Wing shooting is challenging enough, migratory bird hunters know.
Getting bounced around like human rag dolls in a long, sturdy boat painted to look like a big rock while wing shooting amplifies the challenge times infinity, as Gordie White and his son, Dr. Eric White, discovered on a sea duck hunt in January in the Northeast. The New Iberians were closer to Boston, Massachusetts, than to Boston in Vermilion Parish.
And truly out of their element. Nevertheless, Gordie, a retired local lawyer, and Eric, a local veterinarian, proved you can take skilled duck hunters out of the Sporstsman’s Paradise but you can’t take the Sportsman’s Paradise out of skilled duck hunters. They nailed it.
Eric won’t forget the third and last hunt. A norther was bearing down on the region and winds exceeding 20 mph whipped up 3-foot seas in the 60-foot depths in near-offshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately a football field’s length away from the bluffs of Sakonnet, Rhode Island.
Along with two Texans and their guide, the Whites were at the mercy of the waves, bobbing in a 25-foot long Bankes Marine “Goliath” fiberglass boat camouflaged to look like a boulder.
“In my world, I would call it special. I was the first one throwing up. It was so windy and the approach (by the ducks) was so erratic one man was hunting at a time,” Eric said about what their guide called a “mixed sea duck hunt” for scoters and eiders.
Eric said the guide warned, “‘Fellas, this is only going to get worse.’ ”
If 10 sea ducks came in on them, they were lucky to get one. Still, after an hour, the foursome was two birds away from a limit. They decided to leave the shooting to Gordie.
“We had two more to kill. Here comes three birds. Dad got two. He took it serious. He told the guide, ‘That’s the ones we were looking for. Let’s get out of here,’ ” Eric said, proudly, about his father’s marksmanship in the deteriorating conditions.
Gordie said, modestly, “Of course, after you get used to it (the rock n roll), you take more time and take a better shot.”
Happy birthday, Merry Christmas
That memorable sea duck hunting trip was a combination birthday/Christmas present from Eric to Gordie. It was a surprise until Dec. 18, Gordie’s birthday.
The birthday boy-to-be got a thick, waterproof parka as part of the package, unbeknownst to him at the time, before the start of the 2019-20 waterfowl hunting season in Louisiana.
Eric’s big reveal came on his father’s birthday after Gordie opened a large box containing ¼-inch thick chest waders.
“… I got a big ol’ box (the chest waders). I thought, ‘Oh, man, this is real nice. I haven’t worn anything like this in years.’ Eric told me it was a certain thickness and warmth and you’re going to need it where you’re going,” Gordie said.
“The first question Daddy asked was, ‘How cold is it going to be?’ I said, ‘We’re going sea duck hunting and it’s going to be cold. We’re going to freeze your butt off,’ ” Eric said, chuckling.
“His second question was, ‘What about the LSU game?’ He’s a BIG LSU fan. I said, ‘Chief, I know they’ve got TVs in Massachusetts. I know you’ll be able to watch the game.’”
The father-and-son outdoorsmen left by passenger jet Jan. 10 out of Lafayette and returned Jan. 16, one day later than scheduled because of a snafu with the airline. Eric booked four days to try to ensure three days of sea duck hunting in a region where, apparently, hunters need a computer or two lawyers to keep up with rules and regulations, Eric said, pointing out you can’t hunt on Sundays in Massachusetts, where there are small zones, you can’t shoot toward land, etc.
They went sightseeing along the East Coast on Sunday, then hunted Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They hunted and limited out on eider the first day in a busy port with $20 million mansions at their backs in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts. When they targeted brants the second day between subdivisions in Barrington, Rhode Island, those ducks with a short neck, small head and small bill didn’t show but they did knock down a few golden-eyes and took shots at Canada geese. The third day was the charm as Eric wielded his 12-gauge Beretta Extrema and Gordie shouldered his Benelli Super Black Eagle, both using 3-inch shotgun shells with No.2 DryLok Super Steel shot, which Winchester describes as “the ultimate in foul weather waterfowl loads.”
“Any duck hunter has got to give it a try sooner or later. It’s a whole different thing, man. It was fantastic. Incredibly rugged. Incredibly beautiful. I can’t think of a more opportunistic duck hunting adventure,” Eric said.
“Oh, it was fantastic, a great experience, not only a great experience, it was fun it was so different. It’s an experience I’ll not forget,” his father said.
Guide made it great experience
They were fortunate to choose a personable, competent and successful hunting guide, Ruben Perez, who owns East Coast Guide Service. Perez, widely known with glowing reviews, has been guiding 32 years, hunting in the winter and fishing for striped bass and bluefish in the summer. He impressed the Whites.
“This guide moves, goes wherever the ducks are, depending on when you want to hunt. He hunts 59 days. I don’t see how he does it so many days,” Eric said.
Gordie said, “The guide was a master. He was great. He ran in and out of (passageways between) big boulders. It was rough. We had a lot of ocean spray over us but we didn’t get wet. We had our parkas turned out.”
“If you get into more serious Arctic weather, it could be more challenging than it was. We got in a period of nice weather, unseasonably warm. He (the guide) said (before they flew up), ‘Be ready for 0 degrees.’ We were lucky. It never got below freezing, you know. We left on a cold front,” Eric said, noting lows each day were in the 30s and highs in the 60s.
The day after they left, the low was 9 degrees.
The overall adventure was exhilarating, both men agreed.
“Man, I had never done it. I was looking for something different for dad to do. He always wanted to hunt eiders,” Eric said.
They talked about hunting sea ducks from the time he was a boy. The conversation was repeated as they grew older.
His dad remembers his son’s first duck hunting trip at age 5.
“Eric is kind of special. He is. We’ve been very fortunate. Eric started hunting with me when he was 5 years old. I guess I’ve told everybody (anecdote about the boy’s first duck hunt). He left me a note the night before we were leaving. I still have it. ‘Dear Dad, I think if we leave about 3:30 in the morning, if you forget something, we can come back for it,’ ” Gordie said, noting Tommy Lord loaned him his boat and duck blind on Lake Fausse Pointe, which was a duck hunting mecca at the time.
They drove on a bitterly cold morning to the Jeanerette Canal Boat Landing near Eagle Point. The water was iced over at the ramp and as far as the eye could see down the narrow canal.
Gordie was ready to turn around and head home. Eric, well, not so much.
“ ‘Daddy, Daddy, we can go,’ ” Gordie said, remembering the little boy’s beseeching words.
The elder White launched the boat, which cracked ice as it slid in.
“I said, ‘See, we can’t make it.’ He said, ‘Daddy, we can make it. We can make it,’ ” Gordie said.
He tried a little harder, cranked up the boat and cracked ice until they got to the lake, which was ice-free, and had a great hunt. That was the beginning of duck hunting together, he said.
Fifty-seven years of such stick-to-it-iveness followed and paid off when they hunted sea ducks far from home.
He who laughs last …
“The first day I didn’t fire a shot for the first 15 minutes I was laughing so hard. Everybody else was firing, the boat was rocking in all different directions. They’d get up and shoot and miss by so much. You could see the BBs missing by 25 feet. Finally, I started shooting and missing, just like them,” Gordie said with a laugh.
One of the ducks he shoot, an eider, hit the water, then started floating away. There were other cripples on the water from that pass, as well, and Perez unclipped the boat from the anchors (bow and stern) to retrieve them.
“We went get that and the others. Mine disappeared. A seal got it,” Gordie said.
Perez set out 36 garishly colored decoys on a trotline, Eric said. When the eiders came in, they came in low, so low they often couldn’t be seen because of the high seas.
Seals weren’t the only threat to take a freshly shot duck at any time, his son said.
“Seals and sea otters were playing. You had to beat them to the ducks,” he said.
As for the ducks, Eric described the eider as “bulletproof,” or pretty close to it, because of their eiderdown. The scientific name Somateria, derived from Ancient Greet soma “body” and erion “wool,” sums up the physical makeup.
They were hard to bring down and head shots were most effective, he said.
“Scoters died a little easier,” he said.
As for edibility, eiders “are as good as any mallard I’ve ever eaten,” Eric said about the bird with a breast about the size of a goose.
“I didn’t find them particularly stringy or tough. They were good,” he said, noting he fileted the breast and avoided the fat, which seems to be the issue for those who say the eider doesn’t taste good.
“I did the breast meat and it was good. I cooked poppers with them,” he said.