Waterfowl hunters received mixed signals and sundry results during Hurricane Sandy’s moves through Western New York during the opening week of duck and goose season.
Bird hunter checks, on everything from woodcock watching to mallard minding, have flights either arriving late, varying or just starting. Upland gunners have been seeing better signs of timberdoodles, flushes and white spotting areas where birds have fed near nesting sites.
That season goes to Nov. 14, and many a light shot load could see some use during the same period that deer hunters will be out checking on rut movements of mature, mating deer.
While all those pursuits are in progress, the regular waterfowl season got off to a lovely-weather-for ducks morning Oct. 27. Drawings for opening day at the federal and state wetland areas means duck and goose hunters must either have a lottery-drawn hunting site or hunt on private lands and waterways that day.
This year, regular partner Bob Hauser of Lancaster and I got a draw for the state side and hunted the Oak Orchard Management Area. So did a few other lucky hunters.
Despite our arrival more than an hour before legal shooting time (a half hour before sunrise) several hunters had already taken positions along ponds and stretches of open water. So we set up in a wood lot where flight birds moved from one area to another.
Clearly, mallards and wood ducks dominate this area. The official state form listed just those two species and an area for “other” on the harvest-report form.
We did. One wood duck flew in range just after legal shooting began and that bird went into the game pouch. The remainder of that morning was a training session for Hauser’s dog Tundra, a young lab more interested in retrieving sticks than dead ducks right now. A few more days in the field with his master and perhaps a lead dog will have him onto birds quickly. Tundra has passed the gun-shy and water-fears test already.
The federal draw at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge for Tuesday was canceled because of threats from approaching Hurricane Sandy. As it turned out, the winds were high but less than half the speeds predicted. Skies were overcast and dank at times, but flights of birds behind our digs included a generous mix of mallards and Canada Geese that day.
So our hopes were high for a good hunt on Thursday, the next day open to blind drawings at Iroquois. Curiously, we drew the same hunt area in which we had limited out on mallards, with one mount-worthy greenhead in the bag, last year.
In the past, we had done a few so-so trips to the north side of Cayuga Pool, the one that drivers can see along Route 77 and where wildlife watchers view critters from an observation site.
Our productive pool from the 2011 season looked good, especially with promises of less hunting pressure with no hunts held earlier on Tuesday.
Water levels were high, nice breezes had birds moving between pools, shots rang out at distances either side of Hauser, John Barthin of Depew and me. Barthin came along with hopes of enjoying the panoply we harvested last year.
But the outcome for this outing came down to a “you should have been here last year.”
When we pulled our decoys at the end of this morning hunt, Hauser said, “This was the first time I drew a hunt at Iroquois and didn’t even fire the gun.” We saw small flights of geese way up high, witnessed two or three kills on the other side of the pool and left without the need to clean one shotgun barrel.
On the other side of the “swamp,” former Depew resident Chad Radt of Tampa, up visiting with the Maue family of Depew, hunted with Christopher Maue, 19, that morning. The duo had their limit by 7:50 a.m., with a bag of six mallards (two drakes and four hens), four pintails, one wigeon and one teal.
“We could have finished earlier if we only wanted teals; there were hundreds of them flying where we were,” Radt said of the hunting area Hauser and I had rejected years earlier.
The Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday waterfowl hunt draws continue at Iroquois until the start of gun deer season. Flights can be flighty, but Sandy could not blow away all the ducks and geese this season. Happy Hunting!