The Adventures Of LCJ: Duck Season

By Lawrence Cooper Jordan
Thanksgiving week has come and gone, and with it, the first split of duck season. Duck season runs from Thanksgiving week in November until the end of January, giving an excuse for many to wake up at five in the morning and navigate the river to their favorite spot. Hunting requires a basic understanding of the animal being hunted and the environment in which you are hunting.
Dillon County is blessed with one of the few blackwater rivers as a resource to hunters and fishermen. The Little Pee Dee River is one of South Carolina’s few designated scenic rivers and flows 109 miles to its junction with the Great Pee Dee River. It is called a blackwater river because of the decaying leaves and vegetation that gradually stain the water to a tea colored tint. The river is bordered on both sides by giant, moss–covered cypress trees which can survive in flooding swamps and low lands. The roots and tree base are often underwater so you will notice the cypress knees around the base of each tree. This is created by portions of the roots growing up above the water level to absorb more nutrients for the tree. The river is littered with this root formation.
The river is free to boating, fishing, camping, and hunting. I would encourage anyone to go out and explore it. I preferred to use a canoe because there could be logs that need to be Crossed.
The wood duck is the most common duck on the Little Pee Dee River and is one of the country’s most colorful ducks. I did not realize until I shot one that the species’ coloring is quite different from the mallard. The mallard has a green head and a white ring around the neck. The wood duck has an outlandish appearance with a crested head and over seven different colors. The wood duck will often land and roost in trees which is fascinating because most ducks cannot grip the branches with their webbed feet. The wood duck also makes a distinct squealing sound rather than the commonly expected quacking that mallards make.
Some ducks have a band around their leg with a phone number and code number. These bands are used to research migration patterns of released ducks. I have only killed one banded duck in Dillon and found that it was released in Maryland two years earlier. I cannot imagine how far he may have traveled in that time. Ducks are migratory birds and most travel south for the winter. The wood ducks earned the nickname, “summer ducks” because they are one of the few which will stay in the south all-year-round. Suzanne Linder’s A River In Time shares an early South Carolina explorer’s encounter with this bird.  “Lawson described killing to several birds of a strange kind, however, ‘having a red circle around their eyes, like some pigeons I have seen, a top knot reaching from the crown of their heads, almost to the middle of their backs, and an abundance of feathers of pretty shades and colours. They prov’d excellent meat.’ These ducks may have been wood ducks, year-round residents of the Carolinas whose excellent flavor came from a diet of vegetation instead of fish. Lawson said that the pigeons were so numerous that one might see millions in a flock. They sometimes split off the limbs of stout trees up from which they roosted at night. The Indians killed them in large numbers with long poles with which they hit the pigeons at roost. They used pigeon fat like butter. The flights were so large they almost obstructed the light of day as they passed over.”
I would encourage anyone to take some time to explore this incredible river that flows through our backyards and to see the wood ducks that have lived here since before Dillon was settled. Duck hunting is an easy activity to start. After you  get your license, you can get the Duck stamp for your license at the Post Office. You must have a state hunting license as well as a state duck stamp and federal migratory duck stamp. The limit is three ducks per person per day, but we seldom reach the limit.
Ducks and geese are both migratory birds and special federal laws protect them. Be sure you know the laws and always hunt safely.
Nothing beats paddling through the fog in the dark, shooting a few ducks at sunrise, and making stories along the way!
Reference: Suzanne Linder and Emily Johnson, A River In Time, The Palmetto Conservation Foundation, 2001, p.27.

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