Dead—not a duck in
sight for over an hour, not even a distant flight. Another bad year. This is
the worst season I've known, the fewest ducks I've ever bagged in all the years
I've shot on the Eastern Shore. They claim it's the result of bad hatching
conditions. But there may be something to Charley's theory that there is more
than a coincidental connection between the duck shortage and the clamp-down on
baiting. Until Maryland finally surrendered to the Federal boys, corn was
dumped all the way from Havre de Grace to Chincoteague, thousands and thousands
of tons of it. It was one of the biggest game feeding operations anywhere in
the world, right in the middle of the flyway, halfway between Canada and Cuba.
Ducks stopped in here by the thousands, exhausted and hungry, took on a load of
food and rested up. A lot were killed, but still it was a small percentage of
the total flight, and the birds that went south—next year's breeding stock—were
strong and vigorous. Charley says that the few ducks they shot down at
Mattamuskeet last year were in the poorest condition he'd ever seen: "Some
of them cans didn't have no more meat on 'em than a starved hell-diver." No
real sportsman is in favor of shooting over baited decoys, but it may well be
true that corn dumped a fair distance from the blind saves a lot more ducks
than it kills.
1 p.m. Temp. 27�F.
Wind: Variable, 5-10 mph
Low cloud cover
lifting and breaking up. Wind down to fitful little puffs from all around the
compass. Nothing flying, and I haven't heard a shot for a long time.
Being alone today
is oddly pleasant. I'd not have chosen it—I've so often passed up a day of
shooting or fishing because there was no companion available. Yet, alone,
there's a sharpening of all the senses of perception, a mind more fully opened
to the fascination of sky and water, an alert awareness undimmed by the
1:55 p.m. Almost
blasted away at our pet kingfisher. Caught him out of the corner of my eye, and
my gun was up before I realized that he'd fooled me again. Mystery why this
lone kingfisher stays around this blind—three years now. Can it possibly be the
same bird? But I've seen no other anywhere along this shore.
2 p.m. Temp. 30�F.
In the last few
minutes, it's gone flat calm. There will be no ducks flying now, but I'll give
it another half hour. Pleasanter here than it would be back in town.
the point bar is showing, and the gulls are starting to come in. I wonder why,
of all the killing man does, gulls are so universally bypassed. Everywhere I've
ever been, all over the world, killing a gull is a serious offense against
whatever gods bestow good fortune, certain to bring down the worst of bad luck.
Superstitions are much more effective than game laws.
2:35 p.m. Two
pairs of blacks came down the creek in the last 10 minutes, high and far out of
range. Then came a lone mallard drake that I momentarily mistook for another
black until, flashing across a thin shaft of sunlight, I caught a glimpse of
that jewel-glinting green head. I turned him with a feed call, and he came
back, close enough for a possible shot. But I held fire, remembering all the
times I've kicked myself for firing too soon. So much of wing shooting is
instinct, reactions much too fast for conscious thought. A good wing shot will
almost invariably mount a gun and get off his first shot in less than two
3 p.m. Temp. 31�F.
Wind: S 5 mph