Hunting the Common Eider in Maine

December 17, 2008 by  

By Tony “Duckdiesel” Beal

The Early Bird Gets the Worm, not so…

"I got thinking about the habits of the local sea ducks especially those hefty eiders and convinced myself that the tide has far more to do with moving eiders than the time of day."

"I got thinking about the habits of the local sea ducks especially those hefty eiders and convinced myself that the tide has far more to do with moving eiders than the time of day."

As a life-long learner, I embrace what life has to offer and love to put my thinking into action. Generally speaking in terms of great sea duck hunting in Maine and elsewhere, one must be set up and ready before the first crack of dawn. Often the early bird gets the worm, but I had been thinking about this idea for hunting the common eider.

Rather than set up before daylight to get the early fliers, I got thinking about the habits of the local sea ducks especially those hefty eiders and convinced myself that the tide has far more to do with moving eiders than the time of day. Key feeding zones are usually exposed at low water where eiders primarily feed on small shellfish in shallow water. This is how I got into scouting eiders, all I needed to do was find some key observation points, utilize a nautical chart in conjunction with some aerial photo Internet sites, and dedicate myself to assessing the routine of these great ducks. The eiders were quite predictable and I followed their feeding patterns for an entire week.

They did fly first thing in the morning, that was a given as I have spent many early mornings with ample shooting. But I did recognize that even with that early morning pressure, many feeders would locate themselves in the same general area at the feeding zones from about two hours before low water and for about two hours flood tide. This would happen day after day, only about one hour later each morning as the tide changes every six hours and fifteen minutes or so, and there are two low tides and two high tides in a 25 hour period, hence the hour difference…

"We launched a little after noontime and by 1 o'clock we had set out a line of 40 eider decoys running north and south with the boat situated just northwest of the dekes."

"We launched a little after noontime and by 1 o'clock we had set out a line of 40 eider decoys running north and south with the boat situated just northwest of the dekes."

Now this seems pretty trivial, but many species of animals function based on daylight and food availability while eider capitalizes on the level of the ocean in order to feed. So I had to put this plan into action and all I needed was an opportunity to convince my good hunting buddy, Matt, to get in on the action. Let me explain…

We had planned a hunt in mid-October but the morning forecast looked less than favorable which led into an hour long discussion about whether Matt would invest the hour and fifteen minutes of travel time on a fool’s errand. I had watched the entire forecast and placed my proposal in Matt’s direction…

The wind was supposed to settle down and come from the southwest, the tide would be three hours ebb around 1 p.m. so we could hunt a feeding zone during the afternoon and I promised a limit. Matty agreed and he showed up at noontime with a degree of skepticism. But I did not worry, this was going to be a great hunt…

We launched a little after noontime and by 1 o’clock we had set out a line of 40 eider decoys running north and south with the boat situated just northwest of the dekes. It was a bluebird sky and to be honest, not a chance at all. Nevertheless, we loaded up and waited…

"The wind was supposed to settle down and come from the southwest, the tide would be three hours ebb around 1 p.m. so we could hunt a feeding zone during the afternoon and I promised a limit."

"The wind was supposed to settle down and come from the southwest, the tide would be three hours ebb around 1 p.m. so we could hunt a feeding zone during the afternoon and I promised a limit."

In about fifteen minutes, the drakes started moving in as we hid behind the canvas blind constructed on my 18 foot Lund Alaskan rigged exclusively for sea ducks. Within two hours, we had limited out on young eiders that resemble eclipse drakes building plumage for the upcoming winter. I was elated to see my plan foster so much success…

A good habit we’ve been practicing is that we debrief and discuss all the angles about the hunt. First we discussed the weather- sunny, light southwest breeze, the tide- three hours ebb, low water at 4:03 p.m., the decoy layout- north/south, 40 dekes, mostly drake eiders, the action- small groups, mainly young drakes, with singles finishing out, and how these all came into play. The verdict became that with the proper preparation and execution, an effective sea duck hunt can be had…

The early bird may get the worm, but we got our limit.

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