Scoters on the sound: the ingenious, but simple scissor rig was made for North Carolina's tough Pamlico sea ducks.
The Little town of Bath, North Carolina, is an end-of-the-earth type of place, sitting high atop the bluffs, looking down over a wide expanse of lowlands. The oldest city in NC, not much changes around here--that's the way locals like it. Bath is not on the road to anywhere. It is a destination, not a waypoint, and tourists flock here during the summer to walk the streets of a former colonial village and fish the Pamlico River and waters beyond.
The infamous pirate, Blackbeard, once made Bath his home, flying the Jolly Roger in its secret coves.
Full of history and majesty, it's easy to see why visitors frequent this quaint town, but if you're a duck hunter, there's something here for you as well. Richard Andrews' of Inner Banks Waterfowl hosts raiding parties of sea duck hunters on Pamlico Sound.
"Everybody around here wants to hunt puddle ducks or divers," the 36-year-old Andrews said. "I was mostly a fishing guide, but decided to start a hunting guide service. I have hunted waterfowl for years and had been seeing all of the sea ducks on the sound. Once 1 began hunting them, I found out how much I enjoyed it. Now, I prefer hunting sea ducks because they offer more consistent shooting. You might go out and shoot some pintails, teal or bluebills. Then again, you might not. In fact, you may not see any ducks, except for scoters. I made the decision to hunt sea ducks from a scissor rig and have never looked back."
Any of Andrews' satisfied clients would agree it was a "sound" decision because anyone who comes here will likely take home a limit of scoters...if they can shoot. Nevertheless, a sea duck hunt takes no small amount of effort.
Pamlico is the largest sound (saltwater lagoon) on the East Cost, measuring 80 miles long and 15 to 20 miles wide. It can be dangerous to navigate in strong winds, generating boat-chomping waves, but the sound's depth is actually the most intimidating factor when it comes to hunting waterfowl. In most places, the water is big and therefore too hazardous for hunting out of a small johnboat blind. It is also too deep in most places where sea ducks congregate for hunters to erect stake blinds.
What began as the "Currituck Floating Blind," created by hunters on North Carolina's famed Currituck Sound, has, over the years, become better known as a Carolina "scissor rig." It is perfectly suited for hunting sea ducks on the state's big coastal sounds, or anywhere else with wide water that presents few other opportunities for hunters to hide.
Here on Pamlico, it is the surf and black scoter that reign supreme, though you may get the occasional flyby from a long-tailed duck. During a scoter hunt, greater and lesser scaup may also come into the decoys, along with a smattering of other divers and puddlers. But way out here, miles from any shoreline or island, once a hunter has taken a limit of scoters, waiting on other species is typically an exercise in futility.
"Occasionally we shoot long-tails or white-wings," Andrews said. "Every now and then, a rumor starts that someone saw or shot an eider. We rely on black and surf scoters for more than 99 percent of our shooting."
I hunted with Andrews and Joe Hawley, a 27-year-old environmental specialist at nearby Goose Creek State Park. We launched at Wright's Creek and headed out, a light rain pelting our cheeks as the spotlight burned a hole through the fog. Sea ducks and seagulls took flight ahead. At first, their wings flashed sparkling droplets in the spotlight's beam. Eventually, though, they appeared as black silhouettes against a half-hearted sunrise trying to work its way through the mists.
Guided only by a GPS, we eventually arrived at a shallow bar, which on the Sound means a hump of sand or an oyster shell bed in 10 to 15 feet of water. Hawley began setting decoys from the bow. Andrews kept the outboard running and steered the boat to keep the propeller clear of the long-line rigs.
"We run 12 decoys to a long-line, with mushroom anchors at each end," Hawley said. "We set six or seven lines of decoys during a scoter hunt. Usually, that is all you need."
Hawley has been hunting sea ducks for more than 10 years. He said he also hunts from a layout boat.
"I enjoy hunting scoters from Richard's scissor rig because it allows me to go with friends," he said. "When hunting from a layout, the shooter communicates with the others by radio. It 's just not the same thing as laughing with buddies over the classic hits and misses that are common during a sea duck hunt."
While layout boats are lonely affairs, Andrews' boat is big enough to accommodate four shooters. Hawley said he usually shoots black and surf scoters, but has taken four long-tailed ducks over the years.
"A drake long-tail is the Holy Grail of sea ducks to Pamlico Sound hunters," he said. "I have never killed a drake in full plumage that is suitable for mounting. All have been hens or immature drakes. 1 have only killed one white-winged scoter and it was a hen."
THE SCISSOR RIG
Once the decoys were set, the two-man team untied an array of planks from atop the gunwales, pivoted it open at the bow and dropped it into the water where it floated out in front of us, undulating in unison with the motion of the waves. The pivot point at the bow is what gives the scissor rig its name as it opens like a scissor. Another array of planks remained, attached to the top of the gunwales. They inserted pine trees into holes drilled into the planks of both sections. Andrews had painted the hull battleship gray to blend with the Sound.
"As our sea ducks are getting more hunting pressure, they are becoming more wary," Andrews said. "It pays to hide the boat to the best of your ability. You used to be able to hunt them from a white skiff as long as you didn't move and some hunters still try to do it that way. The most important thing is to be still when they are decoying. They shy away from movement more than anything else."
In a converse quirk, Andrews demonstrated movement also attracts sea ducks. Spotting a flock in the distance, he began waving his own version of the Jolly Roger, sans skull and crossbones, and the black cloth immediately attracted the birds' attention. The ducks turned toward the decoys. Moments later, they were within gun range. We fired, and two black scoters fell.
"Motion attracts them when they are far away, but flares them when they are near," Andrews said. "Once they see the flag and turn toward the decoys, it's time to put down the flag and pick up the shotgun."
Although Andrews described the morning as slow, the action was constant. Four hunters shot limits of black and surf scoters. Sea ducks, it seems, don't move as well in fog or rain as they do in the wind, of which there was very little that day. However, little wind means little waves, which makes retrieving the ducks (and holding down breakfast) easier. Of 16 scoters among four hunters, a half-dozen did not require chasing or follow-up shots.
"Unless you hit the brain or spine, scoters are hard to kill, outright," Andrews said. "If it shows signs of life when it is falling, the best thing to do is to keep shooting until the scoter hits the water. If it can still swim, a sea duck can dive and come back up a hundred yards away and you never know where it is going to pop up next. It's hard to keep track of them when the water is rough."
Andrews shoots steel BBs or No. 2s for decoying scoters and swats the cripples with No. 7s. Hawley uses steel No. 3s.
"Sea ducks are tough because they have thick feathers and heavy bones," Andrews said. "I tell hunters to bring two boxes of shells with the larger shot sizes, but bring along a box of No. 7s for the cripples. They are hard to hit when the wind is blowing, the water is rough and the boat is bucking like a wild bronco.
"They decoy so low you can watch your shot pattern hitting the water, missing the duck in front or behind, high or low until your gun comes up empty. You are going to miss a lot of them, even when the cripples are on the water as you are retrieving them. If you have only shot puddle ducks or divers, you will not believe how many shells it takes to shoot a limit of four scoters. People laugh when I tell them to bring three boxes of shells. But, once they try it, they find out hunting them may be a lot of fun, but putting them down for keeps is no joke."
To hunt with Richard Andrews of Inner Banks Waterfowl call (252) 945-9715 or go to innerbankswaterfowl.com.
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|Date:||Aug 26, 2016|
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