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Just Ducky

“In September of 2020, DEC adopted new regulations that added two veteran and active military waterfowl hunting days in four of the five NYS waterfowl hunting zones. During the special season, military active duty and veterans can hunt migratory game birds.”

NYS DEC Announcement, September 2020


     As a military veteran and waterfowl hunter, I was excited by this news. However, notification came too late in 2020 for me to react and make a viable plan to take advantage of the days, September 19-20, offered in NYS’s northeastern waterfowl hunting zone for the 2020 season. So, I didn’t.

     Instead, I took a season to mull things over, study my favorite waterfowl hunting grounds, take account of early season duck populations in conjunction with September’s high volume of Adirondack camper/canoer/boater/fisherman/hiker outdoor traffic, and from there make a 2021 season plan.

     I’ve never hunted waterfowl, or much anything, for that matter, that early in September. Most of the hunting seasons I’ve experienced through my life, other than May’s spring turkey season, have generally begun in October.  

     So, I knew everything would be different. I considered outdoor air and water temperatures, sunrise/sunset, waterfowl behavior and populations, the flow/volume and awareness of non-hunting recreational traffic, what the black files & mosquitos would be like, I even took into account the impact of early fall weather and winds.

     Through the fall of 2020 and spring summer camping season of 2021, I took measure of all things early season duck hunting related and developed a plan.

     There are “Adirondacking” people everywhere in September. However, I still managed to pinpoint a couple of accessible areas away from the primary flows of fall foliage traffic. September is still waterfowl early. Migrations have not yet begun. So, I knew I would be hunting almost exclusively black ducks, mallards and mergansers. My favorite hunting spot’s primary resident waterfowl population.

Black ducks & mallards are the primary marsh ducks in the areas I like to hunt. They will frequently mingle and interbreed within the same flock.

    Sometime in late summer, the 2021 special veteran’s waterfowl hunting days in NYS were announced. September 18-19th, 3rd weekend of the month. I generally enjoy hunting ducks with my son. But he’s not eligible to hunt this veteran & military special early season, so, unfortunately, to take advantage of this opportunity I would have to go it alone.

     Hunting requirements and regulations are many. In addition to my hunting license (Lifetime Sportsman, for which I had to pass a hunter’s safety course), federal duck stamp (purchased new each season, duly signed across the front), and annually renewed Hunter’s Information Program (HIP) registration number, the additional documentation requirement for hunters taking advantage of this special veteran’s waterfowl season was proof of military service, which for me was a copy of my DD214.

     Additionally, duck hunters must ensure they use only non-toxic or steel shot, carry a properly plugged shotgun capable of holding no more than 3 shells. They must know sunrise and sunset times, and all of the various species and bag limits.  

    Duck hunting is an art. The bag limit regulations are detailed and complex. They often change, and are updated annually:


“The daily limit of 6 ducks includes all mergansers & sea ducks (scoters, eiders, and long tailed ducks) and may include no harlequin ducks & no more than 2 mallards (1 of which may be a hen), 3 wood ducks, 2 black ducks, 1 pintail, 1 scaup (2 scaup are allowed during the 20 days specified for each zone), 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks, 4 scoters, 4 eiders, 4 long tailed-ducks or 2 hooded mergansers.  For all other duck species found in New York, the daily limit is no more than 6.”

Excerpted from the 2020-21 New York State DEC Hunting & Trapping

 Official Guide to Laws & Regulations, page 53.


     Duck hunters must have the skill to properly identify ducks by species and sex, within a flock on the wing, from a canoe, in pre-dawn mist. Without error.

     I concentrate primarily on what I must know for my region: black ducks from mallards, hen mallards from blacks, “hoodies” from “woodies”, pintails from everyone. I have yet to see anything resembling a harlequin duck in any Adirondack Flyways. It’s a far cry from my non hunting brother’s oft asked duck question during our frequent summer camping excursions:

“Is that a black duck or a regular duck?”

(Answer: Top right-Black duck, bottom left-hen mallard. Very similar at a casual glance, but the ability to differentiate the two is critical to a duck hunter’s skill set.”)

     September 18th arrived. Duly scouted, licensed, equipped, packed, prepped and planned, I headed afield with my hand painted Zen boat camouflage canoe, and my favorite trusted waterfowl field gun, my Remington 870 twelve-gauge magnum, full choke barrel, chambered for 3-inch shells. It’s been with me since college. That field gun too I long ago painted camo.

     There are many legal ways to hunt ducks. I’ve experienced most of them. My favorite is the way I learned from my father; flush hunt jump shooting from my canoe. It’s not for everyone, a special skill set all its own. It requires being one with both gun and canoe, anticipating which way birds will flush from the water, a keen understanding of wind, waves, range and backdrop. Most importantly, a knowledge of when to shoot, and when simply to pass. Quite frequently, for a hunter, the best shot of a hunt is the shot never taken.

“Duck hunting from a canoe is an art all its own.”

     When I hunt with my son, we use our bigger four-man canoe. The man in front hunts, while the rear hunter paddles. Additional factors come into play then. A right-handed hunter naturally wants to swing gun left. Maneuvering man and canoe into position for the proper shot at birds flying low on misty mountain lake windswept waters is a special guide thrill.

“Scanning the horizon.”

     So afield I went, guiding my canoe through the water, paddle in hand, gun ready in front of me. The weather was warm but overcast. It sprinkled off and on.  Fall leaves had begun turning. As my morning progressed, I bagged a pair of nice ducks, one black duck, one hen mallard.

     I did not encounter much non-hunter traffic. The few canoers and fisherman who did happen by, I could see approaching from far off.  I simply pulled discreetly ashore, took a break, and quietly waited for them to safely pass into the distance. I suspect most were never even aware of my presence.

I’m a tube fed cancer survivor, so when I did encounter others out “Adirondacking”, I took that opportunity to quietly slide into shore for a break and to take in some nourishment.


It was a great hunt, but I missed the camaraderie of my son, so as midday approached, I called my non-hunting brother.

     “Hey! I’m up on the water, duck hunting. If you want to come up and join me, I’ll cook you up a quick “Camp Chef” duck dinner.”

     I did not have to ask twice.

     I gave him directions to find me, and the ingredients needed.

     “Bring a frying pan, spatula, olive oil, butter, a big onion, some scallions, liquid smoke, soy sauce, salt, pepper, garlic, and some of that Montreal Steak Seasoning. While you are enroute, I’ll kindle a fire, so when you get up this way, just look for the smoke.”   

     So that’s what he did. By the time he arrived, I had a nice little lakeside cook fire going and had dressed out my ducks. We diced up and caramelized onions & spices in butter and oil.

Then we added sliced duck breast, chopped scallions, and let it all mingle as it sizzled together over that fragrant Adirondack wood spice. His authentic “Camp Chef” lakeside duck dinner was smoky fork tender and ready to eat in short order.

“My brother & Camp Sous Chef doing some lakeside cooking while I was busy snapping photos.”

     My brother’s comment as he sat and dined, lakeside:

“Folks would pay big bucks for this experience.”

A great compliment. The camp chef duck hunter (that’s me) simply smiled and nodded.

There were no leftovers.

    After my brother finished his meal and departed, I still had an hour before sunset, so I resumed my hunt. The water was late summer’s eve sunsetting quiet and still. I bagged one more black duck before the sun disappeared behind the mountain horizon.

Got one more the next pre-dawn mist morning, for a weekend a total of four.

     As I rowed and hunted those early September waters. Early leaf red, orange and yellow reflected my brother’s compliment.

     “Folks would pay big bucks for this experience.”

     Folks often ask why I hunt. My answer is at one and the same time both simple and complex. It’s being one with wind, water and nature. It’s an integral part of my heritage. At its core, it’s simply who I am. I long ago learned that those opposed to hunting will likely never understand.    


     For the rest, the best way for a non-hunter to appreciate the “why” is to have a family member or friend who hunts and support them in a way that secures an invitation to table. If a camp chef duck dinner isn’t convincing enough of an answer, well, then I’m simply not sure what is. 

     I truly enjoyed the special active-duty military & veteran’s waterfowl days.  The results were “JUST DUCKY”. I am certain my non-hunting brother would wholeheartedly agree.  


Until Our Trails Cross Again: