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Hunting sea ducks offshore.

Offshore sea duck hunting can be an exhilarating experience for the sports man. Being out in a boat on the open water, riding the swells and trying to entice sea ducks like scoters and old-squaw to land by you is a memory that will stay with you always. However, pursuing ducks on the open water presents a whole different set of challenges for the sportsman to prepare for.

First of all you need a good, solid seaworthy boat. I've used an old Swampscott dory -- a lapstraked boat about 18 feet long with well-defined prow and narrow, square stern/transom outfitted with a 16 hp outboard. This boat was built for the open water, easily and gently rolling with the swells. In the boat you'll need a gas can, pair of oars and/or sail with mast, anchors, personal floatation device (PFD), tools for engine repairs, radio or cell phone, navigational chart and Coast Guard required items like flares, horns, etc. Be sure that your shotgun is well-oiled to protect it against the corrosive saltwater.

As with most fall hunting, the weather can be very cold, especially when exposed to the elements on the open water. Since the weather can change quickly, you should be prepared for a variety of conditions. Pack rain gear, a change of warm clothing, waterproof gloves & boots, and a thermos of hot drinks and food. If you hunt with a dog, you might want to outfit it with a "wet-suit" vest for protection against the cold water, and be sure to provide something for the dog to rest on above the boat bottom.

Before heading out, listen to the weather forecast and avoid nasty weather. It's best to launch the boat by dawn. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the coastline features and navigational markers to ensure you don't lose your way. When you arrive at your predetermined offshore position, set the sea anchors and set out the decoys. I use a silhouette decoy rig consisting of 6-7 pairs of scoter outlines painted flat black. Each pair is fastened to a floating platform made from a crosspiece of floatable wood or wood and cork. The pairs are joined by 1/4 inch rope and each pair is slightly narrower so they can nest inside each other. The entire rig stretches out about 50-75 feet from the boat stern.

While you're waiting for ducks to come into view, you can pass the time jigging for fish. All you need is a hand line and some codfish jigs -- hooks embedded in a 4" slab of silver-finish lead metal.

Stay alert when looking for sea ducks because spotting them can be tricky. They may appear suddenly, at any distance. Sea ducks often fly low to the water surface and if there is a heavy groundswell they disappear and reappear in the troughs between waves. If you spot birds passing at a great distance, chances are they will continue on their way. Often the sky is very busy with "air traffic," skeins of ducks trading back and forth in all directions. If, however, the birds are close, they may decoy to your rig, in which case you've got some fast and tricky shooting. Always be mindful of the position of any other hunters or boat traffic, and only shoot at birds in your pre-determined "quadrant." If birds are at a middle distance and you think there's a chance to attract their attention so that they decoy into your set-up, then you might try tossing the boat cushions up in the air 10-20 feet and "hoo-hooing" vocally like an eider duck. While it may sound ridiculous, it does work. However, you may want to be sure the cushions are a fairly neutral color such as tan or white -- blaze orange or yellow cushions will probably scare the birds.

One last essential piece of equipment you need when hunting sea ducks offshore is a compass. If fog comes in you use your compass to bear into your landing. Some people also like to have a GPS unit to aid in navigation. Remember, offshore hunting at this time of year requires extra precautions against navigational and weather hazards. Check with the Coast Guard for information about operating boats at sea -- they may recommend you take a safety course.

If you're lucky, you've had a good day -- there's been no fog and you have a few fish and a half dozen ducks. But even if you're unsuccessful, you'll still have a memorable day.

Editor's note: If you ar interested in finding out more about sea duct or other waterfowl hunting in the Long Island area, you might want to contact the South Shore Waterfowlers. They meet the first Monday of the month from Sept.-May in the Brightwaters Library on Montauk Highway, Brightwaters, L.I. at 8 PM.
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Title Annotation:Wild in New York
Author:Gawalt, Jean
Publication:New York State Conservationist
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 1, 1998
Words:804
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