Wacky weather and late bird flights characterized opening day on the Atlantic flyway. With most states opening to bluebird weather on Labor Day weekend, hunting was hot, humid, and in some places … crowded.
Hunting the coastal salt ponds along Rhode Island’s south shore, it was almost impossible to avoid the clam diggers, tubers, kayakers and pleasure boaters sunning themselves in the 85-degree weather. “Camo is the new fashion!” one visor-clad older woman on a bright orange sea kayak hollered as we put in at the boat ramp.
Finding a setup safely away from all the sunglasses and bathing suits took some doing, but soon enough bystanders were well far down the horizon. The geese have learned the kayaks are safe. We watched a few waves of birds land down in their direction as the sun fell low and we collectively wished the cornfields were cut. We packed up early, but not before I shot two that decoyed nicely – one carrying a little jewelry.
Avery ProStaffer Bryn Witmier of Pennsylvania had better luck hunting silage fields that had been partially cut, using the standing corn as cover.
“We shot 22 on Saturday and then shot five on Sunday with two bands. We thought it would be a little better,” he said. “The weather screwed them up.”
The warm weather and full moon, coupled with heavy rains in the early part of last week, had many birds feeding longer, in some cases through the night.
Scouting the morning of the Connecticut opener last week, my hunting partner watched birds land in a roost pond around 11 a.m. The same birds, we believe, that were feeding in a nearby pasture well after dark the night before.
Supervising Wildlife Biologist Jay Osenkowski, with Rhode Island Division of Fish & Wildlife, watched late flights all week. “We allow shooting a half hour after sunset in September, but I don’t know if there’s any more opportunity the last couple days, because the birds are moving later than that,” he said.
Rhode Island’s resident population has been more or less stable, around 6,000 to 7,000 birds, he said. But those numbers come from breeding survey data, which has a high degree or variance in smaller states.
“Middle to late September, the last week or two when corn fields are getting cut, that’s when people head out and get a lot more opportunity and success,” Osenkowski said. “It’s slow in early September.”
When my buddy Tim and I went back to that swampy farm pond in eastern Connecticut the afternoon of opening day, the geese were still there, standing on islands of peat moss and wild cranberries. They had seemingly spent a night in the fields and a day on the pond.
We canoed out to a floating bog and setup with layout blinds. The mosquitoes were thick and we had to move every half hour against the sinking moss. The birds at the other end of the pond wouldn’t budge, even when we fired a warning shot. After an hour or so, I got antsy, jumped in the canoe and made a move.
From shore I hiked, then crawled, the swamp edge to 30 yards from the birds. I jumped up shouting and the geese took off. I dumped the gun and dropped two. The flock kept low and flew over our spread. I heard Tim shoot, but couldn’t see the action.
When I canoed back with my birds Tim was smiling. “High house seven!” he said, a skeet reference to an incoming, left-to-right shot. He doubled, too, and I paddled through the decoys to pick up the dead.
“It’s gonna be a lot easier,” I said, “when they cut the corn.”