Among my hunting buddies, my troubles with Black Ducks are a common topic when the action gets slow in the duck blind. About the time someone opens the thermos for the first sip of coffee, a buddy will chime in, "Hey Philip, have you got that Black Duck Mounted yet?"
For those that aren't bird nerds, a Black Duck is a separate species of duck that is mainly located in the Eastern Flyway (more info here). Mallards have been domesticated and will mix with the wild population. If you shoot a mallard around here, it is very likely that it is not a wild duck. When you shoot a Black Duck, you know it is a real migratory bird. Whether it came from Ontario or Prince Edward Island, every Black Duck took a long trip to get to the South East.
I shot my first Black Duck way too soon. It was two year's into my duck hunting journey. My brother was home for Christmas break, and my high school buddy, Mark, took us to hunt a pond. After an early morning flight of Wood Ducks, a group of Mallards came to the decoys and flared over our heads as we began to shoot. My brother looked at me and said, "You just got your first Black Duck."
I was so excited as I went to retrieve it. I assumed it was destined for the wall. When I got home, I put it in the freezer wrapped up and ready for the taxidermist. Duck Season ended, and the bird was forgotten in the freezer.
Unfortunately, the freezer was cleaned out, along with my trophy. My friends, rightfully so, gave me a hard time for the next 15 years. The “duck gods” were cruel and unusual in their punishment. I did not see another Black Duck for 12 years. Then, three years ago, one decoyed perfectly in a local swamp. Mark and I were hunting together, I called the shot and promptly missed. Mark hit the target and was excited for his first Black. I was happy for him, but envious.
The next year, I had the opportunity to hunt in Maryland. The area we were hunting was a Black Duck Paradise. If there was ever a guaranteed thing for hunting, this hunt was it. A cold front turned into a “polar vortex” and all water on this property froze.
It is hard to hunt waterfowl without water in its liquid form. As the weather warmed by our last day, I had one chance at a Black Duck. During a lull in the action I was staring off, when my daydream was interrupted by two decoying Black Ducks. My brother and I quickly rose and put the fear of the 12 gauge in those ducks without drawing a feather.
I took these events to mean I would never shoot another Black Duck. My carelessness with the last bird would haunt me the rest of my career. Every season the taunt of, “Whatever happened to that duck?”, cemented my fate in my psyche.
This year, the last day of January was the last day of duck season. Mark and I planned a hunt on the pond we hunted 15 years ago where my curse began.
We had to hunt in waste deep water next to a bush in the pond. My dog, Sage, was 20 yards behind us waiting for ducks to fall from the sky as the sun rose.
The perfect morning ensued and we shot a rare (in upstate SC) two man limit of ducks. That would have been a perfect end to the season, but the cherry on top was the Black Duck I finally dropped in a shot similar to the one years earlier.
Sometime the “duck gods” seem to toy with you. There may be one species that never is counted towards your limit. Pintails ( whats a pintail? click here)are that species for some. Those people are haunted by photos of people on Instagram with large bull sprigs captioned, “My First Duck!” If that is you, take heart and realize that one day, your time will come.
PS: If you want to hear more about the traditions of the pond where my drought ended, here is a link to a story published in South Carolina Wildlife Magazine about it : "The Eve of Eve"