Today’s blog post comes from one of Sportsman Channel’s own staff members, Courtney Nicolson. The following is a recap of Courtney’s first duck hunting season!
So there I was, sitting in New York City’s Penn Station on the eve of opening day. I had sprinted from my office near Times Square but I had missed my bus to Albany, and an invitation to my first duck hunt. Looking decidedly homeless with my gear on my back I battled the Friday night crowds as I took the subway back to my city apartment and vowed to try again next weekend. A week later I was trudging through a cow field before sunrise trying to keep up with the group while also trying to not to trip over my borrowed XL coveralls that were about a foot too long. When the sun rose over the spread, I barely noticed my toes were numb in my thin rainboots; I was in awe. Sun washed over the field, sharply hitting the metal silo off in the distance, and reflecting like a lighthouse. Soon the birds were dropping in, wave after wave. I’d love to tell you that was where I shot my first puddler, but as we walked back to the truck from that honey hole not one of the birds on the strap were mine. I chalked it up to a mix of excitement, difficulty shooting with others in such close range, and using a gun that wasn’t my own. My first duck wouldn’t come until
later that day jump shooting a cow pond on a farm near where I shot my first turkey. It was single mallard hen, to match my only other harvest, which was a hen turkey. I was dubbed the Hen Killer. I rushed to catch the bus back to the city and it wasn’t until I was back in Times Square that I realized I still had much of my face paint on. Imagine the looks…
One day in the blind was all it took. I had come down with the duck flu. I began hunting every weekend I could. Now those text messages from friends at 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights asking “where are we going in Manhattan tonight?” would find me long since asleep. Driving out the city at 4am would become an amusing adventure, dodging the night owls as they blinked into my headlights, stumbling home from bars and clubs. I would get funny looks sitting on public transit with bags of decoys, even funnier when my training e-call went off accidentally in my purse a few times. I settled into a hunters routine: scouting from before sunrise until the sun set and my tank was empty. I mapped much of the public land area north of the city, and western Long Island, spending long days exploring, scouting, and observing. I relished the peacefulness that only comes from being alone in the fields and marshes as the morning fog lifts. Beautiful as it may be…I wasn’t seeing birds. I needed a mentor.
I joined DuckHuntingChat.com and my greeting was simple: newbie hunter trapped in the city, any guidance welcomed. Well soon the tips were flooding in on gear, safety, waterfowl ID, everything. To my surprise, there also came invites to hunt. I never expected to be welcomed into a community as openly as I was.
I accepted an invite for my first diver hunt on Oneida Lake near Syracuse, NY with Tom, a fish biologist and founder of New York Sturgeon for Tomorrow. By this time I had learned the importance of waders and a proper parka and we set up on a windy point. Rain was coming down, and our dekes were fighting whitecaps. When the storm broke a few hours later a rainbow appeared, and I beamed over my first diver, a drake goldeneye. Later at my new hunting buddy’s home, a friend of the family asked me “So what brings you all the way up here? It couldn’t have been just for ducks”. This warranted a sheepish look between us hunters. I was able to help him out with the “infestation” in his basement, and a mixed bad of decoys made their migration from Syracuse to Brooklyn. Where they will roost in my apartment over the winter…well that will be another challenge.
A few weeks later I was out on Long Island on my first layout boat hunt. Being a novice on the water I felt comfortable with an experienced hunter, Chris, at the stern. He guided us through the rough waters of the channel, teaching me the valuable lessons on keeping yourself safe with smart decisions in rough weather. We joked that I could have mentioned to him I get just a little seasick, and he could have mentioned that sitting in the bow of a boat with no real bow would get me soaking wet! As the snow started falling on the water I couldn’t help but compare the huge flocks of brant to the trained rooftop pigeons of Brooklyn. Get up, fly in circles, land, repeat.
Closing weekend came far too soon and I would find myself hunting Long Island Sound and the Hamptons with my new friends Tom and Bob. Busting out of the harbor in 12 degrees weather, I got a thumbs up for commitment, while doing my best not to slide down the ramp into the frozen water. I was given the throttle and only a few decoys became roadkill as I navigated while we pulled in the long lines. I learned the most valuable piece of late season gear: a big Thermos full of hot coffee! In the afternoon we parked on the boat launch and watched a group shooting out of a blind, waiting for our chance at a spot, completely content when it never came. Trucks pulled up on either side and as the sun faded in the sky we chatted between rolled down windows, planning our projects for the off season: burlapping decoys, boats and blinds to be built, and hollering at the crew to shoot the scooters, it was closing day after all!
Thanks to all my new friends for a season full of encouragement and wisdom. I am honored to have been welcomed into family blinds and honeyholes, onto private land, and into the homes of so many great sportsmen.