Waterfowl hunting takes dedication

Bill HiltzIt was the eve of the Western Zone duck season as well as the South Zone goose season on Dec. 28. As I attended our office holiday gathering in Hamburg, the text message came through from John Van Hoff of North Tonawanda that we would be meeting at Randy Tyrrell’s house for coffee to load up for our morning hunt on the Niagara River…at 4:45 a.m. I lived a half hour away so I had to be out of bed by 3:30 a.m. It wasn’t going to be easy. All in all, though, this was the easy part – getting up and getting there.

Earlier in the day I had pulled out all my waterfowl hunting clothes to figure out what would be best for the day ahead. It was going to be in the mid-20 degree range and a light snow was in the forecast. Thirty minutes later, I was sorting out my duck and goose loads from the gear I last used during the early season. I also hauled out my ammo box with extra shells just in case the shooting was better than expected. Opening day can do that, especially on the Niagara River. Some gear went into the spare bedroom to be ready for the morning; some into the back of the car to save time.

My back tag was located with the federal waterfowl stamp and HIP number. I also made sure I had my wallet. Next was the gun, a Beretta I had acquired from the late Doug Stein. “Ol’ Jammer,” he liked to call it. It’s been a good shotgun that has killed many a goose and duck. He would have been proud. In a little more than an hour, I had everything assembled. But that was just for me.

Meanwhile, Van Hoff and Tyrrell were getting the decoys ready. They needed to load and inspect six large plastic bins of mallards, whistlers and an assortment of other ducks. Some were loaded into the truck in the morning of the hunt; some were already in place on-site at the designated hunting location – Kevin Gunther’s dock in Wheatfield. A camouflage blind was erected at the end of the dock to shield the hunters from being too conspicuous, and that had to be taken care of, too.

To place the decoys out into the river and retrieve our fallen quarry, a small aluminum boat needed to be put into place and maintained – to make sure the motor would run. Again, all stuff to get ready for the opening day adventure.

To make life a little more comfortable, Randy made sure he had a propane tank with heater ready for the blind. He also brought along a container of cookies, a propane grill and a foil tin of venison sausage patties, onions, peppers and rolls – all pre-cooked so they only needed to be heated up.

Fellow hunter Bob Lods of Cheektowaga was a member of the hunting crew, bringing along some floating goose decoys for along the shoreline. Two of the guys had waders to deal with placing some of the decoys out and for dealing with launching the boat. Rounding out our hunting crew was Dave Manz of Buffalo, a former city court judge. He showed up after all the work was completed, not making it for the morning coffee. Since I had to leave by noon, he could help pick up.

With shooting time set for 7:17 a.m., we had our work cut out for us. We worked as a team to get the decoys out as quickly as possible; the guns and ammo in place. By 7 a.m. we were sitting comfortably in our chairs in the blind drinking a cup of hot coffee. But we were some of the lucky ones.

Some people downriver had been in place since 4 a.m. because of a battle for prime locations. The drawing for local blinds on Grand Island in area parks was at 5:30 a.m., a luck of the draw for the best spots. We didn’t have to fight for our premium location and we can thank Gunther for that. Heck, he even brought us out warmed up cinnamon rolls!

As luck would have it, the shooting was poor. The snow was worse than forecast and the birds just weren’t flying like they should have been. We managed to take eight ducks by noon – a mix of mallards, buffleheads and whistlers. Then it was picking everything back up again to do it all over for the next hunt.

Waterfowl hunting does take a certain level of commitment because of the equipment and time involved. We had plenty of laughs in the blind, from shooting proficiency to calling to hunting and fishing stories. They all helped to keep us warm … and help us make it through the winter when there isn’t any hunting seasons going on. Happy New Year!

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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