May 9th, 2017 by Sam Morstan

On a cold winter day in western Washington, two duck hunting rookies loaded up on No. 2 shot and expert advice to take on some wily webfoots.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Cedarville Farms, located in Oakville, Washington, is an active farm that includes a working millworks facility. But perhaps more applicable to the topic of this column, it is also home to a waterfowl hunting club situated on more than 100 acres with five swales, a tree-enclosed pond, and 2,500 feet of river frontage. Owner Jon McAninch always donates a couple of two-person guided hunts to the annual Washington Waterfowl Association (WWA) raffle, and since I was one of last year’s lucky winners, I was able to select a partner. I chose Mike Moran, the president of the Washington State Muzzleloading Association, because I knew I could count on him to join me in hunting with a flintlock rifle.

Mike Moran (left) and Mike Nesbitt with the ducks they bagged using flintlocks.

Jon and Kurt Snyder – the chairman of the Grays Harbor chapter of the WWA – made our group a foursome. In addition to his duck hunting knowledge, Kurt was a huge help because it was he who put out the decoys and doubled as our retriever for getting our birds out of the water.

Ironically, neither Jon nor Kurt likes black powder shooting with muzzleloaders, and neither Mike nor I consider ourselves duck hunters. In other words, we were going to need their help to collect a couple of ducks, and they were more than glad to provide it.

Mike Moran’s 20-gauge Northwest gun has a 36-inch barrel.

MY “DUCK GUN” OF CHOICE was actually a short-barreled “canoe gun” in 20 gauge with the 20-inch barrel. From my point of view, it shoots with the best of the flintlock smoothbores. And, since I’ve used it in several rifle matches where it served me well enough to give me some rather good scores, this was the only gun that I even considered for my duck adventure.

A side-by-side size comparison of Mike and Mike’s flintlocks. The author’s is on the bottom.

Although Mike is well aware of my faith and trust in short-barreled guns, when he got the kit to make his Northwest gun, he chose one with a 36-inch barrel. I suppose the longer barrel must add some advantages, although I’ve yet to discover what those might be. But despite the difference in length, both of our guns use cylinder bore barrels with no choke at all, so we knew the shot patterns would most likely be very similar. Mike also selected a 20 gauge because that is probably the best all-around bore size for a Northwest gun.

This hunt took place on a cold winter’s day on Medicine Creek, which is at the high end of the Nisqually River delta, in Washington’s southernmost Puget Sound. And though Jon and Kurt had some established duck blinds in the area, Mike and I took up positions behind a log and some brush beside the slow-moving creek. Less than half a dozen decoys were anchored in the water near us. We were to hunker down to remain out of sight (always good advice), and were told in no uncertain terms that when the ducks came in, they’d be coming in fast.

Our flintlocks were loaded with steel air-rifle BBs. Jon had been very specific about what size of birdshot we might use in our 20-gauge guns. The birdshot, of course, must be steel, and Jon suggested that we use large shot so kills could be counted on; we wanted no wounded birds getting away. He recommended No. 2s or larger.

Since those BBs were most likely harder than the barrels of our guns, due consideration had to be made to put together loads just for duck hunting. First, we’d pour 75 grains of black powder down our guns’ barrels. The granulation of powder I used was Olde Eynsford 2F. Then came the same volume of BBs, contained in 20-gauge Remington Power Pistons. And because the amount of BBs more than filled the Power Pistons, we generally used Wonder Wads as overshot cards to give the bore a bit of lubricant ahead of the BBs.

Mike Moran helps Kurt Snyder (right) to bring in the decoys.

OUR GUIDES GOT US INTO POSITION after we had loaded our guns. Jon headed out to other parts of the area to scare up some ducks, while Kurt remained with us, primarily as our “retriever.” Kurt was a very good hunting guide. He was able to identify ducks that were coming toward us when they still looked like black dots to Mike and me. We’ll both be eager to hunt with the “Jon and Kurt team” again.

Then some more ducks came in, and these followed a flight plan more to our liking. But all too quickly Mike and I were looking at each other holding empty flintlocks, and no ducks had even broken formation! Clean misses! In fact, very clean misses.

Cedarville Farms owner Jon McAninch admires the author’s short Northwest gun, saying, “This is light!”

Finally the spell was broken. A flight of half a dozen ducks approached, and I picked out one I’d try for. They got into our desired range and I stood up to take my shot. When I rose, the duck swung sharply to its left, my right, but I had guessed that would happen and kept up plus a little ahead of it with my gun. When my flintlock spoke, the duck took some hard hits and for a moment seemed to stop midair. Then it was lifeless and simply tumbled down to the water. The first duck of the hunt was mine, but I certainly didn’t take it with my first shot.

There was no time to gloat, so I simply reloaded. My gun had just received its fresh load when Mike’s gun roared. When I stood up to see what was going on, there was a wounded duck in the water ahead of us and my gun was quickly unloaded in order to end any miseries the duck might have felt. That was Mike’s first duck; he had taken it out of the air and all claims to it were his.

Later, we finally had some moments to reflect on our successful shots. The image of the duck I killed almost stopping in the air actually looked like an easy shot. That was the type of shot we had come to that spot for. In fact, it looked so easy that I have no idea why I couldn’t do it again.

Suddenly a lone duck flew our way and Mike stood up to take the shot. It was a very good shot at a fast-flying bird, and although the duck was hit hard, its speed and momentum carried it through the air to crash behind us. That was Mike’s second duck and it looked like our day of hunting was over. That’s also when the pictures you see here were taken, and in some of them you can see the long shadows that accompany late afternoon photography.

IT WAS AFTER THE PHOTOS were taken that Kurt noticed a dead pintail hen. At first it was thought that the hen had been killed by other hunters who were there the day before but the duck wasn’t frozen. It was still warm and, in fact, it showed a single wound to the breast made by a BB, so it was clearly one of ours. It must have taken the hit, perhaps like a heart shot, but continued flying until over or behind us before it reached the ground. Mike suggested that I take it because that would give us each two birds for the hunt. I appreciated the gesture, and claiming the pintail really added to my day.

Here’s author Mike Nesbitt’s favorite 20-gauge “flinter,” with a 20-inch barrel.

Mike and I decided that additional flintlock hunts would be a good thing, perhaps for grouse or rabbits next time. Different kinds of game offers challenges of another sort, and you’re never too young to learn. We also agreed to do more practice shooting with our flintlocks using birdshot on flying, running, and bouncing targets simply to be a bit better the next time we take those guns afield. ASJ

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