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Magic of The Salt Marsh

From New York Outdoor News, December 2014

Just beyond the outskirts of New York City lies marshlands filled with abundant waterfowl and wildlife few know about. During the hot summer days of June and July, you will find fisherman, kayakers, and birdwatchers enjoying the beauties of nature. It's a popular spot during the summer, as everyone from the city and Long Island floods the beaches and get some sun. As September turns October and the temperature starts to drop into the thirties, the marshlands become empty and new groups of winged visitors begin to fill the marsh. Then, on a cool crisp November day, the marsh comes back to life as a different breed of people take to the sacred land. For most people, Thanksgiving bring images of turkey, football, and family. When I think of Thanksgiving, I see a black duck over the decoys and hear the echo of a 12 gauge across the bay. There's only a small group of us left, but the hardcore Long Island duck hunters all do it because it's in our nature.

It's hard to know what motivates the salt marsh waterfowler. For some, it's a flock of brant coming down the channel; for others, it's bufflehead buzzing over the decoys. I know for myself, it’s the entire hunt put together. The excitement of waking up at 4 a.m. not knowing what the day has in store. Riding down the channel with the cold air blowing in your face and the sound of the 15-horse wide open. It has been a tradition of hunting Thanksgiving morning with my dad every year.

That hunt is a hunt I look forward to every year and has created memories I will forever cherish. My first black duck out on the marsh is one of those days you wish you could relive. Dad and I knew the tide was going to be perfect, and the excitement started to build.

I can see the car lights in the distance as we started to pull up to the ramp. I step out of the car, and I can feel the breeze coming off the day. It starts to rise, and more ducks begin to fly. The first shots ring out over the marsh; I grip my gun tighter, getting ready for a bird. Then, in the corner of my eye, a black duck swings low along the creek. I pull up and put the bead on the duck and BANG! A beautiful black duck floating in the creek.

I remember being so happy and seeing how proud my dad was that I was becoming a bayman. Dad was also able to knock down a black duck, and together we had our limit of blacks. That day, that moment, I will never forget.

When it comes to hunting, Long Island is known for field goose hunts and big-water sea duck hunts. But, there is a secret that lives out in small Creeks of the bay. I don't know if people don't want to believe it, or they just don't know. Long Island has some of the best black duck hunting in the country. Every year, thousands of black ducks migrate to the shores of Long Island, and there are very few people who invest the time and equipment to successfully hunt them. They are the king of ducks- wary, intelligent, and beautiful. If you shoot a black duck over your decoys, you did something right. As a sixteen-year-old kid, the saltwater bays speak to me like nothing else in the world. I don't shoot a dozen drake mallards in one hour like you see on TV. But, when I shoot my one black duck for the day, I am grateful for the opportunity to hunt these bays I love so much. And I know, that if there is a black duck in my boat at the end of the day, I hunted hard and did something right.

As January ends and the season comes to a close, a sad feeling comes across me. But I know next November, just a few miles east of the biggest city in the United States, I will be able to find a very small creek with only the smell of low tide and the sound of wind against the marsh with a faint “quack” as a black duck in the distance spots my decoys.

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