Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Plan B sometimes works better than original

Bill HiltsThe Western Zone waterfowl opener, as well as the South and West-Central Area goose opener, was set for Oct. 26. I would be hunting with longtime friends and waterfowlers John Van Hoff and Randy Tyrrell, both of North Tonawanda. As with most every hunt, some scouting needs to take place.

“Our plan is to hunt a field next to my dad’s in Pendleton,” said Van Hoff. “I already have permission to hunt there and it should be a great shoot – I counted over 300 ducks and 2,000 geese in those fields today!” We were all starting to get excited in anticipation of the first day of the season. It was the Sunday before.

Two days later, we needed to come up with an alternate plan. “They plowed the corn fields under where we were going to hunt … the birds are gone,” said Van Hoff. We needed to find an alternate with promise. It came down to a favorite farm in the Town of Lockport or head over to an area east of the Alabama Swamps –  another favorite farm for duck and goose hunting. We would play the weather and the local farming practices by ear.

The day before the hunt would take place, more bad news: “They are calling for 35-mile-an-hour winds with gusts to 50, and heavy rain,” said Van Hoff. “We’re going to postpone the hunt to Sunday.” So, for the first time in a long time, we missed opening day of duck and goose seasons for our area of Western New York.

Of course, that’s not to say we couldn’t have toughed it out. It would have been uncomfortable. I think I’m still drying out from the downpour we encountered from last year’s opener. Hunting was terrible. You would have to be addicted to duck hunting … like Bob Lods of Cheektowaga. He was supposed to be part of our group for the opener and when Van Hoff pulled the plug, he still got out of bed at 3 a.m. to ready for the opener in Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge by taking a chance that someone might not show up for the blind lottery. He received the last blind. For his efforts he was rewarded with some outstanding duck action on mallards and pintails. He hasn’t seen that many ducks flying in the refuge in a long, long time – and he’s been hunting there for decades. Yes, he’s addicted to duck hunting. How many people do you know that take off opening week of duck season to hunt every single day?

Back to our story. Because of the bad weather, and with not many people being out shooting in areas outside of the Swamps, it was fair to say that Sunday could still be our “opening day.” It was every bit as exciting as the traditional opener – and the weather was a heck of a lot better.

We chose to hunt in the Town of Lockport in spot adjacent to a favorite waterfowl hangout. We thought it would be logical to pull birds in if we could hit it early and offer up enough birds in our decoy set. Because of the rain, no vehicles could drive back to where we wanted to hunt (the landowner allowed for us to use a four-wheeler however) … and the corn was still standing. Luck was with us. It proved to be a perfect blind next to our 125 goose decoys. Legal shooting time was 7:10 a.m. so we arrived on site at 5:30 a.m. to drag out all of the decoys. There were six of us. Unfortunately, Tyrrell couldn’t make it because of a prior commitment. We still had four other shooters to round out our group to an even six.

Paul Laubacker of Lockport; Paul Sawicki of Angola; and Kevin Gunther of Niagara Falls made up other three in addition to Van Hoff, Lods and myself. Twenty minutes into the opener the first shooting came from a flock of pintails that worked into our spread – thanks to some standing water in the field. Then it was flock after flock of geese, with a few flocks of mallards flying in to keep us on our toes. In less than two hours we had our limit of 30 geese and an additional 12 ducks for our body sled. It was one of the best waterfowl hunts I’ve ever been on. It took longer to set up and take down the decoys than to harvest our birds.

It’s important to have a Plan B … and sometimes that plan actually comes together – like the old George Peppard saying from the A-Team television show. Or maybe it was because Tyrrell wasn’t with us?

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