Thursday, January 30, 2014

2014 Bear Island WMA duck hunt in ICE

Pretty pintails on display with trademark sprigs crossed

The end of waterfowl season included a memorable hunt for thirteen duck hunters lucky enough to be on the final hunt at Bear Island WMA on January 25. The cold winter and the polar vortex phenomenon brought plenty of ducks to the impoundments of Colleton County that are under the care of SCDNR’s Ross Catterton. The coldest night of the year so far added the challenge of icy conditions to the hunt, but waterfowlers are known for their persistence and often yearn for such sporting conditions.
Happy hunter with a rare limit on drake pintails - Thanks SCDNR!
It was seventeen degrees in Walterboro when it came time for the 4 a.m. departure to Bear Island, and the 5 a.m. safety meeting given by Catterton. The prior day’s weather had been cold and freezing temps were in effect by nightfall. A long night of freezing weather allowed for nearly the entire Bonny Hall Pond at Bear Island WMA to freeze up, making our paddle to the blind an invigorating one.
Breaking ice in order to put out a decoy spread tested the thickness of our waders and the muscles in our legs in a way that is rarely seen here in the Lowcountry. In December of 2010 I recall hunting ducks when it was 18-degrees and we faced similar challenges in regards to ice. As shooting time arrived shortly after a magnificent sunrise over the Edisto River, we were waiting in the duck blind watching helplessly as the ice began to reform in our decoys.
Ducks were flying around by this time and the first pair to notice our decoys pitched in and literally slid across the ice sheet briefly before breaking through into the water. This scenario provided us with a good laugh, but it was a sign that the weather would play a role during our hunt. At the far corner of the impoundment a raft of ducks had found open water and soon scores of other ducks began flying over our frozen position to join that flock.
Drake Wigeon duck for me too!
We enjoyed a limited amount of pass shooting but the take away from those early moments was the wonder of duck migration. Witnessing 5000 or so ducks pitch into the Wildlife Management Area makes one grateful for the work of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Clearly the natural resources of Colleton County are special, and citizens should make a point to support better funding for SCDNR so that the tradition of public duck hunts at Bear Island and elsewhere can continue with success.

On a side note, I have to mention that it takes roughly three consecutive years of applications to be drawn for an SCDNR waterfowl draw hunt. My hunting party, and most everyone else had been waiting three years to have access to the state-owned property for a hunt, and demand is only increasing. The SCDNR waterfowl advisory committee is aware of this trend and is working towards a solution, but for now hunters must practice patience in this process.
One of the reasons for the high demand is that SCDNR managed lands provide a high quality hunt experience with a chance for a mixed bag of ducks worthy of praise. Father Sully Johnston and 15-year old son Maddox were glad to be on the Bear Island hunt and came away with a great bag that included green-winged teal, gadwall and more. “We had a long trek to our blind through the ice but we had a lot of shooting early and easily picked up our 6-duck limits,” said Johnston. “As we were leaving the blind a little later we began to see a lot of pintails.”
Old School Waterfowler
In our frozen pond we decided to make a move and paddle our john boat through the ice in order to get closer to the ducks on our pond. It must have been about the same time that Johnston saw the majestic pintails arrive because it was soon that I harvested my limit of two bull sprig pintails, while my hunting partner took one pintail drake and one pintail hen. A drake widgeon and a mottled duck with a federal leg band added some real color to our mixed bag.
A mighty wind began to blow my mid-morning and we had to work hard to move the 14-foot john boat around to pick up our downed ducks and our decoys by the 10:30 hunt ending. The physicality required for this hunt that made it seem more real, or perhaps more earned. Being in the right place at the right time was literally a luck of the draw. But the icy conditions and pristine habitat served to illustrate a banner day in the field that will generate hunting stories for years to come, and helps to continue the heritage of hunting.

To view my feature story in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries from Bear Island WMA click draw huntyouth duck hunt, birding and drop tine buck.

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