published: Saturday, 29 October 2011
by: D’Arcy Egan
Ohio waterfowl hunters know it’s all about the weather. For a change, a nasty cold front coincided with the 10th-annual Partnership Duck Hunt hosted this week by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited in the Sandusky Bay region.
The gathering is a celebration of waterfowl conservation and duck hunting. In recent years, despite being held in November, the hunts have been gunned down by balmy, bluebird weather. This week’s chilly winds and rain provided a welcome taste of duck weather and gave visitors a chance to bag mallards, wood ducks, pintails and wigeon.
The annual event also provided an opportunity to experience the different styles of hunting in Ohio’s famed Sandusky Bay region.
On Thursday morning, wading through the smartweed and duckweed of Decoy Marsh on Sandusky Bay with owner Jim Daubel, of Fremont, the misty rain made a left turn.
“Feels like sleet,” said Daubel, 70, the retired publisher of the News-Messenger in Fremont. “That should have the ducks flying.”
Daubel and Tom Kashmer have owned this marsh and adjoining Green Tree Marsh for decades, making it a year-round haven for waterfowl and wildlife. Kashmer bands songbirds for the Ohio Bird Banders Association and as volunteer for the U.S. Geological Survey. He recently banded his 100,000th bird and has introduced a legion of youngsters to songbirds, shorebirds and marsh wildlife.
Kashmer and Jacob Grey, the head of waterfowl management for the state wildlife agency, were hunting a few hundred yards away. Daubel and I set up in waist-deep water in a scraggly patch of buttonbush, ducks buzzing past as they searched for a morning meal. A nearby tree was decorated with dozens of white egrets. Daubel said local eagles could make an appearance.
I was eager to bag a speedy wood duck, with a gaudy drake my first duck of the morning.
Daubel winters in Florida, but he can’t leave Ohio just yet. The duck hunting seasons are too much a part of his life.
“I love it here in the marsh,” he said, firmly grasping his walking stick. “I’ll be a part of the marsh until I can’t make this walk anymore.”
It was a different waterfowl hunting scenario Wednesday morning, taking a comfortable seat in Johnny Joseph’s spacious blind on the Sandusky Bay shoreline. Joseph, of Medina, had dozens of decoys in the water, including motion decoys that are a magnet for ducks on the wing. Joseph hunts all across the world, but he favors this patch of Smith Marsh in fall and winter.
Joseph has a pair of airboats, the only ones around used to retrieve ducks or get to the blinds when there’s ice in the bay. As I settled in with Joseph, Anthony Santolo, of Sagamore Hills Township, Stan Cutcher, of Port Clinton, and Mike Richardson, of Redwood, N.Y., the hunting stories began to flow.
Richardson, an Army veteran with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was invited to the Partnership Duck Hunt because of his work for the Army in developing conservation easements in New York. An avid bowhunter, Richardson, 33, doesn’t think twice about spending nights alone in the Quebec wilderness in a quest for a bull moose, or well off the beaten path in Colorado pursuing elk.
Joseph was anxious to put Richardson on some fast-flying ducks, and in his airboat for a wild ride on Sandusky Bay to retrieve ducks we shot that morning. A helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, it must have seemed tame for Richardson.
Santolo, Cutcher and Joseph lured birds with perfect-pitch tunes on their duck and goose calls, giving Richardson the chance to experience Sandusky Bay waterfowl hunting at its best. That can happen when you’re lucky enough to enjoy a combination of a good hunting blind and blustery — but wonderful — duck hunting weather.