Took my 2nd trip duck hunting to the Stikine River. The first time, I was the hunt leader in unknown country. Now, I’m married into brothers that grew up there. A high school teacher became like an uncle to them, and they have a cabin with him up the river. Each year, they have to take the dock out at the cabin because river ice would take it away in the spring. Then, they put the dock back out in the spring after ice out for the teacher. So, we were on the take-the-dock-out trip. The whole trip started when I was cleaning the garage, and came across a case of number 2 steel shot shotgun shells Ron had given me when he moved. I asked my brother in law if he wanted them. He said sure – why not, deliver them in person in Wrangell and we’ll go take the dock out and do some waterfowl hunting. I told my boss there was a waterfowl overpopulation emergency on the Stikine, and she said I better go help take care of it. I bought tickets to get to Wrangell on Thursday morning. No need to get a return ticket, since we couldn’t know how long the trip would take or the weather, nor care for that matter.
Bob picked me up at the airport. As usual, he begged off going with us. At least this time he had a good excuse. He was going deer hunting with his wife. He dropped me at Dave’s dock, where B and K were waiting in a jet boat loaned to them by their hometown friend. We loaded food and a few decoys and two labs into the boat and were on our way. The weather was windy conditions and intermittent rain. Also called perfect duck hunting weather. It took us less than an hour to get to the tide flats. The place all looks the same to the unexperienced eye. We dropped the decoys and other gear at what looked like a random snag on an island.
The Stikine River delta is a place you don’t want to go for the first time alone. The tide was flooding, and we had enough water to get all the way to the cabin dock. A jet boat only needs a few inches of water to run if you’re on step, but if you ground, well, you could be there a while if the tide is falling, or you could be in trouble if the water and wind are blowing the wrong way. We packed the gear into the cabin, then went to visit a couple who lived out on the island full time. The man was from Wrangell, and his family owned the local hardware store. He commercial fished and trapped for income. His wife was from Petersburg. They had a beautiful log house with a wood burning cookstove that also heated their water. Solar panels and a wind turbine charged batteries for power, and they also had a generator as needed. They can shoot moose from their porch. They had a library of Alaskana books. Many titles I’d never seen. We got back to the cabin and Brian lit the barbecue and made pork ribs for dinner. We listened to KFSK on the radio and relaxed and told stories. Next day we headed to the duck flats. I’ve not done much duck hunting and I’m not a good shot. I set up a few decoys while B and K each took their dogs and jump shot honkers and mallards. It’s really a beautiful sight to watch a good waterfowl hunter shoot, and even more when his dog retrieves the birds. I tried after a few ducks and geese but hit nary a one. We gathered at the boat when there was still time to have enough water to get back up to the cabin dock, with a pile of honkers and ducks. B and K know my wife loves ducks, and they don’t, and they told me all the birds were for me – they just wanted the carcasses for trapping bait. At the ramp, B showed me how to cut out the breast and thighs of the birds without cleaning the entrails – a new skill for me. We soon had the meat in bags, and I put it all in water from the rain barrel and salt to draw out the blood, just like I do with hooters. The next morning it was windy and rainy as the forecast predicted. The plan was to hunt in the morning, return late in the morning, clean up the cabin, move the dock to the slough for the winter, then head back to Wrangell. There was a window of lesser winds on Sunday between gales for B and K to get back to Coffman Cove across Clarence Strait. When we got to a slough to hide the boat, Brian showed me how to properly use the geese and mallard decoys. The geese sat on a tripod with a shock cord such that the wind could move the decoy side to side to draw attention from passing birds. The mallard had wings that rotated in the wind like a whirligig. This really draws in the ducks. I set these up in front of a snag on the island, while B and K again went jump shooting with their dogs. K worked his way back to me and we talked for awhile. I’d not had much action at the decoys, but K had got a double of honkers in the first group of birds that he shot at. We saw a group of ducks pass and land in a slough not far away. He told me to go get them. I asked him how to do it, and he said to creep along the slough and peek over the edge to find the ducks. He said they always take off into the wind. So, I worked my way over to the slough. These islands looks like flat grasslands, but there are numerous sloughs that must be crossed along the way. I tried to get well above where I thought the birds had landed, and then work my way back to them with the wind at my back, knowing they’d take off towards me into the wind. It took me a good 30 minutes to maneuver across the little sloughs and get to where I thought I should be getting close to a spot on the big slough where I could work my way back down to the birds. Then there was the flock. They lifted of the water and crossed in front of me. I aimed at the flock, fired once, and two birds dropped. My first of the trip. My second shot was a miss. I hurried across yet another little slough to get to the birds. It took awhile of walking lines in the short marsh grass to find the first one. A drake mallard. Awhile later I found the other – a hen. I worked my way back to the decoys and snag blind. The tide was coming in and with the big wind, the birds were not going to want to be in the river so they started looking for either higher ground or a protected pool in the big sloughs. Flocks of ducks started coming into the decoys. I missed bird after bird. Then I forced myself to wait longer, and here comes a small flock. I fire once, and see a bird drop. Same thing with the second shot. Another double. I ran out and gathered the birds and got back to the blind. The birds started to come in more frequently but I just could not hit one. Four mallards would be my day. But for me, the most mallards I’d got in a day. B and K returned with braces of mallards and honkers and a sprague or two. Back to the cabin. The brothers got things ready to close up while I packed and swept the floors. Then we loaded the boat and got the lines tied off to the dock. It was really blowing now, with 1 to 2 foot waves on the river. But the wind would be at our backs and help us, except for the turn right into the slough. We pulled into the river, with K on the dock with an oar pushing himself back into the river if he got close to the beach. We ran a mile or two downstream when we came to the slough we wanted to put the dock in. We really needed to make the turn and get the dock in the slough. If we overshot the slough, the wind would really be working against us. Brian turned the corner and the get boat skidded on the water into the brush on the far side of the slough. He quickly reversed, which slacked the line to the dock, and got turned up the slough just as the dock drifted by the slough entrance, and when we powered forward, the dock followed us up the slough. We’d made it. We boated up the slough and tied the dock off on both sides of the slough, where apparently it would ride fine through the winter as it had last winter. I’m sure I’ll think of that float sitting there in the slough this winter. We got back out into the river and headed for the bay. As we passed one island, flock after flock of honkers that were near the bank got up. Soon there were a hundred or more in the air. And more birds kept lifting. When we got to the front end of the island, we stopped and cut the motor. There were honkers and other ducks all around, and the honkers were really raising a racket. We left for town, but didn’t go directly to town but instead headed behind High Island to avoid the chop. Once at the other end of High Island, we headed for town and took the chop on our starbard for about 30 minutes till we reached town, and it wasn’t bad at all. B and the boat owner took the boat to the owner’s home on the trailer, and K and I took the day’s birds and dressed them on B’s boat. Bob’s wife Chris came for K and I and they put us up for the night while B stayed with the teacher. Bob cooked moose steaks and potatoes for dinner and it was excellent. I took the morning plane home the next day. As soon as I got to the house, I took out all the bird meat, cleaned it from feathers and bloodshot meat, rinsed it, and put it in collanders to drain. I’ll vac pack the meat tomorrow.