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September 27. 2014 11:20PM

Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Fond memories of waterfowl seasons

OPENING DAY of the waterfowl season, circa 1970s: The gabble of the ducks and geese was a great background for the almost-whisper talk being passed among three of the members of the Great Bay Waterfowl Association as they got to their very early morning chores of launching three layout boats and associated waterfowl gear and decoys being loaded in Brad Connor's 12-foot Boston Whaler power boat.

Quiet talk by both us and our two or three retrieving dogs were keys to keeping the complaints down from our understanding neighbors, as our "duck camp" was situated among several residents.

Keeping our headlights out of bedroom windows and keeping the clinking and clunking of vehicles at a minimum while launching boats was just part of these early-morning gatherings of longtime friends and hunting companions Brad, Roy (Leap) Syphers and the Dickster. We valued the opportunity to be able to enjoy a spot right on the shoreline of the bay and were not about to bother our neighbors.

Our three layout boats were only 12 feet long but they were wide and very low to the water. We had built them in the upstairs loft of my small barn at home, with the aid of Leap, who had been doing the same thing at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, only with "boats that always sunk," as was his favorite description of being a ship fitter working on the submarines.

Our normal approach to the hunt was to have Brad 's Whaler tow the three layout boats down into Greenland Bay, where a majority of the bay's waterfowl often gathered over the big eelgrass flats there.

He'd drop anchor on the boats being towed and we'd join him aboard the Whaler that was already very crowded with close to a hundred of his handmade, cork black duck and Canada goose decoys.

These decoys were set with individual anchor lines that were about 20 feet long, that length being needed to keep these decoys from being dragged by wind or tidal currents. It was about an hour-long procedure, which ended up in each of us in our separate layout boats.

We would either paddle or motor to a position and put out anchors fore and aft, that would allow us to cover that huge set of decoys with our shotguns and not move around with the tides.

Leap, being left-handed, was always given the chore of anchoring to the right side of the decoy set to enable him to swing with the birds coming in from that direction.

Usually my position would be in the middle of the decoy field. Brad, who by then had anchored his big decoy boat far enough away as to not spook decoying birds, would head back to our decoy set and drop his own anchors, having a hard time to keep his big golden retriever from jumping overboard to retrieve the anchors. While waiting for the opening of shooting time, it was always normal to have several small bunches of ducks drop into our decoys.

The whining of our excited dogs would finally drive them out. And finally when that magic opening minute would come, one of us with a watch would announce it and you could hear the clicking of shotguns being loaded and more dog whining. The dogs knew what this was all about!

Whoever was in charge of calling the shot that day would pull the string and a barrage of up to six rounds would wake up the Great Bay day for a lot of people.

It was questionable who enjoyed the hunt more, the dogs or us/ Most of the ducks we shot were black ducks or lesser scaup, normally called bluebills. Canada geese, not in the numbers we now see them, were our real trophy birds and our yearly take of them was often in the single numbers. But our duck counts were many times that.

Often on opening day or that weekend, we'd end up at my wife's home in Greenland, where Florence Arendt, her mother a lady who was brought up in a rural, farm family, would put together an unbelievable and huge "duck pie" for all who would attend.

There'd be a few beers being enjoyed around the big table and a lot of chatter about the day's hunt. "Those were the days, my friends. We thought they'd never end!"

Dick Pinney's column runs Sundays in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Drop him an email at

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