November 03, 2010
Ever hear of the "Edwardian Era?" Some people call it the "Edwardian Era of Shotgunning."
A canoe trip across the Dunk River on Prince Edward Island netted a neat pass shoot of green-winged teal trading along the waterway.
The phrase comes from the English nobleman who helped start the modern era of shotgunning -- especially the driven shooting aspect. Known first as Edward, Prince of Wales, this Edward later became King Edward VII of England. He was the eldest son of Queen Victoria, but until the turn of the 20th century, his main business in life was shotgunning.
Is he the English prince that Prince Edward Island was named after?
It could have been another Prince Edward, but because I'm a shotgunner, I like to think a shotgunner like Prince Edward is responsible for naming this Canadian island just off the New Brunswick coast. Heck, maybe he even shot there. Anyway, that's what I did recently -- shot there -- during my first trip to Prince Edward Island. I went specifically to hunt ducks, but the island harbors geese, and in the uplands, a shotgunner can find Hungarian partridge and ruffed grouse.
Prince Edward Island is the smallest land mass of the Canadian provinces, with a population of less than 150,000 people. A quaint and beautiful place, the island reminds me of Vermont before the rush of out-of-staters flooded it. But P.E.I. is not nearly as mountainous as Vermont.
My desire for this trip was to honor the Edwardian Era of shotgunning, so I decided to take my two oldest shotguns: a Browning Superposed made in 1955 and a Lefever side-by-side made in 1921.
A River Of Teal
The first day was spent in a goose blind. We never thumbed our safeties, and not one bird gave us so much as a courtesy look-see. At dinner, we determined the geese were all wary locals. We decided our next destination should be a river where the green-winged teal had not been bothered much by hunters.
The next morning, I could see why the teal hadn't been pressured. It took a 400-yard walk in the dark across the edges of recently harvested potato fields to reach the river.
The really tough part came when we turned into the thickest woods this side of the British Isles. It was black dark, and my light was back in my toilet kit in the room. Every step meant going over, under or through something.
Environmetal's Ron Petty shoulders his Winchester Model 23 as a flock of greenwings approach the blind.
"I'm getting too old for this," I told my partner, Ron Petty.
I'm sure Kerry MacLeain, our guide, later told his buddies about the two pantywaists he had been saddled with that morning.
We finally got to the Dunk River and into the blind. I unlimbered my revamped Browning Superposed, while Petty uncased his model 23 Winchester side-by-side. His model 23 has fixed chokes -- modified and full. My Superposed is fitted with Briley thin-wall chokes, and I had two open chokes in .005 constriction. I was thinking open chokes because of the tiny teal. About halfway through the morning, I came to my senses and changed to modified (.020) and improved modified (.025). You can correctly guess that I missed several shots before changing chokes.
We had decoys out, but the birds were not decoying, except those that pummeled our spread before it was legal to shoot. After shooting hours opened one-half hour before sunup, the teal all acted the same: They flew up the river, or they flew down the river.
Teal fly fast. I always tell myself, "Look at the bird's eye. If you can't see the eye, concentrate on its head."
But these teal were on us quick and then going away even quicker, so it was just about impossible to zero my stare on any part of the bird. They were moving so fast that their images were a blur.
Nick Sisley and his guide examine a limit of green-winged teal, including a banded drake, below.
Petty was shooting very well, however. I recall one bird he missed, but then as the teal towered to get away, his second barrel choked full rocked it so hard the duck was dead in midair. Petty also made a double, although it was not the typical kind. He killed two teal with one shot.
Our retriever was no Labrador or golden. Rather, it was our guide. We kept him busy with some fetching. The Dunk River was solid mud right in front of the blind, but offered excellent footing 10 yards out -- on firm rocks.
Between retrieves, MacLeain told us the Dunk is an excellent river for sea run brook trout, with the season starting about mid-April and ending in September. I recalled the time I fished huge sea run brookies on the Tabusintac River in New Brunswick, and all of those fish came up eagerly for dry flies.
The teal kept flying most of the morning, but the flights were sporadic. By 9:30 a.m., we were getting close to our 6-bird limit each. After MacLeain retrieved our 11th teal, Petty unloaded his Model 23.
"All yours, Nick," he said. "I'm sitting down."
Soon after, MacLeain announced a large flock flying hard upriver. "Only one now," he admonished. "Be careful."
Now how is anyone going to be careful with a flock of teal? They were all coming pretty much in one big bunch, so it was difficult not to just pull up and fire at the entire wad.
But I took what little time I could, concentrating my stare as much as possible -- and got -- well, no doubt lucky. I killed one -- and only one. We had our 12 teal.
After gathering them up and all our gear I found it almost as difficult to make our way through the woods to the potato field in the daylight as it had been in the dark. But we made it, and then I had one of the best seafood platters of all time in nearby Sunnyside -- garlic shrimp, fried cod done to perfection, fresh scallops, lobster and fresh fried clams.
Tidewater Black Ducks
Petty had shot a few big black ducks before, but he was looking for one to mount. So we decided to devote the next morning to hunting black ducks. We headed Malpeque Bay while the stars were still very much all a twinkle. MacLeain remained our guide, and our group included Eric McLellan, our outfitter's son, and his friend, Tyler.
The walk from the vehicles down to the water was easy enough, but then I stepped into a canoe with McLellan, while Petty boarded a canoe to be paddled by MacLeain. It was a lot longer than a 200-yard paddle. A couple of times I thought aloud that the canoe was a little tippy, so I'm sure the guides think we're even bigger pantywaists.
However, we made it safely to the shore where the guides wanted us to hunt. While McLellan and MacLeain set decoys, Petty and I brushed layout blinds. It was still plenty dark.
I needed my light, but it was still back at camp. By the time the eastern sky was starting to brighten, we were lying in the blinds with guns at the ready, although still unloaded.
We were very close to the edge of the water in our blinds, and I realized the tide was coming in.
Petty was on my right, while MacLeain was slightly behind us in the middle. If you have shot in layout blinds, you know shooters can't swing very far left or right. So we canted Petty's blind a little right, and mine a little to the left. The first bird came in to MacLeain's calling and our spread on Petty's side. He smoked it. MacLeain looked around saw nothing else in the air, so he went for the fetch.
The author and a friend killed a two-man limit of black ducks in Malpeque Bay.
"It's a big greenhead!" he exclaimed.
The mallard was essentially a bonus duck. We could shoot six birds each, but the limit on black ducks was four each.
For this shoot, I brought my old Lefever. It was not choked the greatest for ducks -- with .009 constriction in each barrel -- so about improved cylinder.
Petty works for Environmetal, the makers of Hevi-Shot, and he had shipped us the company's new "Classic Doubles" loads. They are tungsten-based, non-toxic loads like Hevi-Shot, but the Classic Doubles are made purposely softer, making them safe to use in old waterfowling shotguns.
It was one heck of a black duck morning. They are the prized duck of the Atlantic Seaboard. Like the teal morning, the blacks didn't cover us up, nor did they offer 20 yard shots, feet hanging over the decoys. The action was sporadic, but we kept MacLeain busy retrieving. Slowly our bag kept building. Petty even shot another bonus bird: a green-winged teal.
I shot the last black of the morning. We could have stayed and tried for more bonus birds to fill my limit, but we had been satiated with two great mornings of waterfowling in a storied land that neither Petty nor I had ever seen or shot in before. So we were certainly quitting on a positive note.
Walking Up Huns
That afternoon, I hopped in the truck with outfitter David McLellan.
"The Hungarian partridge population seems to be up this year," he said. "I don't have any dogs, but I bet we'll have some luck driving some fencerows. When we see partridge we will stop, get out, load up and give them a try."
Sure enough, at the second farm we tried, I spotted part of a covey along an edge. McLellan stopped the truck. I uncased my Lefever and fed it a couple of non-toxic rounds. We walked up close enough before they flushed. I thought I saw one fall to my shot, but McLellan assured me the birds had all flown on. No matter, we followed the covey down the fencerow. We ended up walking past them without flushing. We reversed course, and they flushed again. I hit one, and McLellan found it on other side of the fencerow.
We crossed over to an adjoining fencerow on the way back to the truck. We didn't flush any birds there, but as we were nearing the truck, we heard the covey calling -- trying to get back together. Birds flushed, and I made a good clean shot. So I had two. McLellan said the limit was three, which might have been his personal limit of birds taken from one covey.
We followed that feathered clan up -- and walked past them again. We reversed, and the covey flushed out in a stubble field. The range was borderline, but I didn't even try to push the safety forward. I wanted to end my P.E.I. experience on a positive note. I think Price Edward of the Edwardian Era of Shotgunning would have approved.
Nick Sisley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
If You Go
David McLellan's Waterfowling and Fishing can lead you to sea-run brook trout and other species April 15 to Sept. 15 -- and to ducks and geese during the fall seasons -- with maybe even the bonus of a few Hungarian partridge. For more information, go to www.waterfowlingpei.com, or e-mail McLellan at email@example.com.