Dispatch from the Field: Ink

Photo by Phil Kahnke, @philkahnkephotos

By Shawn Swearingen

Trust is sliding off of the bow, into the choppy ink below, when the captain yells through the wind that, “It is only waist deep!” This after motoring three miles into the Sound from “dry” ground, a term used loosely on the narrow sand spit known as the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Facing into the stiff north wind, stinging, squinting, sitting on the edge of the bow, dangling your feet over into the water, you take a deep breath and slide forward, with one hand holding on to the bow to steady yourself as you slip into the water, finally feeling that silt below your boots. Rewarded for your trust, the ink black water of the predawn light is indeed just below waist depth. 

At the elevated duck blind you can slide your gun and gear up from an opening underneath. But first you need to lay the long lines of the decoy trap. Pushing against the waves and wind northward, away from the stilted blind and carrying a cinder block anchor with decoys attached, the sandy grass flats get shallower before leveling out around knee deep. Glancing over your shoulder, your blindmate flashes his rain blurred headlamp that you’ve gone far enough. This works far better than shouting into the wind. The sky begins to lighten to the east as the last of the five long lines are set, a mix of divers, eiders and scoters, bobbing and dancing against the waves, some shot at, some chipped and showing scars from bouncing in the bottom of boats. One of them is missing a head altogether. 

After only being in the blind for two hours, trust is when the call comes from the captain and guide, anchored three hundred yards away, that the winds are getting stronger and you should consider picking up to get back across the channel. When the conditions are nastier, the better for a duck hunter, but it is a fine line to be aware of should it become too dangerous. Wisdom and experience is knowing when to observe and heed the signs of the conditions, trusting the captain that it is time to go.

It was less time in the blind than you had anticipated, but more full of drama and wonder than you could have hoped: the rafts of bluebills and redheads, working their way against the wind and landing in the long lines; picking out drake bluebills, then wading out to scoop them up before the wind and tide take them too far away; being fully enveloped by thousands of ducks, struggling to not blink into the rain, watching them turn and work with the gale and land at the edge of the decoy rig. They are experiences you always strive for but are difficult to repeat. 

About the Author

Born and raised throughout the forests and farms of Oregon. The 9-5 work life led Shawn to the D.C. area in 2008, a few short years after college at Oregon State. Writing about the outdoors is one of the ways he is able to cope with living in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. Shawn is also into call making, wing shooting, gardening, fishing, and introducing his two young sons with his wife to the great outdoors in hopes to do as well as his parents were able. You can find Shawn on Instagram @shawn_swearingen.