Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
One of the things I keep an eye out for each year, is the peak migration of American coots. Most commonly referred to as mud hens, coots are those large black birds that appear on local wetlands each autumn – often in incredible abundance. Coots are our largest representatives of the rail family, and I never let a season pass without bagging and eating at least a few. Although held in high regard in America’s Deep South, coots are generally viewed with distain in the North, mostly because of the widespread misconception that coots are inedible – You know, they taste just like mud. In spite of a generous daily bag limit of 15, most hunters look the other way when it comes to coots. This is unfortunate. In reality, coots do not taste “just like mud.” Whether used in gumbo, stewed, pan fried, or grilled, coots are delicious.
Coot shooting has little to offer in the way of outdoor skill or challenge. It is simply a way of obtaining nutritious wild protein. Most of the coots I bring home are bagged as ‘birds of opportunity’ incidental to duck hunts. Most bags are small, but every now and then, they become more substantial. One of the most memorable occurred a few years ago while hunting ducks at Clear Lake with my nephew Justin.
Although the morning began with some fast action, the flight shut down around 8 o’clock or so. Upon watching a huge raft of coots swim into some nearby rushes, I casually mentioned that I hadn’t put together a good bowl of coot stew all season. That said, we immediately deciding to put the sneak on the afore mentioned flock. Slipping out of the blind, we began slowly creeping through the head high bulrush toward where the birds were last seen.
We soon spotted a good number of the flock feeding in a large opening in the round-stem. Taking careful aim, we each fired two loads of steel 6’s into the rafted coot. The guns roared and the water danced with thrashing mud hens. Gathering the slain, we ended up with a total of 29 dead coots – only one short of our combined 30-bird limit. The situation gave us pause. The tally could have just as easily been 31 which would, of course, have put Justin one bird over his legal limit. Anyway, we decided that the next time we tried for coots, we would each fire only one shell instead of two.