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Duck Season finale in the ACE Basin

Buck Howell and Bramblett Bradham limit out with gadwall ducks. Photo by Jeff Dennis

Buck Howell and Bramblett Bradham limit out with gadwall ducks.
Photo by Jeff Dennis

The January 25 ending for duck season is drawing very near so this weekend hunters will fire their final volleys at these migratory waterfowl. A small band of veteran hunters gathered recently for a late January hunt in the ACE Basin, and these wingshooters made their aim count. While the season may end soon, and similar hunt conditions with good numbers of waterfowl may not occur again until next January, the memories from this hunt and from similar efforts by other waterfowlers will endure.

It’s not really a secret that ducks are looking for something to eat when they migrate South for the winter, and they have instincts that evolve over time about where to find food. Coastal South Carolina and the Lowcountry in particular has always been a part of that equation with a nice mix of saltwater, brackish and freshwater habitat. But in order to concentrate the ducks for the sake of hunting, managers know that planting a crop in an impoundment that can be flooded is usually a recipe for success.

Gamekeeper Bramblett Bradham understands that planting his crop of rice and millet isn’t enough to bring in the ducks. Water levels have to be monitored since too much or too little water on a crop can leave waterfowl uninterested. Using common sense regarding minimal hunting pressure and the use of natural areas as duck blinds all play a role in attracting and holding ducks. Managers need time, over multiple years, to diagnose where ducks like to be and then they can concentrate their efforts in that zone.

By late January many of the ducks that come to S.C. for the winter have arrived, increasing everyone’s chance for success. In 2014 it was Ducks Unlimited that named the ACE Basin one of the Top 15 “Great Places to Hunt Waterfowl” in the United States, especially in January. Famed Chesapeake Bay sits in the tenth position on that list with the ACE Basin sitting in 13th place, helping outdoorsmen identify which areas the ducks prefer year in and year out. Being in a geographic location that holds lots of waterfowl is just one of the reasons to appreciate late season duck hunting.

Back in January of 2014 I attended a late January lottery hunt on Bear Island WMA where the ice and cold conditions had the pintails right where we wanted, making for a great hunt memory. This January’s hunt was on a private pond in the ACE Basin and lots of gadwall ducks were in the area. It wasn’t particularly cold, but it had been a very dreary few days with no sunshine and some rain, drizzle and fog along the way. In other words, it was quite ducky weather!

Bradham told me that he had the ducks patterned fairly well and that he knew when he wanted us to hunt, and where. Allowing the pond to rest for several days before our hunt gave the ducks a sense of comfort before it was time for him to put out decoys and call to the ducks. Looking over his shoulder at dawn that day, I could see a low deck of clouds, with flying ducks coming in and out of view as they dipped up and down along that cloud deck. Some ducks ignored his calls and flew by, but others dropped out of the sky to investigate.

I think it was Buck Howell that fired the first shots and brought down the first gadwall, but we all joined in the shooting very soon. Success came early and often as the ducks were very nearly in our decoys by the time someone in our group would fire. A large group of 15 gadwall cupped up, dipped down and stretched out along our position and everyone hit their mark, and I doubled up. Feathers floated in the air and one happy hunter shouted that it resembled snow; but, it signaled to me that this group of seasoned shooters were on their way to a limit of ducks. If there is even one weak link shooter out there, they can serve to flare the ducks and make it tougher for all.

We had two black labs do the retrieving this day, with several double retrieves that came off looking routine in nature. Gathering up our gear after the hunt we didn’t have to express that we’ll get them next time, because we took care to make the most of this opportunity. The next order of business included making a few photos, cleaning the ducks and then eating a breakfast complete with duck bacon and venison sausage. Everyone finishes up duck season with some sort of finale, and these hunts create something intangible to be savored until next January when waterfowlers get another chance to hunt late season ducks.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdors.com


Jeff Dennis, Contributor (394 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com