From the archives: Maryland Afield and Field & Stream were outdoor columns published in The Frederick News-Post in the 1950s to early 1960s and written by the late Lefty Kreh, world-renowned outdoorsman and fly fisher. Kreh, who was a Frederick native, began his outdoor columnist career at The News-Post. This column originally published Dec. 19, 1958.
It was as cold as a loan shark’s heart as I started the car last Saturday morning at 5 o’clock. Still, I didn’t mind for I knew the river was full of ducks and we should have a fine day hunting. But like most things we treasure, there’s a price attached. Before the cold day was over we had enjoyed some excellent duck hunting and paid the toll as we should have expected.
I was to meet John Langdon, of Myersville, under the Brunswick bridge at 5:30, and the Jeep station wagon hummed to me as it sped through Feagaville. Then — a flat tire — this was the beginning of the payment.
The tire fixed, I arrived late at the bridge and John helped load the gear in the canoe. We pushed off, only to find ourselves encircled by frozen ice. After weaving here and there for some time, we managed to find a channel to the center of the river. I put the outboard motor on the mount and tried to start it. Unfortunately the motor had some water in it and was locked with ice — we poled up the river amid the freezing and drifting slush-ice.
Leaving the lower unit of the outboard motor under water for some time we discovered the head would revolve and started the small engine.
We make it
Arriving at the blind more than an hour late, we found the river surrounding it was covered with ice. With a lot of effort, we broke open a pool of ice-sheathed water and set out the decoys.
We camouflaged the boat and finally we were ready to hunt. The ducks were not long in coming. John knocked two down on his side with a beautiful one-two shot. Then another appeared on the left — a big black mallard — and I knocked him down.
“Well, this is more like it,” I said to John.
On my left, another duck appeared in the sky and John knocked this one down, too. While we retrieved the felled birds and started paddling back to the blind, as most duck hunters would expect, the best flock of ducks seen all morning came streaking into the decoys, only to see us out on the water and fly away.
Settling down in the blind, I told John,” things just have to improve, certainly they couldn’t get worse.”
I poured some of my steaming coffee from the bottle. John moved quickly in the midst of my pouring the precious liquid. “Ducks,” he whispered and grabbed for his gun.
With the movement, my coffee cup fell from my hand and the coffee ran down on the ground. This was the crushing blow.
The ducks flew on, ignoring our calling. I looked around at the sheer beauty of the frozen ice, the water and the red-pink sun topping the ridge downstream. The slush-ice freezing on the surface as it drifted along sparkled like diamonds, and I don’t think I ever saw the Potomac more beautiful.
I asked John if he would mind me taking a few pictures of the scenery, with him working on the blind, and he agreed. Stepping out, we soon became engrossed in the picture taking. Hearing that familiar whistling sound of duck wings, we looked up quickly and saw four gray mallards settling into the decoys. We were sure they would see us on the bare end of the island. We felt as conspicuous as a crow in a field of snow. Sure enough, they saw us and towered to get out of range. The only thing I had loaded was my camera, my gun was in the blind, 20 feet away.
We returned to the blind feeling like a fisherman who caught a record fish — out of season and had to throw it back.
This was John’s first trip ducking, and I explained some of the little things that go to make up a successful duck hunt.
“A good idea to ease the suspicion of ducks is to hang one or two crow decoys in the trees back of the blind. Crows are sharp-eyed and ducks seem to sense this: a crow or two lounging near a bunch of decoys seems to make flighting ducks less wary.
“You probably noticed those decoy anchor strings really showed up in this clear water. Some hunters go to a lot of trouble to dye their anchor strings, but a lot better idea is to use monofilament or leader material, about 20-pound test. This nylon is clear and invisible at several feet.
“A new gadget is a duck call attached to a piece of rubber tubing which looks like a car radiator hose. When the call is held in the hand and the hose flexed back and forth air passes through the call. It sounds more like a duck chuckling than any call I’ve heard. A hunter can use this gadget in one hand and call with the conventional call with the other, giving the impression twice the number of ducks are calling and increase his chances a lot of luring them into decoys.
“In very cold water, decoys should never be thrown into the water. The impact splashes water on them and this freezes. The decoys, encrusted with ice, will shine like a polished jewel, something a natural duck never does, and cause circling webfeet to flare away from your blind.
“When a few ducks are killed, it’s a good idea to set them on the ground near the blind. Tuck the bills under the wings and they’ll look like they are sleeping.
“Give ducks credit for having a lot of savvy and your chances of filling the game bag are going to be a lot better.”
About 10 o’clock, we picked up the decoys. John used a pair of cheap rubber-coated work gloves to wrap the wet decoy anchor strings with. This kept the freezing water and ice from his fingers.
We had to chop with an axe ice that had frozen around the island where we were shooting to get into the main part of the river.
We put the little outboard to work and headed downstream, pushing slush-ice out of the way.
After manipulating the canoe over the ice underneath the bridge, we pulled up on the shoreline. It had been fun, the shooting fair and we felt good. Looking at the car we couldn’t believe our eyes, the right front tire was flat. Somewhere between Feagaville and the river, I managed to run over a phonograph needle. We soon had it fixed and headed home.
The hunt had been good, the payment met and John and I decided in spite of everything we’d had a swell time.