The pursuit is intense. Timing is key. Chasing tail is a man's business... Long-tails that is.
My good friends Dean and Mike of Big Water Outdoors recently invited me on my first ever long-tailed duck hunt out on Lake Michigan. Both Dean and Mike have been chasing tail for quite some time (take it as you may) and are experts when it comes to locating and producing a good long-tailed duck shoot.
The journey from the dock to our hunting location was an experience in itself. We'd be setting rigs out about 6 miles off shore in 100 feet of water. As you can imagine, this took some getting used to for a guy that is usually found trudging through marshes and rivers only inches deep. Mike and Dean's custom Phowler boat cut through the icy waters of Lake Michigan as we made our way out into the vast darkness. Spray hit our faces like tiny pellets of glass. I felt the adrenaline pumping and for a moment it was like being on an episode of Deadliest Catch.
Long-tailed ducks, also known as Old Squaw, concentrate in flocks numbering in the thousands over the deep waters of Lake Michigan each fall to feed and mate. Although they are only a medium sized sea duck, they are capable of diving down to depths of 200 feet to feed. It is quite a spectacular to watch thousands of these birds fly elegantly above the water. You may see pairs of these birds work the dekes as well as flocks consisting of hundreds. Fortunately for me I would be watching this all go down from the comfort of a two-man layout boat. Equipped with my trusty old Mossberg 500 and several boxes of Winchester Super-X, I thought I'd have my six birds in no time. Little did I know it would take me an entire box of shells and then some.
Now, I shoot trap on a regular basis and am fairly confident in my shooting abilities. However, I did not factor in 2-3 foot swells and being yanked around like decoys on a jerk rig. I was in unfamiliar territory, and the challenges of wing shooting old squaw only intensified as the morning passed on. My comrade in the two man layout boat, Mike Evert, was a seasoned big water gunner and went 6-2 on the morning as far as shots go. I struggled, but managed to knock down all my birds after 25+ rounds. I'm not proud, but I'm not afraid to admit it either after braving those elements. By 9 AM, the conditions on the lake were unsafe, and we had to pull out quick to avoid damaging the fiber-glassed layout boat.
Mike and Dean arrived in their tender boat to pick us and the rest of the gear up. As we were getting out, I took a blow just above the right eye from the rib on Mike Evert's shotgun. It wasn't until a few brief moments later that I felt the blood running down the side of my face - the guys cheered that a new long-tailed duck hunter had been born! I will proudly carry that scar through life forever - a reminder of my younger days spent chasing tail.
Cameron Pauli has been an avid waterfowl hunter for the past 10 years of his life, 3 of which he has spent as a prostaffer for Flambeau Outdoors. To learn more about Cameron, you can visit his website at www.campauli.com or follow him on Twitter at @CamPauli