Hunting goldeneyes on the public waters of Alabama is nothing short of a challenge. Historically speaking, high numbers of these birds are generally not seen in this area and a hunter might have one or two opportunities each year to harvest a mature drake; However, this season has been one to remember. Around mid-December Jared Force and I noticed, larger than normal, groups of goldeneyes hanging around areas typically hunted for canvasbacks and other divers. Divers generally gravitate to shell beds or flats to feed during the morning hours and will often revisit before heading to roost. These flats can be two foot to as deep as twelve feet depending on rain and other conditions generated by the dam system.
With overall duck numbers in our flyway below average, we decided it was time to chase the elusive goldeneye. The decoy spread was very simplistic with one long line of goldeneye drakes accompanied by one hen and a dozen coots. On this particular morning we set up in a location where several had been seen but, as to be expected on public water, someone had hunted them the afternoon before. The decision was quickly made to move up River in search of another spot they were using to feed. After a trattorias boat ride, fighting 15 mph south winds, several were spotted flying close to a small island close to the channel. Using the same set up as mentioned previously I stood scanning just above the water for movement.
Goldeneyes typically fly just above the surface of the water, unlike other species that work a spread from a higher vantage point. After being set up for a short time, a fully plumed drake made its presence known by landing short of the decoys. With a heart pounding as if a world-class whitetail had been seen, I patiently waited for a shot that was ethical. As it fed along, each dive brought him closer and closer to the decoys spread. Shooting ducks on the water isn’t something I enjoy doing but fortunately enough he decided to go elsewhere in search of food. No sooner than he jumped to fly, the Remington Versa Max with Hypersonic #2’s filled the air, dropping the bird from flight. Although he was down the real hunt had just begun as he dove to evade us. Once again we found ourselves fighting the stiff south wind and rolling waves while in pursuit of this magnificent bird. With Devin Davis at the controls of the Gator tail 35, we were able to bring closure to the chase after I made a quick shot to dispatch the bird.
Once in hand shouts of joy filled the air in celebration of finally harvesting a mature drake. It had been a twenty-two-year grind searching for a mature drake. Granted I had shot several juveniles and hens over the years nothing compared to the exhilaration or finally harvesting a bird of this caliber.
With this season winding down we have harvested 38 goldeneyes, which breakers any previous year record by our group hunting public land. Having an opportunity to hunt doesn’t have to be limited. There is a vast land base associated with public land across the United States that produces a bounty of fowl each year. Taking the time to scout is the key to harvesting birds anywhere but don’t be discouraged by days that are slow. Always remember that hunting is more than simply killing large numbers of ducks or geese, it’s about sharing the blind with your close friends and making memories that will last a lifetime.