Late Season Sea Duck Hunting

Warm temperatures, calm waters and bright sunshine. Sound like a perfect day? Not if you're sea duck hunting.
It's not often that you hear anyone complain about beautiful weather, but that's exactly what happened on January 7'th and 8'th as a group of us gathered for our annual sea duck hunt on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. When the weather forecast called for no winds, bright, sunny skies and temperatures in the high 30's, we let out a collective groan. It's a well known fact that bad weather usually equates to good duck hunting.
This is certainly the case where we hunt on Cape Cod. When the weather turns nasty, sea ducks such as Eiders and Bufflehead fly into the harbor and often pass over the jetty where we sit, hidden among the rocks.
The big Eiders generally decoy easily and when the wind is blowing, the snow is flying, and the temperatures are low, they often drop right into the set.
With their thick coat of downy feathers the birds carry serious body armor and close shooting with steel BB's is needed to do the job.
However, these two days would be a vacationer's dream……if their vacation was in the Bahamas! The ocean water looked like glass and we seriously contemplated the use of sunscreen!
The layers and layers of insulated clothing and foul weather gear were stowed away in the back of the trucks. Even a lone harbor seal seemed a little confused. I don't know if it was the decoys or the sunny weather.
All was not lost though. We still managed to take a mixed bag of birds which included Eiders, Bufflehead, Brant, and a couple of Black Ducks that passed over the jetty on their way to the brackish marsh behind us.
The day ended on a high note when we returned to the home of our gracious hosts, Kevin and Christy Mendes. They treated us to a tremendous meal consisting of shrimp cocktail and grilled duck breast for appetizers followed by the best tasting seafood "chowda" ever experienced. Special thanks go to Kevin and Christy for treating us like kings and for Kevin's expertise in the kitchen.
We were joined on the second day of the hunt by three more hunters.
Among the new hunters was Kevin and Christy's 18 year old daughter, Ashley Mendes. You may remember her as the "Duck Commandress" from the Outdoor Life blog on last year's hunt. Ashley is one heck of a hunter. She outshot many of us last year (well, o.k., she outshot me) and then followed up her successful duck hunt by bagging two big gobblers by 10:30 one morning in Maine this past spring. That brings her turkey kill total to five!
The Duck Commandress
Sea Duck hunting has been described as a hunt reserved for only the most die hard fools. Those dedicated few who are willing to risk their life against the harsh, bone chilling, winter weather that Mother Nature dispenses along the northeast coast in January. Conditions can be downright nasty, with temperatures below zero and fierce winds blowing in off of the whitecap ocean that coat everything with a layer of ice in a matter of seconds. This includes boots, guns, decoys and frozen hands when setting out the decoys.
But, with this weather come the ducks. As the wind and tides rise, the hardy eiders make their way to the sheltered bays to get out of the wind and rest and feed on the mussels buried in the sand on the ocean bottom. Other, more recognized ducks, like mallards and blacks fly into the fresh water marshes and swamps to cleanse their systems of the salt water ingested while swimming in the ocean.
However, as anyone who hunts in New England knows, the weather can change every five minutes and even the best forecasters are always taking a chance when they predict the New England weather. A late season sea duck hunt is a great way to end the year. It's a time to enjoy the company of friends; to relax, to talk about deer seasons that have just ended and the spring turkey season to come. It's a time to warm up in front of a roaring fireplace while feasting on some incredible dinners and hearing stories retold of the hunt's great shots and, the not so great shots. (I'm always included in the second group!) If the conditions are right, it can also be an exciting hunt, filled with fast shooting at speed demons with wings!
Every January, a group of us from western Massachusetts head to Cape Cod to meet up with some good friends and go after sea ducks for two or three days. We don't hunt from a boat. Instead we walk out along a jetty and set out the decoys at low tide. As the tide rises, so do the decoys. We pile on layers of clothes and tuck down into the rocks and wait for the birds. The first ones to usually arrive are the blacks. They pass over the rocks on their way into the marshes and we always throw out a few black duck decoys along the rocks to draw them close. Also, if it's windy, or raining, or snowing, they pass over within range and sometimes it doesn't take long to fill our limit of one each. The eiders and other sea ducks often fly all day long. This year we had our best hunts on windy and cold days. We did have a few bluebird days when the sea looked like a sheet of glass and we needed sun screen to protect our faces, but we still got in some shooting. Joining us on a hunt this year was Ashley Mendes.
She is the 17 year old daughter of Kevin and Christy Mendes from Cape Cod. I had the opportunity to see her knock down a few birds last year and knew that this girl can shoot!
This year she graduated from a 20 gauge to her Dad's Benelli, Super Black Eagle, 12 gauge and shot 3.5 inch magnum BB's. (Appropriate firepower for the heavily down-layered eiders.)
Let me tell you; the ducks didn't have a chance! This spring she and her Dad will be heading out to western Massachusetts to hunt turkeys with me.
Attention Boss Gobblers…..be scared, be very, very scared!

Sea duck hunting is no sport for the faint of heart. See all the action from this January hunt in New England.