Last Saturday was a landmark day for me - I checked another accomplishment off my bucket list. That's the day I became a Waterfowl Shooter.
The occasion was made possible by Calibered Events http://www.caliberedevents.com/about-us
and M&M Hunting and Sporting Clays http://mmhunting.com/
This Ladies Only event took place on the grounds of M&M Hunting and Sporting Clays in New Jersey - about 30 minutes from Philadelphia. Since I wasn't local, I accepted the invitation of my friend Annette https://www.facebook.com/BlastingBeauty/ to lodge near her, so that we could drive over together. I'm so glad we decided to do that. I had never done ducks before, and she had never hunted at all before, so we were our own mutual support group. We started our day with breakfast at a local diner so I could get my scrapple fix, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrapple
and then we ventured across the big bridge into New Jersey.
The M&M Facility was huge and gorgeous. We met our event host Ann Marie Foster in the main building, and filled out our one day New Jersey hunting license papers. After a few introductions to the rest of the ladies, and some organizational housekeeping, we split into golf-cart size groups and hit the sporting clays course to warm up our trigger fingers.
We warmed up with 50 shells of sporting clays. The course was well organized , but our method was a bit unorthodox, as we drove around in our golf carts looking for traps that would send us the crossers and incoming shots that we needed to practice on. We did get a few odd looks from other (mostly male) shooters, but how common IS a group of nine women in camo on a shotgun course in New Jersey? The sun, the blue sky, the falling leaves, and the smell of the spent shells made for a PERFECT fall day.
Link to video
After our clays practice, we ate a large hearty lunch in the main building at M&M, and got to know eachother a little more. The laughs had started already, and we had some visits with our Labrador partners-to-be as well.
Before we knew it, it was time for the donning of rubber boots, and then off to the marsh release area we went.
I had not planned on duck hunting in shirt sleeves. In fact, I had sewed-up an entire camo fleece outfit to wear under my outer shell for insulation. I had come prepared for twenty degrees and damp. Fortunately, I had thrown a camo wicking shirt in my suitcase as well, which was originally intended to be my baselayer. That shirt ended up being my "only" layer due to the nearly 70 degree weather. I brought the fleece and shell just in case, but they ended up staying in my daypack. Ah well - better to have and not need, than to need and not have. I am never one to look "gift horse" weather in the mouth!
There were several permanent blinds set up, scattered around the pond/marsh area where the shoot took place. We were to rotate as groups between these blinds during our two hour session. We split up into three groups of three women each, with a guide and dog each per blind.
The first two blind locations weren't very productive for our group of three gals, which consisted of myself, Annette, and Lynn. We kind of felt bad for the dogs (Trigger, Avery, and Hook). They wanted to jump into the water with every shotgun report - even if it was a miss. ( Yeah, sorry guys) But Annette saved the day with the first birds for our blind.
For me personally, it took awhile to be able to judge distance. Ducks are bigger than clays, and thus looked "closer" because I wasn't used to the size - if that makes sense. (That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it) Thus, I took some shots that were much too far to be useful. But this was a learning experience, and by the time we got to the third blind I was learning to be patient and wait for a closer shot. I also got some repetitive motion experience in standing up, flicking off the safety and shouldering the gun --- and then reversing the motions to sit back down again, when realizing that the shot was too long. Everything can be a learning experience if you let it. (ALSO my story, and I'm sticking to it!)
Despite trying to stay positive, I admit to getting a little discouraged by the time we got to the third blind rotation. I had still not bagged my first duck, despite a couple shots where I felt I "should" have. But persistence and location were the keys- as well as the aforementioned patience - and I ultimately bagged at least six. It was hard to keep track, as we were taking turns, and all the ducks were just in a pile. I took home seven, because a few of the gals didn't want all of theirs, but I know I hit six.
It was interesting watching the way the ducks flew. Unlike clays, they could purposefully change direction and respond (or not) to the calls of our guides. They also took advantage of the prevailing winds. Some breezed on past out of range, while others banked and headed over to check out the decoys. Some even came straight at us. I shot one of those incoming overhead ducks successfully. But as it folded, the momentum dropped it nearly on top of my blind mate's head! Fortunately, she had bent down to get a drink, or it might have hit her square in the face. I wish I'd had a GoPro to record that one!
There were other moments of levity - not all of them G-rated. I remember Lynn wondering aloud if the ducks that successfully landed among the decoys were disappointed to discover that they were plastic. I couldn't quite keep a comment to myself about discovering that your blind date was really a blow-up doll. Yeah, Dignity and Decorum - that's me.
I managed to provide other comic relief as well. Being the paragon of Grace, Beauty, and Charm that I am, I managed to hit my head on the back roof area of the blind a couple times, while I was standing and shooting - Owwww. (Except "Oww" wasn't what I said - Dignity and Decorum, remember?) Between repetitively bonking my head and shooting a box and a half of high brass, I really needed some Ibuprofen by the time I got back to the hotel - LOL
As far as firepower goes, there were only two of us in the entire group using over/under guns. The rest were shooting semi-autos. There were a few times where I thought a third shot from a semi-auto would have been useful to me, but I'm discovering that I feel the same way about my Benelli 828U as I do about my revolver. Knowing I have limited rounds forces me to change my mindset. Instead of blasting away, I have to slow down, concentrate, and make every shot count. I like the discipline that is coming along with that. It's good for me.
Some people may wonder about a "released" shoot, and whether that was "sporting" enough. Truthfully, I wondered how I would feel about it myself. But in the end, I didn't feel bad about shooting these animals - even as releases. Plenty of the ducks evaded us and reached freedom, and even though they were raised before release, they had lived a better life than the average factory farm chicken.
I did have a bit of a "moment" though when I crouched down to stroke the feathers of the birds on the ground. I had a memory flash of watching my dad clean the day's bag limit in our basement as a child. Part of me was a little sad that I didn't get to share this with him. But I've realized that things happen in their own time. That time just wasn't "for" me. I wasn't ready then. But now IS my time, and I'm so thrilled that it is :-)
This was a great experience, and a great way to get my feet wet with waterfowl. It may not have been a completely "wild" setting, but it allowed someone like me - who will never have her own dogs or her own boat or her own decoys - to get a taste of the experience in a positive way.
Thank you Calibered Events and M&M Preserve for the unforgettable opportunity!