November 19, 2011

Mark Latti: Sea duck hunting: a definite must-do

Maine is a destination renowned for its rugged coastline. That same rugged coastline also draws waterfowl hunters from around the country for an unmatched hunting experience.

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Decoy spreads such as this are essential for luring in fast-flying eiders. The decoys don't have to be elaborate to lure the eiders.

Photos Courtesy of Brad Allen

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Scoter, a black lab who is equipped with a neoprene vest, retrieves an eider drake during a recent hunt off the coast of Maine

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Sea duck hunting in Maine combines picturesque scenery coupled with ample opportunities for shooting. It's a sport that attracts hunters due to the excitement of the hunt, the type of ducks available and the scenery.

"Sea duck hunting in Maine is one of those 'Bucket List' hunts that draws hunters from all over," says Don Kleiner, a registered Maine Guide and executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association. "I have had hunters come from as far away as Texas and California to hunt sea ducks."

And if you are talking about sea duck hunting in Maine, most people are talking about eiders. The common eider is the largest duck in North America and usually weighs about 5 pounds. These large birds are fast flyers, and their speed can be deceptive due to the fact that they are generally flying over water, with few landmarks available to judge their speed.

Eiders are found all along the coast of Maine, but are not found much further south than Massachusetts. They feast on crustaceans and mollusks such as mussels, crabs and urchins, diving as deep as 30 feet in order to feed. Sea duck hunting is not for the faint-hearted. Perhaps some of the best sea duck hunting in southern and midcoast Maine takes place from mid-November into January. Even on the best days, you can hunt in weather that would keep most people indoors. Biting winds, freezing spray and spitting snow can all be a part of sea duck hunting.

Hunters will set up on ledges or anchor in camouflaged boats that serve as the blind.

Decoy spreads are essential but don't need to be elaborate. Sea duck hunters will use a variety of decoys, which include everything from plastic-molded decoys to hand-carved wooden decoys. Other hunters will place floating silhouettes and fluttering-wing decoys to lure eiders in.

Those looking to start sea duck hunting would be well-served to use a guide or hunt with an experienced sea duck hunter.

"Too many things can go wrong when you are out on the ocean in the winter. Tides, winds, weather things can change quickly. You want to be with someone experienced if things start to go wrong," says Kleiner.

An experienced guide will also know where to set up, depending on the winds and tides. There are hundreds of islands along Maine's coast, and many of these island coves and harbors can offer protection from the wind while providing opportunities to hunt in relative comfort.

Simple camouflage will suffice for hunters on ledges, as eiders are generally not as wary as other ducks. Along with eiders, hunters will get ample shots at scoters and long-tailed ducks as well. As you can imagine from their environment, eiders are strong birds.

Large magnum shells in number 2 or larger are a necessity.

Make sure you bring plenty of shells and layers because once the weather starts to cool down, the sea duck hunting starts to heat up.

Mark Latti is a Registered Maine Guide, and the Landowner Relations/ Recreational Access Coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

 

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Additional Photos

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Hunters will set up on ledges with large decoy spreads in order to attract sea ducks. The hunt can be grueling in the winter but also extremely rewarding.

  


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