This is the story of two great friends with a love for hunting. A love so strong they faced some of the most extreme weather in Newfoundland just to get a shot!
Historically on the Eastern side of Newfoundland, freshwater duck season opened earlier than Moose season. This gave bird hunters an early start before the wild was densely populated with moose hunters and rifle shots. However, in recent years; both seasons have been opening on the same Saturday which has ruined the areas I tend to hunt as there is now ATV traffic ruffling the feathers of the ducks before a proper hunt can get underway, so a new area and strategy had to be developed.
A longtime friend and avid hunter, Ryan, was eager to get a night at my cabin and go for a duck hunt. With two small children and a wife who also works full time, it’s hard for him to get away and do one of the things he loves the most – hunting. My cabin had been built for a number of years and Ryan and I had still not gotten a chance to get together and enjoy the great outdoors. So a plan was made and when the timing was right; we packed up and headed in across the ridge 6.5 miles on quads to my cabin.
Ryan was unfamiliar with the territory so I was eager to show him. Friday, the day before opening day, was a beautiful sunny day with light southerly winds, a perfect day for a ride in the boat. As soon as the bags were dropped and the cabin organized, we shoved off from the slipway to see the areas I had been scouting. I turned the bow south southeast and set off for an area we call the Beaver Mash. A quaint little corner tucked away at the edge of Peters Pond, surrounded by a steep embankment and a long narrow marshy bog. This area is just visible from the front window of my cabin and I had seen Black Ducks and Geese making stops along the way to and from their feeding grounds through the latter end of summer.
We slowed in the two-stroke Mercury and beached the boat on the shore, ready to head over and see if there had been any signs of birds since I had last visited. Trotting along the edge of the marsh we were in awe of the size of the marsh berries, a delicacy for the local birds. There have to be birds around I thought to myself. Catching up, we were doing more talking than looking, when all of a sudden in his Fogo Island hasty speech “look, look, look goin’ luh!!” I whipped around and saw six big, beautiful Black Ducks going to wing from the water; just able to see their silhouettes against the darkened spruce from the summers sun and rain. The Beaver Pond was my second choice for the next day’s hunt, but seeing these birds in the area quickly made it my choice for the morning.
This season was my first time using a Ghost Blind and I couldn’t have been anymore pumped to finally get to set it up. By this time, Nicole, was sick of hearing me talk about it and more than fed up with me practicing setting it up in the middle of the cabin on rainy days; often even sitting behind it pretending ducks were nearby and standing to shoot my shots. She must’ve thought I was absolutely crazy as this was our first hunting season together and she had never been with a true Bayman before! To put the term Bayman into perspective; we are essentially Newfoundland’s Rednecks! There are two types of people in Newfoundland, Bayman, and Townies. Nicole was born and raised in the city and only dated city boys; I’ll call them boys because I haven’t met one yet who is a real man! As far as the differences run, I’m as big a Bayman as she had ever met! Little did she know at the beginning that’s what she really needed and hasn’t left my side ever since we met… but that’s another story for another time! Let’s get back to the hunt.
We turned around and headed straight back for the boat. We saw all we needed to see to get our heart rates pounding and imaginations churning. We steamed back across the pond as fast as the little Mercury could push my aluminum Lowe boat; I hardly slacked the throttle coming to the slipway and ran her right up on the boards. We hopped out and without even removing our life jackets grabbed the Ghost Blind, the Rhino Blind, my Sthil chainsaw, rope, ax, and twine and headed back to the boat and off to the Beaver Mash once again. The walk to where we were planning to set up the blind felt like a hundred miles. Imagination running wild and a vision for how the blind will look was slowly taking shape inside my head. Within a few minutes, there were spruce trees and branches flying around like feathers in the wind, the September sun beating down on us made no difference, we worked with purpose. As fast as I could swing the saw, Ryan was lugging the branches and pared out spruce trunks to tomorrow’s homestead location; setting each stick and every bough in the most precise orientation. I had never hunted with someone as eager and particular as I was and I have to admit, it was incredible to watch him put the passion, I’m known for, into his work on this blind! With the exterior of the blind in place; we set up the Rhino Blind and now I was finally going to get to set up my new Ghost Blind that I was eagerly awaiting. I had to try this new blind out and see if it was going to work as well as I had hoped. With all setup and in place we headed back to the cabin to prepare the decoys.
I had just bought new decoys and new Mojo Ripplers and Spinning Wing decoys, new to both Ryan and I, we were like kids on Christmas morning! One by one we set the weights and prepped the drakes and hens then set out again for the Beaver Mash to have them on hand for the morning. When we returned again to the cabin we hopped on the quads and made our way up a mile and a half out of the valley for cell phone coverage. Being in the wilderness in Newfoundland has its pros and cons as the little necessities like cell coverage is as far to the bottom of the list as possible. The weather had changed, it was now calling for 3” of rain overnight and through the morning, with winds up to 70 mph! This would surely hamper our hopes of the blind remaining overnight, let alone the chance of getting any birds!
5 am came quickly. A little too quickly. The rain pounding on the cabin windows sounded like handfuls of pebbles! Wind whistling on the siding sounded like a million drummers slapping the palms of their hands against the exterior. We sat in silence, not speaking a word. Each of us secretly hoping the other would say “forget the birds this morning” and head back to bed. But neither of us would give in! Walking out of the cabin I saw a waterfall of water coming straight out horizontally from behind the cabin. A wave. A tidal wave of water. In all my years I had never seen anything like it! Even with the lights from the cabin and our powerful headlamps, the fog was so thick we could hardly see the boat on the slipway. I was nervous, I never get nervous.
Ryan is a master mariner and I am a marine engineer; we grew up on the water. We spent our lives on the North Atlantic Ocean, the roughest on the planet, and now we are nervous to head out into a pond! With the fog and rain blowing sideways so hard it felt like hail on our faces, we set out in the dark to try to navigate our way to the beach by the Beaver Mash. I had made this journey a hundred times, but I had no idea where we were. Now I’m beyond nervous, now I’m scared! But always keeping cool in front of others, I acted as if all was normal as if I knew where we were. I hadn’t a clue! Once I thought we had reached our destination, I swung the tiller and headed south for shore, creeping as the wind lops pounded the hull of the boat. We beached the boat and pulled it ashore as far as possible. “Think we better tie ‘er off, Hickey b’y!” Ryan said with a look of concern on his face. Thankfully we did – I’ll get back to that later in the story.
We got to our blind and it was a mess! Our decoys and gear were almost floating inside! While we were setting up, Ryan had to dig a ditch in the Rhino Blind just to get the water out that was flowing like a river downhill! While we set the decoys in the water I kept thinking to myself, we must be absolutely crazy! Who else would be here this morning? Who else would have risked their lives for a shot? True hunters. Real hunters. True men. Real men. That’s who. That’s who we are. That’s us. We are doing this, we are really here this morning setting up! Once we returned to the shelter of the blind we watched daylight slowly break from over the hills. Rain still pounding the roof of the blind and fog so thick we could hardly see the decoys in the water. We just laughed it off now that we were inside and dry, laughing at ourselves for being so crazy.
The morning went on for what seemed like ages. Surely even the birds weren’t silly enough to be out in this weather! Seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven o’clock… no birds. Not one! Around lunchtime, the wind started to shift around and so did our spirits. Maybe now that the sky has cleared we may see a bird or two. Finally, we spotted a single black duck in the sky, with callers in hand we tried our best to persuade the bird to pitch. With only one pass over the area, she flew off with the wind taking our spirits with her! One, two, three, four, five o’clock passed, no birds. Not one! Through the afternoon we watched as the Beaver Pond rose and rose and rose. I felt like Johnny cash “Three feet high and rising”! Where once we walked to set the decoys, we would now have to swim back to them if we planned on taking them back at all! “What ya thinkin’?” Ryan asked. I knew what he was getting at, it’s time to get out of here, enough is enough. “Let’s wait it out a little bit longer,” I replied, not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Six o’clock came and finally, there was life! A low-flying hen was in the area. I took out my Duck Commander Jase Robertson Pro Series and started my come-back call. The hen made two passes and pitched! We were in business. Ryan ready with his Benelli Super Nova and me on the caller, we managed to get the hen amongst the decoys. “Whatta ya think?” “Not yet…” “Whatta ya think” “Not yet…” Ryan’s trigger finger itching after 12 hours in the blind. “Ok ready… Get ready… readyyy…. Fire!” Filled with shot she rolled in the water. Finally, finally, we got the smell of gun powder in our nostrils, after everything we had endured that day! But the day wasn’t finished…
We sat around for another half hour to see if we could get any more action, but the clock was ticking and the daylight can’t last forever, no matter how hard you pray. It was time to start moving if we were going to get out of there without sailing again in the dark. We contemplated leaving the decoys overnight, but we had to be moving early the next morning, my godson was getting christened in the city and it takes at least three hours from sitting in the quad to getting back in the city. So leaving them wasn’t an option. Ryan tried his hardest to reach even the closest one, but he was already to his chest and the loose boggy bottom was ready to swallow him hole in an instant.
You see, bog back in Newfoundland isn’t like most other places. There have been entire horses and sleighs lost and never returned in some of our bogs. They seem bottomless. Like the quicksand you saw on tv as a kid and thought this was going to be a major problem in your life; well it’s real for us, except its mud. And you never get time to wait for help or try to save yourself; one wrong move and you disappear. “Think we get the boat in?” He asked. I was skeptical. During regular water levels in the pond, there’s a six-foot-wide beach that’s at least two feet up out of the water to access the Beaver Pond, I never thought for a second it was possible. But we were going to give it a shot. Walking back to the boat, the beach was gone. Gone! I had never seen the pond so high! My boat that was once ten feet ashore was now floating in two feet of water! We just might be able to do this I thought.
Steaming over, with darkness falling upon us, Ryan kept a close eye on water depth with an oar and we slowly jogged in over an area that I had never seen submerged. One by one we collected the decoys and then searched for our lonely kill. By now it was completely black outside and we were relying on our headlamps and my experience in the area once again.
When the bow of the boat hit the slipway there was a sigh of relief that evening. The day had tested us mentally in a way I’d never been tested before on a hunt. From the morning treacherous sail across the pond to the piercing cold, the wet wind of the morning, to the lack of action all day, to our recovery mission for the decoys and a single Black Duck; it had tested us in every sense!
But this is who we are. This is what we do. We are hunters! All of us who endure these conditions, everyone on this incredible page reading these stories, everyone who waits all year to hear those two sweet words “opening day”, we are special! We aren’t built like other people! We are all unique and all ourselves, but we are all the same. We are one, we are…. Hunt Bums!
About The Author
Born and raised in rural Newfoundland, Canada, living off the land has been a way of life for me since I was a boy. We fished the Summers and hunted through the Falls. At 8 years old I was gifted my first shotgun and .22 from my late grandfather. At 12, my first rifle was a .308.
Being the only son in the family and having a father who worked away from home most of the year; it was my duty to hunt rabbits, partridge, ducks, turrs, caribou, and moose for the family.
I spent my life in the wilderness and on the North Atlantic Ocean; hunting and fishing to provide for the family. Most of my tactics were all self-taught and what I learned from books and older gentlemen and uncles. This way of life has remained even though now I live in the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland. It doesn’t hurt that my lady supports my hobby and loves to pack up and get away from the city to enjoy the tranquility of cabin life. She doesn’t come on the hunts, but when I call on the radio and tell her I’m heading back, she always has a hot meal on the table! She’s a keeper! Sitka and Browning are my go-to’s for gear and guns and I wouldn’t have it any other way!