A Hunt To Be Thankful For

Thanksgiving week marks the beginning of duck season, turning the rivers of the Pee Dee region into a battle ground. This part of the season only lasts a week and is usually a hectic week on the river as hunters work to capitalize on the short pre season. I went hunting multiple times throughout the early week but the hunts were only decent bringing out no more than 2 ducks each time. One of the hunts had a lot of missed opportunities and so even though we had some success, it was a sloppy result compared to what we could have done.

Ryan Stephens and I made plans to hunt on Thanksgiving morning and the canoe was loaded the night before with all we would need for the morning. We launched onto the river early in the morning and paddled through the fog to claim our spot first. The fog was thick and our lights did not expose hidden stumps and logs in our path until just in front of us. We were moving slowly and worked our way down the river through the obstacles. We reached the area where we planned to hunt, but the place was too large to cover it all with two people.
When setting up for duck hunting, the best success comes when you are set up so that the ducks will be drawn near to land where you are. This can take scouting or knowing the habits of the ducks. Spreading artificial duck decoys can help in making ducks more comfortable with landing in a certain area knowing that friends of their kind are already safely on the water. Sometimes the ducks have no intent to land at a hunter’s trap and the hunters resort to sky blasting. After waking early and exerting so much effort to get to your spot, you want to come out with something and if shooting high altitude passing ducks is the only option, then have fun and maybe bring down a duck along the way.
Ryan and I knew that our position in this one swamp could make the difference between a pass shooting hunt or an accurate close quarters hunt. We paddled through each possible option scanning the area with our flashlight and debating the positives and negatives of each option. We agreed on one spot that was farther from the river and more secluded in the trees where pass shooting may be limited, but it looked like the perfect place for the ducks to try to land. Decoys were spread on each side of us. Positioned in the cover of the trees, the swamp water made an L-shape around us giving each of us a shooting lane to cover. With our decoys spread and canoe wedged into the cover of the trees, we still had an hour to wait before shooting time. One at a time, three boats came down the river looking for a spot to set up to hunt. They may have wanted our spot and been upset to see our lights already there, or maybe they had another plan and would have moved farther down river anyways. I use to see other hunters as competition but they can also help. Having hunters scattered along the river may help in keeping the ducks flying for longer giving more opportunity to shoot ducks.
The sky was getting lighter and the stars were fading so Ryan and I loaded our guns and got into position. Suddenly, the river came alive with the sound of distant gunshots. This was not a good start for us because it seemed that the ducks were everywhere except for where we were. We kept our eyes peeled and were close enough to call out shots to each other. Just then, two ducks appeared through the fog and their wings were set for landing. They swooped in at a low altitude and on my first shot, the trailing duck folded and crashed into the water. I kept my eyes on my duck to make sure that I didn’t loose her and Ryan shot down the other duck. We immediately walked out to collect our ducks because they are so easy to lose if they sit for too long. We returned to our post and reloaded. 2 ducks are not a lot but we had shot down 100% of what passed us and so we were excited. We waited for more while the gunshots still rang out from other areas and once more, the ducks came. From the same direction as before, a group of 10 or more ducks swooped in. I held off from shooting as they passed me. The ducks had their wings set and circled back towards us in front of Ryan. I could see Ryan’s barrel rise from behind the stump and a duck falling from the flock. I turned and selected a duck and as I turned, I lost my footing. I fell down backwards in the water and as cold water poured down my back, I fired off on the duck and rattled his wings. The duck landed just overhead and feathers fluttered down around me while I picked it up. I looked back and Ryan was missing. His duck landed in the current and Ryan was trudging through the weeds and stumps trying to catch up. He fell a few times and rolled his ankle but he too caught up with his duck. The sun was up now and the shooting had ceased. The duck’s morning flight had come to an end for the most part and john boats were motoring back up river to the boat ramp. Ryan and I waited in position for a few minutes longer in case a boat were to scare ducks from the river but none came. Ryan and I collected our decoys and paddled back up river.
The hunt was finished with 4 wood ducks in our possession and this hunt was especially fun because we worked as a team and capitalized on the 2 opportunities that we were given. We returned home to clean the ducks and to load the Thanksgiving turkey into a smoker.
We all have many things to be thankful for that we take note of and appreciate on Thanksgiving. Having the Little Pee Dee River nearby where we can go for quick hunting adventures, whether great or futile, and the memories made from the seat of a canoe add to the list.

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