Texas Duck Hunt: Early Birds on the Bay

Day One
I like to have my decoys out early, and it's nice to hunt with people who share my philosophy. Guide Harold Dworaczyk of the Bay Flats Lodge in Seadrift, TX, had the decoys out long before legal shooting time. Noting the slight crosswind, Harold placed 5-7 dozen puddle duck, redhead and bluebill decoys upwind to the right of the blind and 3-4 dozen downwind to the left. The blind was on a point that jutted out into the Bay, and he left a hole in front. We expected mostly diving ducks (redheads and a few bluebills), but this was obviously more of a puddle duck style spread than a traditional diver rig.

I had plenty of time to finish my coffee and watch other hunters motor by us along the San Antonio Bay. Pre-dawn is one of my favorite times to be on the water. I looked up into the clear Texas sky and located Orion, the hunter, and quietly reflected upon the waterfowling tradition. It's a little pre-hunt ritual I like to carry out, weather permitting. To my right was Paul Wait, editor-in-chief of Wildfowl magazine. To my left was Mike Leeds, a former NRA employee now with Benelli, and Tim Brandt of Federal Premium ammunition. Leeds and Brandt were on hand to help coordinate the filming of an episode of Benelli on Assignment.

By 6:15, the sun's rays began to curve around the horizon. Not that the woods aren't a special place, but there's nothing like watching a body of water come alive.

At 6:45, a nice redhead drake cruising down the bay saw our decoys and turned sharply. Mike Leeds, a deer hunter who'd never bagged a feathered animal, stood and bagged it with one shot. Minutes later, a drake bluebill came from the right. Paul, Tim and myself all missed it—some of us more than once (okay, I'll admit it, I emptied my gun)—but Mike saved the day by dropping the lesser scaup with a single shot. Two shots, two ducks. How many of us can say we started a lifetime of duck hunting in that fashion?

Around 7:30, a drake and hen redhead came in and I redeemed myself by dropping the drake.
Then we experienced what the Texas Gulf is known for—huge numbers of redheads. I'd really been looking forward to this hunt, because it's the end of the flyway and therefore it has a huge abundance of waterfowl. There's also a great variety of ducks and, because they appear along the Gulf late in the year, their plumage is exquisite.

A ball of redheads with some bluebills among them barreled straight for us and cupped their wings. They veered left as Harold called the shot. I stood and killed a drake redhead but regrettably collected a hen with the same shot.

Overall we bagged 10 ducks: seven redheads (6 drakes) and three bluebills (2 drakes).

Also, it should be noted that after the hunt I helped clean guns out of concern for their exposure to saltwater. I believe this may be the first time a gun writer ever performed such a feat.

Go to Day Two.

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