Cutting up sea ducks

Scissors-rig hunting is exciting approach to Pamlico ducks. Learn the details here.

Craig Holt

December 01, 2012 at 7:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Guide Adam Jones admies a nice take of diving ducks from his scissors-rig boat.
Craig Holt
Guide Adam Jones admies a nice take of diving ducks from his scissors-rig boat.
Camouflage is a key element of successful hunting, especially for waterfowl.

But the art of hiding from wild game has changed over time. Native Americans once concealed themselves inside animal skins or attached leaves and grasses to their clothing to hunt buffalo, deer and wild turkeys.

During the modern era, manufactured camouflage items have ruled the shooting sports, and the camo industry has grown into a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

Modern waterfowl hunting, perhaps more than any type of game pursuit, depends upon camouflage. Ducks and geese have keen eyesight and can spot anything unnatural— such as a boat or a hunter’s shining face — from hundreds of feet away and often veer from shotgun range if they detect something amiss.

Camouflage is ubiquitous for waterfowl hunters, from face paints to gloves, pants, shirts, T-shirts, and even shotguns and boats. Camo paint or fabric covers for outboard motors are considered a duck-hunting necessity.

One of the most-effective ways to avoid flaring ducks on open water is to disguise a hunting boat with camo-colored paint and attach flexible pop-up/take-down wall brackets (camo, of course) to a boat’s bow, gunwales and stern. With the top closed, a duck or goose has little chance of early warning, so when a bird flies within range, hunters stand up, the camo cover drops and the shooting starts.

However, even with the popularity of boat camo, one Pamlico Sound guide has had great success by returning to waterfowling’s roots.

His hunting digs are outdated — a throwback, if you will. But his clients rarely complain about not seeing ducks or geese.

Adam Jones of Engelhard has outfitted his boat, a 23-foot SeaHawk powered by a 175-horsepower Yamaha outboard motor, with a scissors rig.

"I once used layout boats, but I got tired of that and found out a scissors rig suited me and my clients," Jones said. "Scissors rigs have been around for a while — I’ve known about them for at least 20 years — but most people who use them have kept them a secret.

"I first hunted in a scissors-rig boat at Currituck Sound, and I think a few people up there still use them. But I believe I’m the only guide (in Engelhard) who uses one."

Jones, who has been guiding for 20 of his 35 years, knows like the back of his hands the big waters to the east and south of the quaint coastal village at the northeastern tip of Pamlico Sound, only three and a half miles from massive Lake Mattamuskeet and its national waterfowl refuge.

When Jones, who operates AJ’s Sea Ducks and Trophy Swan Hunts, launches his scissors-rig outfit at Gibbs Landing — where as a youth he cleaned and painted boat hulls for his grandparents, Lynwood and Mildred Gibbs — hunters know they’re taking a step back in time.

He fills the boat’s deep prow with about 70 sections of small pine trees and pine limbs between 4 and 6 feet long. Jones stores his decoys — male and female surf scoters, teals, redheads and bluebills and a motorized Mojo duck — underneath the cut pines.

"A friend of mine, Watson Stuart, showed me how to build a scissors rig," Jones said. "We went snow goose hunting on Currituck Sound and killed eight or 10.

"I knew it’d work for sea ducks, too."

The edges of Jones’s boat have interconnected pieces of wooden planks of various lengths. The 10-inch boards — 3/4 inches deep and painted black — are hinged at the ends and rest on the gunwales when the boat’s moving.

The wooden frame of the scissors rig is hinged at the middle of the bow with two wood pieces about 4 feet long to form a "V" shape.

Next comes two sections of wood about 8 feet long, hinged underneath each back outside end of the two bow pieces. These two 8-foot planks also are hinged to another pair of 8-foot planks that extend to the back of the rig.

The right-rear and left-rear pieces of these last planks are hinged to sections of plank that, when joined, extend across the boat’s stern.

When joined at the back, the wood frame forms an outline of the boat.

But before he drops the floating rig overboard, Jones inserts the cut pine trees and limbs that have been tapered at the end so they’ll fit in holes drilled about 1 1/2 feet apart in the wooden planks.

With pine trees in place and dropped in the water around his duck boat, Jones’s rig resembles a small island.

After he’s reached his hunting area on the sound and inserts the small pines, Jones lifts the planks and drops them over the side. The front of the rig has an anchor to hold the rig in position against the wind. He ties the boat to the rig’s anchor once inside, so a boat anchor isn’t needed.

Jones wouldn’t reveal the type of wood he uses for his scissors-rig frame.

"A lot of people have tried to make a scissors rig, but they don’t work well because they use the wrong type of wood," he said. "Their wood won’t float correctly, or it’ll get waterlogged and be too heavy to lift, or worse, it’ll sink."

With the hinged planks at the stern allowed to swing freely, Jones easily slides his boat in and out of the rig when he places decoys or retrieves downed birds.

With the pines in place, the rig hides hunters extremely well. Ducks and geese pay no attention to a scissors rig or hunters hidden inside until the lead begins to fly.

"You want to get out to where you’re going hunting at least an hour before daylight," he said. "Depending on how far you are going, that’s either a long or short run."

Because a scissors rig is enclosed by small trees, Jones can’t use a retriever, but he keeps mental notes of where downed birds fall. Once shooting subsides for a few minutes, he’ll untie the back planks, unhook from the rig’s front anchor and back his boat out of the rig to search for ducks.

Once he retrieves the birds, he motors back inside the rig.

The type of ducks he hunts dictates the length of his trips on the water.

"Depending upon what kinds of ducks my clients want to hunt and what’s flying then, that’s how I decide how far out in the sound we’ll go," he said.

When hunting teal, widgeon, bluebills, gadwalls or redheads, Jones motors offshore about a mile or two but stays inside Wysocking Bay because that’s where these ducks fly.

However, if he’s going for sea ducks common to North Carolina — surf, black or white-winged scoters or oldsquaw — he’ll travel about six miles out into the sound. Inshore ducks fly higher, but offshore ducks fly in groups of six to 10, just a few feet above the waves.

Sea-duck hunting on the open waters of Pamlico Sound offers more shooting challenges than any type of waterfowling, although parts of the experience can be comfortable. Dogs and waders aren’t needed, just some warm, waterproof pants and hooded jacket, camouflage cap and gloves.

It’s a good idea to give a good dose of gun oil to shotguns before and after a hunt to prevent rust.

And hunters will need several boxes of shells; Jones estimated at least 100 for a day’s hunt.

The major challenge in sea-duck hunting comes in hitting these fast-flying targets.

"I call it ‘Big Boy Hunting,’" said Louis Chestnutt, a Goldsboro native who has lived the past 30 years in Engelhard and often hunts with Jones. "It’s a step above any other kind of duck hunting. It’s real sporty."

Since there’s usually some wind on the sound in winter, ducks and hunters will be moving at moments of truth. During duck season, a perfect day would mean winds of 8 to 10 mph — or less.

Still, trying to hit low-flying ducks — especially scoters or old squaw winging across the water while the shooting platform is rolling and bucking under a hunter’s feet — is a test of wing-shooting skills.

The best aspect of hunting under those conditions is it’s easy to see if a hunter’s "lead" is correct — shot will spray the water behind, at or in front of a target. Initially, most waterfowlers shoot behind sea ducks and have to adjust their aim.

It’s definitely a skill acquired with practice.

"When you go for sea ducks, forget everything you know about duck hunting," Jones said. "The best idea is to think of the boat and blind as a fort, and hunters are there to defend it."

The biggest problem for novices is spotting ducks flying low over the water against the sun’s glare or against the gray waters of the sound. A scoter flock winging across Pamlico Sound toward a scissors rig resembles a squadron of WWII torpedo planes attacking an aircraft carrier.

"Sea ducks can approach from any direction," Jones said, "and most of the birds come in below the horizon, so you have to watch for dark spots against the water — and deal with choppy conditions when shooting. Ducks will go from all-out flight to a splash or crash in a second."

Being camouflaged behind small pines on a rolling boat in open water and trying to down fast-flying sea ducks is miles removed from other types of waterfowl hunting.

Duck hunters can feel a real sense of accomplishment if they overcome this challenge.

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

HOW TO GET THERE — Follow US 264 East from Raleigh to Greenville, Washington, Belhaven, Scranton and Swan Quarter. Engelhard is 25 miles east of Swan Quarter, 48 miles from Manteo and three miles east of Lake Mattamuskeet.

BEST EQUIPMENT — Twelve- and 10-gauge autoloading shotguns with No. 2 to No. 4 non-toxic shot. Waterproof outerwear and warm, waterproof boats are recommended because sea duck hunting occurs on open water during winter.

BEST TIMES — Oct. 1-Jan. 31, 2013 in the special sea duck area, that includes ocean waters and sound waters south of US 64 and at least 800 yards from any shoreline or marsh. In other areas, sea duck season is Nov. 10-Dec. 1 and Dec. 15-Jan. 26, 2013.

GUIDES/HUNTING INFO — Adam Jones, AJ’s Sea Ducks and Trophy Swan Hunts, Engelhard, 866-UNC-SWAN; 252-943-5932 or www.ajseaducksandswans.com.

ACCOMMODATIONS — Hotel Engelhard, 334901 U.S. 264 East, Engelhard, 27824, 800-290-5311, 252-925-2001 or www.hotelengelhard.com; Jennette’s Lodge, 252-925-1461 or www.jennetteslodge.com; Sallie Dixon’s B & B, 252-925-7921; The Gator Hole, 252-925-5741.

MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855; DeLorme North Carolina Atlas & Gazeteer, PO Box 298, Yarmouth, ME 04096, 207-846-7000 or www.delorme.com.

Adam Jones’ scissors rig looks to the waterfowl world like a little bushy island in the middle of open water.
       





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