On Saturday, December 20, students in the Delaware Nature Society’s Young Waterfowlers program gathered at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge to take part in the culmination of their weeks of training: a one-time hunt at legendary Bear Swamp. Two hours before dawn, the young men and women were wide-awake, full of anticipation for their first real waterfowling experience.
A dedicated team of expert guides led the students, accompanied by fathers and mothers, to their assigned blinds. The number one rule and goal for the morning was to have a safe outing. The guides helped to set out a variety of decoys to attract the ducks and geese, and would call to the birds when the time came.
A chilly and overcast sky greeted the youngsters at dawn, one of those mornings where the sky never really gets lighter. Lead-colored clouds scudded overhead as a strong wind from the North blew through. Hundreds of ducks in large flocks circled the swamp, while skeins of Canada and Snow Geese made raucous calls as they headed out to feed in fields.
Sitting still while hiding in the blind, the students witness amazing sights: a red fox trotting along the marsh edge, a Bald Eagle flying so close you can hear its wingbeats, and a hooting Great-horned Owl that glides across the swamp. The rush of excitement when a flock of Green-winged Teal buzzes by or a wary Black Duck circles, are moments that make memories for these first-time waterfowlers.
After several hours afield, we pack up the decoys, and gather together to share stories of the hunt. In what was formerly an everyday occurence for humans but is now becoming rare, the hunter’s skill will provide food for the table. Instead of buying a chicken or turkey at the supermarket, a wild Canada Goose makes a fine addition to the holiday table. Wild game or tame game, it’s all the same!
Throughout the Young Waterfowlers class, students learn the importance of wildlife conservation, based upon the simple fact that hunters hold a vested interest in protecting what they pursue. The North American model of game management is renowned the world over, and we are fortunate to have many special places like Bombay Hook that were acquired through hunting dollars. Hundreds of non-game species like songbirds, amphibians, and insects thrive on these refuges, and we all benefit from the rich diversity of wildlife to be found in these places.