Hunting The Outer Banks

An active day of duck hunting is an exciting experience regardless of the setting or the target species. Until now we had spent our entire season hunting wood ducks along the Little Pee Dee River. We have enjoyed great hunting through the season but wanted to explore new places and shoot other species. Ryan Stephens, Dawson Jordan, Daniel Coleman, and I ventured to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to hunt redheads, bluebills, bufflehead, and the possible prized old squaw. Ryan was in charge of planning this trip as he was the only one in our group who had been to the Outer Banks before.

We loaded the car on Friday afternoon and hit the road at lunch time so that we can enjoy the views of the drive during the daytime. We passed the USS North Carolina battleship at Wilmington, Camp Lejeune, and ended up in the port town of Morehead City where we had supper. It was dark when we reached the motel and the wind was whipping across the island. We walked into a restaurant nearby to play pool and met our guide. He was having a bad day because his boat sank but he said that he had a spare lined up for our hunt in the morning. Everyone at the restaurant had come for duck hunting and tomorrow’s wind was everyone’s concern. Duck hunting relies on the balance of the weather. Too little wind and the ducks will sit in the water and not fly but too much wind could make it impossible for hunters to reach the good hunting locations.
We woke early the next morning and met our guide at the docks where he was preparing the boat, regardless of the wind. Our hunt would start in the marsh grass to avoid the risk of sinking in the waves. After a quick ride our boat came ashore in the marsh and our guide told us that this was our stop. Ryan, Dawson, Daniel, and I unloaded our guns and bags and stepped out into the marsh. It was high tide and so the marsh was totally flooded. There was a nearby hill where we put our coolers and gun cases before wading to the blind for the hunt to start.
The four of us settled into the blind overlooking the duck decoys and waited for the ducks to start flying. We saw mallards flying nearby but they did not come for our decoys. The next group of ducks came in from behind and we thought they were bluebills. The ducks flew low above the grass and we opened fire just as they passed us and were over the water. One of the ducks crashed into the water and Dawson waded out to catch it. After a chase across the water, he yelled back that we had shot a merganser; a trash duck. We waited for a while with no action and soon moved to the hill to lay in the grass and escape the wind. The hunt was not going well at this point and Dawson said, “We came a long way to shoot mergansers.” We spent the morning hanging out in the grass and even though there were no ducks, we were thankful to be warm.
The wind calmed down by 11 and our guide came to pick us up. His original boat was fixed and he took us across the Core Sound to a blind bordering the barrier beaches which make up the Outer Banks. The sound was still rough with waves of 2-3 feet and the boat slammed into the blind while we climbed in. Our gear was not in the blind and the four of us were standing on a small platform trying to get through a door that swung out to us. We were all holding each other up and one by one, made it inside for comfortable seating.
From inside the blind, we could look through different cuts in the walls to see where the ducks were without peeking over the walls and exposing ourselves to the ducks. These ducks have been shot at before and the slightest mistake would warn them of a trap. Our decoys were spread out down-wind from our blind since ducks like to land against the wind. The action started quickly. V formations of redheads passed overhead, and we kept our heads down so they wouldn’t see us. One duck broke off from the formation and the others followed. Soon, we had nearly 50 redheads flying back and forth, getting closer with each pass.
Communication was key in a time like this because not one of us could see the ducks the entire time. Whoever could see the ducks was calling the shots. The ducks flew to the right and Ryan repeated, “Wait, wait, wait, they’re turning back, wait, FIRE!” At that moment, all four of us stood over the rail and the ducks had nowhere to hide. With three guns to my left and ducks in plain sight down the barrel, we opened fire. I singled out one duck from the flock and fired 2 shots. The first shot left the duck unphased and I thought, “I can do better.” The second shot made a cloud of feathers puff from his wings and he crashed into the sea. Other ducks were down around our blind and we called our guide to pick them up. My duck was not dead when it hit the water and the guide told us that we have to shoot the birds again when they land or else they would dive to avoid being captured. Ryan killed 2 redheads in one shot and Dawson also got his first redhead.
Bufflehead tend to fly in smaller groups and cling low to the water. We spotted bufflehead on the move around the blind and each of us were looking different directions to see which group would come sooner. Someone in our group called out, “Shoot’em!” and we all stood up and started blasting. Because bufflehead fly low to the water, we were shooting down on them and could see our splashes which helped to better correct for the next shot. I killed two buffleheads in one shot and Daniel killed his first duck in the same pass. Another group came by in the same way and Dawson shot 2 buffleheads in one shot.
The most regrettable part of the day was when we were focused on shooting down bufflehead, a group of 5 old squaw passed our blind within shooting range and we did not see them until it was too late, and they were out of range. There were too many ducks to worry about that missed opportunity. Ryan shot down a hen redhead which we found, and Daniel shot a redhead from a V formation of redheads flying over. The redhead coasted down and hit the water out of range for us to finish it off.
As in any hunt, we made a handful of mistakes that will make us better in future trips. We thought that ducks were close only to stand to shoot and realize that they were out of range. We waited too long for ducks to commit to our decoys allowing them to move on without shooting at them. We learned how urgent it is to finish off the wounded as soon as they hit the water so that they couldn’t hide. We also gained coordination as a group to work together and communicate as this method of hunting was so new to us.
As the sun set and our hunt ended, we enjoyed hanging out in the blind and seeing the thousands of ducks that were passing too high to shoot. The boat pulled up to take us back to the docks and our guide passed us the 12 ducks retrieved between our group of 4. (3 redhead, 3 merganser, and 6 bufflehead) A group of hunters from Little River, SC were on the boat with us and we shouted our stories over the wind to each other. The stars were out when we reached the dock and it was so dark that the stars looked closer and we could even see stars where the sky met the horizon. The clear night sky reminded me about how far we were from any town.
The Outer Banks were a terrific place to hunt and explore and we left with a stronger desire to come back for more in the next season.