Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
The morning duck hunt was off to a slow start. Although several teal had visited my location prior to legal shooting time, no birds had appeared in the twenty minutes since sunrise. That’s the way teal hunting often is; lots of flocks milling around in the half light of dawn with most birds settling in to feed by the time the sun comes up.
Another five minutes had passed when I finally spotted a large flock of twenty-plus blue-wings approaching from the north. Flying high above the landscape and traveling south at breakneck speed, it seemed highly likely that these ducks were on the migration trail. They may even have been on the wing for most of the starry night, and had yet to touch down for a late breakfast.
A few seconds more and the flock was passing above the marsh. The ensuing show proved well worth the wait.
Looking down to the water, the blue-wings simultaneously locked wings. Then, with bills down, the entire flock went vertical. The early morning atmosphere was suddenly torn by the sound of twenty descending pairs of set wings, producing a unique roar not unlike the sound of a low level jet fighter.
In the midst of their rapid decent, one or more of the teal must have spotted the decoys. The flock banked hard right and, without hesitation, came burning into the spread. Arriving as a tight ball, the lead birds were already grabbing for water by the time I shouldered the gun. Firing the top barrel, I thought I could see two ducks fall at the sound of the report. Trying hard to stay with the flock as it flared above the spread, I picked a bird and squeezed the trigger. What should have been an easy second shot turned out to be a clean miss. Not the first easy teal I’ve failed to bag.
“Good thing I accidentally got two on the first shot,” I thought to myself.
Returning my focus to the decoys, imagine the surprise when I counted — not two — but rather five fat blue-wings floating at the edge of the spread. It was now obvious that the flock had been even more “balled up” than I had realized.
I was shooting my favorite shotgun — an open bored .28 gauge Ruger. In spite of the fact that my shot shells only contained 5/8 oz. of #6 steel, the open choke combined with extreme target density had made for a memorable bag. Although I’ve shot larger gauges with shells packing much heavier shot charges, I’ve never before downed 5 ducks with a single barrel. Accidents do happen; and sometimes that’s a good thing.