By Leon Archer
I watched the pair of Mallards circle Paul Woodard’s Pond several times as I crouched down next to a Juniper bush being careful not to move, which included resisting the temptation to turn my head to watch them each time they went out of sight.
I was hunting with Lyle Taber, who was trying to look like part of the cement dam where he was huddled as the birds kept trying to decide if everything looked safe.
It was the very first time either of us had ever hunted ducks, but we had read a lot about how to do it, and these were the only birds we had seen that morning.
The pond was only about 150 feet wide and a little over twice as long, held back by an 8-foot-high cement dam that had been built many years before across a small creek at the North end of Sandy Creek, not far from the Oswego County Fairgrounds in Sandy Creek.
It was hardly a big duck magnet, but before the season opened, we had seen a bird or two on the water on several different occasions. Paul Woodard owned the little pond, and he allowed many of my friends and me to fish there anytime we wished, trap muskrats there in the spring, and even hunt ducks there if we wanted to waste our time.
We were both hoping we weren’t wasting our time that morning. My eyes picked up the birds as they came into view after another circuit of the pond, but this time they didn’t bank around for little lower orbit.
Instead, they took a straight course to the southeast, fast becoming dots low in the sky.
I was about to move out of my uncomfortable crouch and try to see what Lyle was doing, but wisely I still kept my youthful eyes on the nearly invisible birds, and at the very last moment, I noticed that they had veered to the left, and soon I could tell they were on their way back.
It seemed like forever, but then, there they were at the far end of the pond heading right at me. I thought they were going to drop into the pond right below where I was hidden, but instead they swooped up and climbed for altitude, passing above me.
I couldn’t stand it any longer; they were well within range and I had a clear shot at the hen. I swung the double barrel 12-gauge ahead of her, my cheek tight to the stock, and pulled the trigger for the modified barrel.
I felt the recoil, and almost as fast as the roar of the shot had faded, the duck was on its way to join me on the ground. I forgot about the other bird and hot footed it over to when the hen mallard had struck.
It had been a good shot and she had been dead before she hit the ground. I was ecstatic. Lyle, on the other hand, was a little bummed out.
When we got together after I had picked up my bird, he told me he could have shot several times, but he was waiting for them to land so maybe we could get them both.
I told him I was sorry I screwed it up, but I was only lying to make him feel better; I felt about as great as a boy could feel. I can close my eyes and see those birds and that shot as clearly today as I did that beautiful October morning back in 1955.
My father wasn’t much for duck hunting; in fact he never once went with me, but he did give me one piece of advice that has served me very well over my 55-plus years of water fowling.
He told me to always pick out one bird to shoot at even if there was a whole flock of ducks.
“Sure,” he said, “you may sometimes kill a duck if you brown a flock, but more often than not, you will come up empty handed. If you pick out a target instead of trying to kill them all, you’ll do a lot better.”
I asked him why that was when I was shooting a shotgun for Pete’s sake. He looked at me like I was some kind of ignoramus, and his last comment on the topic I will always remember, “Son, there is always a lot more space where they ain’t than where they are, so aim close.”
I hadn’t had to worry about a flock for my first shoot, but the next day when Lyle and I hunted Carter’s Creek near Sandy Pond, I jumped a flock of wood ducks. There must have been 30 panicky woodies filling the air with flapping wings and squealing calls.
They were within reasonable range as I raised the double barrel to my shoulder and proceeded to do exactly what my father warned me not to do.
I didn’t swing, I didn’t get my cheek down on the stock and get a good sight picture, I didn’t pick out a target, I just pointed at the middle of all those ducks and pulled the trigger. Even as I did it, I was wondering what Lyle and I would do with all the extra woodies I was going to kill when I blasted the middle out of the flock, because the limit was one a day back then.
I didn’t have to worry, because as it turned out, I only dropped the very last bird in the flock. I had come extremely close to proving my father right.
I’ve thought many times about that shot I took on the second day of my first fall of duck hunting, and although I actually did get a beautiful drake wood duck, I realized it was just plain luck.
I actually have never flock shot since that day. I’ve shot birds out of a flock; I nearly always got the one I would be aiming at, but sometimes I brought down an additional bird as well. I have grown to prefer shooting at single birds, and if I find a flock in front of me, I try to pick one off away from the main group if possible.
Over the years I have made some memorable multiple shots, and the one I remember most was the day I had a big flock of mallards respond to my call and my decoys.
There was no one else in the swamp to scare them, and I let them come right in until with feet down they were nearly on the water. As I stood, I knew there was a trio of drakes in line across formation directly in front of me at about maybe 20 yards.
I pulled onto them before they could flare, pulling the trigger as my barrel moved ahead of their bills. Two birds that were behind the trio caught my attention as they began climbing for altitude, almost as one, and my second shot knocked them from the air.
I looked for another shot and a single was racing off to the right about 40 yards out when I shot, dumping the bird at the edge of the cattails. I love it when a plan all comes together.
Three well aimed shots in a lot less time than it took to tell about them, left me with six fat mallards floating in the little pothole. I have never had a better opportunity nor shot better than I did that day.
My advice for new duck hunters is, let them get as close as possible, pick out a bird, and aim small. It works for a lot more than ducks too.