Friday, February 7, 2020

Back on the Sound---from Knotts Island to Bells Island

It was the first weekend of the first "split" of duck season.  Mid-November.  Unfortunately . . . our first hunt on the sound this year didn't go quite as planned.  

Several buddies and I had two Currituck National Wildlife Refuge Blinds, off Knotts Island.  We've had good hunts there before, and I love going up to that part of the world.  Northeastern North Carolina is a special place, a place full of water and waterways.  A place full of history, thanks to all that water.  One of the first colonized areas of Carolina.  Knotts Island is an especially unique place . . . and getting there from the rest of our state requires boarding the Currituck ferry or driving into Virginia, and coming back south, down NC 615, through Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, and onto Knotts Island, the island-peninsula jutting out into the Currituck Sound.

This year, we rented a cabin at a campground right on the state line.  Waterfront, with a fire-pit, and even satellite TV . . . the digs weren't too shabby.  

The night before the hunt, our fearless chef, Charles, whipped up some breakfast sandwiches, ready to be quickly warmed in the morning.  We may've enjoyed some hot cider, too.  

After the 4:30 AM check-in at the Knotts Island Market, and after splashing the boat at the ramp, we motored about 50 yards, before the Yamaha outboard "konked" out.  Bad water pump.  

Thankfully, we weren't far into the channel.  Despite being loaded with decoys and four men, we were able to paddle back to the ramp, limping back to dry land, with looks of exhaustion and embarrassment, as other hunters sped past into the morning dark, port and starboard side lights glowing.

Back to the cabin we went, to pack up, and you couldn't help feeling somewhat defeated.  Kindly, Cas, invited us to hunt a Tyrell County impoundment that afternoon . . . though we were only rewarded with a single wood duck.

. . . 

Several weeks later, for the start of the second split, I found myself up on the sound again, though further to the south, on Bells Island, staying at Stuart's Lodge.

It was the Woodberry reunion hunt, and it was great see some of my high school Rod and Gun Club buddies, and also Mr. Firman and Mr. Clements, whose interest, time, supervision, and passion for the outdoors made hunting on that school's Virginia campus a possibility.  A rare thing to be able to do these days, to be able to bring your own shotgun to school, to hunt doves and geese and squirrels on campus.  Something I'm truly thankful for, and hopefully, something that doesn't fade away.  I've got many a great memory hunting at Woodberry, all starting with a slightly-filled mud pit of a lake, and a simple blind made of "t" post and burlap . . .

It was with that Woodberry crew, led by Clyde Firman, when I first hunted on the Currituck sound (the first two pictures below).  That year, a few of us hunted with guide Paul Garrett.  We hunted with Paul again this year.  As you can see, Paul's gotten us on the birds, year after year.  

Hunting out of a "scissor" rig, cut pine set into the floating frame and also into the gunwale, we didn't do too bad... scratching out a limit with greenheads, a black duck, a few redheads and assorted divers and buffleheads.   A good ol' time on the sound.  

After shooting a limit of birds, a day topped off with fried soft crabs and flounder and trout isn't too bad . . .

Several days passed.  After I'm sure I upset a few of my neighbors by leaving some birds to hang on my apartment porch, I cooked a mallard, keeping the breast attached to the leg, and following a basic recipe from Steven Rinella.  Score the fat (duck fat is hard to beat), sear in a cast-iron fat side down first, then transfer to a 400 degree oven for a few minutes.  I swear it's the best duck I've ever eaten and it's my new "go-to" duck cooking method.

I could get used to this "sound to table" thing.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Late Fall Weekends on the Coast of Carolina

A look back . . . 

Speckled trout.  What a great fish.  To fish for, to catch, and, every once in a while, to invite a few to dinner . . .

When the trout get thick and start chewing, it's that time of year.  The temperature cools and the water clears.  It's the best time time of year---fall on the coast of Carolina.

Catch 'em from the skiff, catch 'em from the jetty.  

It just doesn't get much better . . . especially when these "trout-tivities" coincide with spoil island skeet shooting and some Turkey day oysters and a bit of Atlantic Beach pie.  

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Poor Man's Saltwater Quail Hunting

Rails.  Marsh hens.  Rail birds.  Marsh chickens. Whatever you wanna call 'em.

I'm by no means an experienced marsh hen hunter . . . I've only tried for the salt marsh fowl a handful of times.

There can be some work required for this briny mix of dove and quail hunting.  Especially trying to push the skiff through the spartina grass when the tide hasn't risen quite enough . . .  especially with a not-quite-long-enough push pole.  You, like me, may be huffing and puffing.

But when you spy a rail-bird through the grass, when you see that long distinctive bill, when you see that dark brown, slinking through the flooded grass, low, low like a nutria or a rat, those hunting instincts that lay dormant in many of us start to stir.

This really is hunting, though the shooting isn't all that difficult.  Your eyes straining, looking for the small bird, the bird just trying to evade your detection.  He, the bird, won't jump up and flush easily.  You've almost got to push right on top of him.

It's a team effort too, part of what makes this salt marsh venture so great.  One pushing, the other two, holding shotguns at the ready (though one may need to help push here and there), and all, with eyes sharp, inspecting every contrast in the flooded grass, every movement.

It's a tide game . . . and the clock's ticking.  Once that tide starts to drop out, you won't have long.

We poled my brother's old skiff through the grass, each push getting easier with every inch of water, aided by the northerly wind, near Rich Inlet and Nixon Channel. We managed to bag a few birds with the tide, but as the tide fell, and the pushing got tougher and tougher, it was time to head back to the ramp.

You don't need much.  Anyone can get out there, enjoy this public water, and take advantage of what seems to be an under appreciated hunt.  You don't need some fancy boat or fancy gun.

Just a handful of shells and an old, rusty over-and-under shotgun with a slightly loose stock.  A shallow draft boat, even if it's a going on forty year old Carolina Skiff and outboard.  A push-pole, preferably one long enough for the deeper creeks and channels and mud. Some good friends and a few iced down refreshments.  Might as well throw some fishing rods in there too . . .

P.S.---check out Eddie Nickens' great Field & Stream article on rail hunting, HERE.