Acrobats Of The Baltic

Acrobats Of The Baltic

Oldsquaws exhibit circus-like maneuvers in pursuit of mates

It had just turned February.

//

For the first time in nearly two weeks, gale force winds calmed to a light breeze. The sun burst out over the Bay of Faxe, a Danish part of the Western Baltic Sea, setting the scene for an oldsquaw hunt.


A considerable number of the estimated 5 million birds of the European population spend the winter in this area of the Baltic. Under calm weather, oldsquaws will be engaged in mating behavior. Groups of up to a dozen drakes will, while yodelling their distinctive call, chase a single hen. They speed through the air, twisting and turning, and sometimes, buzzing past the boat at close range. On the water they will fight hard -- so hard the splashing of water can be spotted several hundred yards away. It is truly a spectacular performance, one that gives hunters a chance to get within shotgun range of these normally wary sea ducks.



The name of the game is to sneak up on the birds from a motorized duck boat -- a legal and sporting method in the Baltic. Hunters can only practice the style out on the open sea, and are limited to moving only 2.7 knots when shooting or sneaking on the ducks. In addition, shotguns can legally only hold two shells.

Once a flock is spotted on the water, a course with the stern pointing slightly to the windward of the birds is laid out. While approaching the birds, you watch them intensely.


If they stretch their heads and turn against the wind, you alter your course more windward, leading them to believe the boat will pass, until they again swim downwind with low heads, and you can resume your original course.


Done by the book, you will be in a position 50 yards upwind from the birds. But most of the time, reality seems to be different from the book. Oldsquaws are tougher to hunt this way than other sea ducks, because they are more willing to fly and need very few feet of running over the water against the wind, if any at all, to get airborne. Given the fact they fly around a lot and decoy readily, a line with a few decoys dragged behind the boat sometimes help bring birds within range.

Eiders, common scooter and velvet scooter are often represented in the bag, but none provides the same challenging shooting situations or the same spectacular show as the oldsquaws -- the acrobats of the Baltic.

The outboard has worked at full throttle for 45 minutes while the sun has risen well above the horizon, having changed the burning red eastern sky into a blinding golden. I've arrived at the oldsquaws' preferred area, so I reduce speed to 3 knots to begin scouting. In order to spot the white dots on the blue sea, I set a course with the waves, wind and sun behind me.

A splash of water created by a bird dropping into the water "the oldsquaw way" gives the first flock away. Fighting, with water splashing around them, the birds take no notice of the approaching boat.

Suddenly, with no warning, the ducks take wing 150 yards out. But instead of flying away from the boat, they fly directly toward it. Amazingly, the sea ducks pass like small rockets at 20 yards.

They jet past so fast I only can fire one shot. The hen and her eager suitors fly on -- except one. A brilliant drake in its finest plumage skips along the surface several times, and then lays still. A beautiful duck, indeed.

Niels Henriksen is a worldly waterfowler from Praestoe, Denmark.

Recommended for You

Take it from a pro: Less is more. For Dogs

Dog Discipline Tips & Gear

Joe Genzel - June 20, 2019

Take it from a pro: Less is more.

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance. Retriever

Gun Dog Nutrition & Intelligence

Tony J. Peterson

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance.

A dainty English setter suited for the uplands has the drive for waterfowl. Stories

The Accidental Duck Dog

Jack Ballard

A dainty English setter suited for the uplands has the drive for waterfowl.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Browning A5 Shotgun -

Browning A5 Shotgun - 'Gun Stories'

Gun Stories host Joe Mantegna talks about the origin and history of the Browning A5 shotgun.

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Craig Boddington and Eric Poole take a look at the new modern Franchi Affinity shotgun.

Women

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter from How-To

Building a Duck Boat Blind on a Budget

Mike Marsh - May 10, 2016

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter...

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during 2019, company CEO Charlie Holder shows off the limited edition Yentzen Classic aimed at commemorating the life and times of company founder Jim 'Cowboy' Fernandez. With a special autographed box and a laser engraved call body, the Cowboy Classic is a perfect way to honor the legacy of the 1959 world duck calling champ and inventor of the double-reed duck call. Calls

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during...

Let's face it, that old mud motor from two years ago isn't cuttin' it any longer.

Of course, it Boats

8 Best Mud Motors for 2016

David Hart - May 26, 2016

Let's face it, that old mud motor from two years ago isn't cuttin' it any longer. Of course,...

See More Stories

More North America

Traveling to hunt waterfowl is no longer elitist and many of the best dream trips are surprisingly North America

10 Surprisingly Affordable Dream Waterfowl Trips

Skip Knowles - June 21, 2017

Traveling to hunt waterfowl is no longer elitist and many of the best dream trips are...

The cool thing about mallards is they can be found and hunt them in just about every state in the North America

7 Must-Hunt Mallard Meccas

Brad Fenson - August 05, 2016

The cool thing about mallards is they can be found and hunt them in just about every state in...

If you're considering a guided waterfowl hunt, consider these affordable options! North America

9 Affordable Waterfowl Hunts

Wildfowl Online Staff

If you're considering a guided waterfowl hunt, consider these affordable options!

See More North America

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×