Here it is the last week of duck season in Maryland and Bruce Scheible finally has some ducks around to hunt.
"I'm telling you, it's terrible. It was a slow fall, I admit, but even if it had been cold we'd still have wasted the first month of the season.
"We never have any ducks around here in November. I don't know why they open the season then.We didn't have enough ducks around to make it worth your while to go out until the last two weeks."
Schelble is sore and he has his reasons. He bought a license and never got to fire a shot the first two-thirds of the season. Now when the hunting gets good, he has to shut down.
That's a blow to a fellow who takes his ducking seriously. Hunting is Scheible's escape from the year-round job of running his fishing camp at the mouth of the Potomac. He takes it hard when the vagaries of the weather and the Department of Natural Resources cut him off, as he sees it, prematurely.
Scheible may not have much time left, but he's using what he has well. After a lifetime of hunting this area, he's got a technique that doesn't give the ducks much chance, once they arrive.
He knows the pitfalls of staking all one's fortunes on one blind. If the wind is wrong, the day is shot, and there aren't enough days.
So Scheible buys licenses for five blind sites every year. That way, he can pick the best blind on a given day, depending on where the ducks are, where the wind is and where the oystermen are working.
"The oystermen. That can be a big factor," he said Saturday as he guided us out to the month of the St. Marys River before dawn."When therehs no weather, there's nothing to get the ducks stirred up. They'll just sit still. But when those oystermen come out at dawn and head back home in the afternoon, they scare up the ducks. If you're in the right place, you'll get some shooting."
Still, five blinds sounds lkike a lot of investment for a guy who might only hunt a h alf-dozen times a year. How does Scheible do it?
"Meet Rover," he said, pointing to a battered old green skiff bedecked with cedar boughs.
Rovers is Scheible's portable blind. He motors the camouglaged skiff to the blind site he likes best, sets out the decoys and ties the boat up to his stake. That way one blind can serve five sites.
Great approach, but even the bestlaid plans go awry. Scheible had his spot picked out Saturday. "You should see all the birds out there," he said.
And when dawn finally broke over Cornfield Point, all we could see for miles around were ducks, sure enough. But the wrong kind.
"Southerners," said Scheible, giving the local nickname for oldsquaws, seaducks that are rendered practically inedible by their diet of fish and muddy shellfish.
We listened to the cacaphony of thousands of oldsquaws cackling in the early light you could, by stretching the imagination, hear them saying something akin to "I'm a southerner, I'm a southerner," which is how they got their name.
But we wanted northerners -- buffle-heads and American goldeneyes in particular, or "dippers" and "whistlers in the local parlance.
I never did find out where "dipper" came from, but the origin of the whistler nickname was evident when the first duck came by, the wind whistling noisily over itw wings. "Whistler," said Scheible before he even saw it. "Get down."
The whistler came roaring past the floating blind. Shots were fired and then the whistler flew away, which is generally the way it goes when I shoot at ducks.
Unfortunately, its brothers and sisters never followed, and at about 10 o'clock Scheible decided to pick up the decoys and try another of his sites, this one closer to where the oystermen had woundup that morning.
His 25 years of duck-hunting savvy paid off, and by noontime the oystermen were churning upriver and we had had all the shooting we wanted, which led quickly to a fair share of dippers and whistlers. More than a fair share, when we stopped to consider the hours of feather-plucking when we got back to the dock.
River ducking is something of a dying practice in the Washington area, but there was a time not long ago when duck hunters left from Washington proper early in the morning and could shoot their limits after just a short drift downstream to their blinds.
The heaviest action was near Lorton, where wild rice flourishes in the marshes. Once hunting clubs abounded there, but now they've been ousted by the Mason Neck Federal Wildlife Refuge.
"Not much shooting anymore above the Rte. 301 Bridge," said Scheible. "It's just too crowded for blinds up there; too many landowners and too many houses."
Not so at Ridge, where the Potomac is wide and its shores sparesely built. Now if the ducks would just arrive on time...