate a hen teal. we watche d a group of 6 or 8 teal drop in close to the other hunters who were only 150 yds west of us. They must have been sleeping cause they didn't fire a shot. A few minutes later they spooked them and they came flying up towards Joey And I. He shot and missed, I shot once and missed and then spied one come in from behind us and go flying out in front of me, I drew on her and dropped her in the decoys. It was just prior to sunrise and I apologize for hitting two hens, but can you blame a guy for shooting buzzing teal? I didn't think so. They are fast. Heck, it took me 25 years of hunting before I downed my first teal! They are the buffleheads of the puddle duck family.
Action slowed after that for maybe an hour. We had a few birds circle and I called heartily, once bribing a pair of blackies to us when at the last moment one decides to split and commit to the othe r guys as the second is committing to us but they shot and ours flew off... that happened a couple of times as the birds really wantd to be where they were but I was calling them in and they would drop into there spread...location, location, location! The second time that happened a single drake mallard dropped into them and it sounded like 12 shots were fired. He swung over to us from behind us and i nailed him with one shot. Ishould have let him go for all the flak he made it thru...Joey had a couple of shots but twice I was in the decoys so he didn't get the best of opportunities, but we had an enjoyable morning nonetheless hunting with the litte buff!