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.