Erratic weather, a late bird migration, and Super Storm Sandy characterized the 2012-2013 East Coast waterfowl season. For hunters at the right latitude, it was a banner year; while those more south had to work against drought, warm temps and irregular flights.
The season opened with high hopes. Drought had plagued most of the country all summer, and while water levels were low along the Atlantic flyway, it didn’t compare to other regions where water was nonexistent. There seemed to be enough fresh water down most of the Atlantic flyway for migrators to stick around. If anything, the lack of water would help concentrate birds, it was thought. There was plenty of duck food incubating, too, as moist-soil vegetation took hold in dry creek beds and empty backwater beaver ponds. When early fall rains moved through, it was a veritable duck buffet most places north and south.
It has not been the best of duck seasons. Better than last year for most, yes, but warm weather, drought and abundant food resources have made it challenging for many hunters, myself included. Yet despite it all, there have been days of great shooting. For me, no surprise, the last day of the season here in Rhode Island was hands-down the best one.
We went into Narragansett Bay for a late Saturday hunt, which quickly turned into a scouting trip. On Sunday morning we were back, on the X with hundreds of bluebills overhead riding the 30-knot winds. Hunting from the boat, tucked into a lee thick with cattails and marsh grass, with 80 decoys out front – mostly old Herter’s foam bodies, as you can see in the photo above– it didn’t take long for the birds to commit. The dekes were close, 15 yards out, and the scaup and a few buffies nearly landed in the boat.
The National Climatic Data Center just released its state of the climate overview, confirming what bird hunters have suspected all season long: 2012 was the warmest year on record for the United States.
With my truck in the shop and no way to tow the boat, I spent Saturday scouting for walk-in spots. Not five minutes from my house, on one of the big coastal ponds here in southern Rhode Island, I found open water and three-dozen black ducks. Right away I called my young cousin Johnny McConnell and asked him if he wanted to see how this thing called duck hunting works.