A mountain adventure for wood ducks

A mountain adventure for wood ducks
The rest of the day was spent driving and hiking the mountains photographing the fall colors made more brilliant and vibrant with the passing rain storms and clouds. My mind kept returning to the morning hunt to come. (Andrew Aughenbaugh photo)

John Muir once wrote, "The mountains are calling and I must go." That pretty much sums up my latest adventure. I know of this valley in the highest mountains of Maryland where the beavers have been busy creating a system of small ponds. I had a hunch the ducks might be found in these little pockets of water.

You see, there is something magical about hunting ducks where others don't. Sure, I could go to the flat marsh of Maryland's eastern shore and duck hunt. But everyone does that. I sought something different. As I began to formulate a plan, I knew my chances of killing a limit of ducks were slim. But I looked at it as an adventure.


Time had come to go west, however, the daily grind of the office tugged on my being; wanting more details in reports and letters written for someone else's signature. I pushed until cleared for takeoff and the truck was rolling toward the home base in Keymar. I quickly unloaded the unnecessary items and replaced them with duck decoys, shotgun, and archery deer hunting equipment. It was a quick pit stop and within minutes I was back on the road westward bond.

With the aid of the truck's headlights, I set camp. The tent was up and the cot inside when I turned off the bright lamps and continued the camp chores under the dim light of my headlamp. Finally I began to relax. Well, it was midnight and maybe I was a little tired from the ten hour day in the office and the eight hours on the road.

In the late of the night, the mountains welcomed my arrival. The coyotes sung my welcoming song and I noticed the black sky vividly filled with an immense number of the brightest stars. A sky not possible in the city. I felt at home.

Before the sun arrived, I was out of the tent and on a scouting mission to find the duck filled beaver ponds. Breakfast consisted of hot tea with honey and two granola bars.

Adventure is something I believe we all seek. I seek it frequently in nature through hunting and fishing. I enjoy the pursuit and the time connecting to the natural world as a participate. Today's sportsmen seem to utilize the latest in technology to make the hunt easier and more successful. From my perspective these very things often cause a disconnect between the sportsmen and his arena. I see success in the process more than the outcome. This was my latest adventure. Could I find and hunt wood ducks in the beaver ponds tucked deep in a valley between the tallest mountains in Maryland?

Finding the swamp was easy. I simply walked down the mountain following a drainage until I reached the bottom. The spongy ground wiggled under each footfall. I stepped back staying on firm ground and I followed along the edge. The gray sky hid the arrival of the sun. The air was much cooler than that of the city 200 miles away.

Coming upon the first beaver damn and pond, I scanned for resting ducks. I found none and continued downstream. The sky began to rain. I took refuge under a large hemlock resting the legs that spend too much time behind a desk. I kept an eye to the sky for the possible arriving ducks. Coyote tracks dotted the mud at my feet. Turkeys yelped and clucked on the ridge behind.

I was in no rush to push on. I was on my time. Well, maybe nature's time. I sat and absorbed my surroundings. Staying dry under the hemlock, I waited for the morning storm to finish.

The clouds cleared. The rain stopped. I continued my search. Arriving at the last of four beaver ponds stair stepping down the valley, I came upon the largest pond. I had found for what I searched. Four wood ducks, including two beautifully colored drakes rested on a log.

Maybe the sky was not filled with migrating ducks like my duck hunting friends were experiencing at the more standard duck hunting areas. But I had ducks to hunt and hiked back up the mountain mentally marking the trail for tomorrow's return trip in the dark.

The rest of the day was spent driving and hiking the mountains photographing the fall colors made more brilliant and vibrant with the passing rain storms and clouds. My mind kept returning to the morning hunt to come.

The time on the cell phone said the alarm would wake me in ten minutes. I turned it off, warmed water for tea, and donned my hip boots. Coyote songs filled the darkness. Without the aid of a flashlight, I followed my trail from yesterday. Slowly crossing the thin walkway across the beaver dam, the soft clay mud gave way and I slipped into the water. Water entered my hip boots, my jacket sleeves and arms got wet. All a part of the adventure, I smiled to myself, and continued on.

The four wood duck decoys pitched back and forth in response to the slight breeze. I sat ready arms deeply hidden under a hemlock tree. The new day dawned. The darkness of night slowly gave way to the arriving sun. I never tire of watching this scene, especially when in the mountains.

They could be heard before seen. The whistling of the wings put me on full alert. A pair of wood ducks perfectly pitched into the pond next to my decoys. My shotgun rang out three times covering the ducks and surrounding water with a perfect string of shot. To my dismay, the ducks kept flying. When quiet returned to the swamp, I was left with nothing more than floating feathers on the pond and no ducks.


And so it goes with any adventurest journey, the outcome is unknown. The best we can hopeful is a journey worth remembering. For more of Andy's adventures, visit his website at