By Jonathan Humphrey, Pinnacle, N.C.
North Carolina holds a great multitude of species for hunters to pursue. Not an exceedingly large state, it is very diverse in its geography. One less mentioned but unique trophy opportunity available in the Tar Heel state is tundra swan.
Most waterfowlers jokingly call the tundra swan the 737 of waterfowl. The bird is huge, with an average wingspan of 66 to 83 inches (some are even wider).
I first learned of this unique opportunity when a friend went on a swan hunt several years ago. I watched a few videos, listened to a few accounts and ultimately bought a shotgun in anticipation of going on this new adventure. As I live in the northwestern part of the state, the opportunity was not local, therefore I would have to travel and book a guided hunt, something I had never done before. I had never done any waterfowl hunting, either, so this was going to be a first for me.
In July 2018, I put in my $25 for an opportunity to go on this hunt. I did not expect to draw a tag, but applied to gain the points to better my chances for the next season. In October, I got the notification that I had gotten lucky—very lucky. Out of my friends, I was the only one to draw a tag, which meant I had to embark on this adventure on my own. Generally speaking, I like having people I know and trust with me while I hunt and try new things. It’s a security blanket of sorts. However, I was drawn, I had the permit, I had the gun and I was determined to make this venture a success.
Shortly after sunrise we had birds coming off the nearby lake in groups of 10 or so. The morning was a gift from God. Words don’t do it justice. Out of the groups, two birds decided to come in alone. They heard the calls, flew right in and cupped perfectly for a landing. The guides yelled out, “Shoot,” and that was all it took. They were maybe 25 yards from the shooters on that end of the ditch, and three shots later they both came down with a thud that sounded like a 20-pound bowling ball being dropped in the mud. Since I was alone and new to this hunt, I wanted to watch and immerse myself in it before grabbing a gun myself. Over the next hour and a half, we watched thousands of birds come off the lake. None flew close enough to even attempt a shot, but we were close enough to hear the wind running over their wings—a sound I can only describe as a troop of kazoos flying overhead.
Eventually another group of two came in for a landing, cupping in the way they do. They were at the opposite end of the ditch and the first bird was shot. It came down hard as soon as the shot rang out. The second bird, however, turned and headed parallel to the ditch. It wasn’t until it got down within 30 yards of my position that my guide said, "Shoot!" Maybe everyone else was in awe of what was going on, but this bird passed at least a half-dozen hunters before reaching me, unmolested. I heard the command to shoot and snapped into action. The bird instinctually flared up to get out of danger. I only shot one time but I found out later it was probably at the last second. As soon as I shot, I saw the bird react. It immediately began fluttering and falling out of the sky. With wings as big as these birds have, even mortally wounded and unable to flap they can glide a long way before finally meeting the earth. My bird landed a good 200 yards away. In a matter of seconds, the action portion of my hunt had begun and ended.
One by one everyone in my group got their birds and by noon we were all together enjoying our spoils.
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