Blunderbuss Swan Hunt on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, February 4, 2013
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Coastal North Carolina and the Outer Banks become a lonely, beautiful and almost magical place in mid-Winter after the 100s of thousands of Summer visitors are gone and the waterfowl hunters and surf fishermen have the place to themselves. Rooms are abundant and inexpensive, there are sufficient eateries open to supply any needs and some years concentrations of waterfowl can be very good indeed. Every year about 30,000 tundra swan winter in this area, and a quota harvest of these birds is allowed which affords the opportunity for a hunter to take one of these trophy fowl. Unlike geese and ducks which may not get this far South during a warm Winter, the swan arrive on schedule with good populations building to a climax in late December and early January.
I have hunted swan numerous times with muzzleloading guns from public blinds on Lake Mattamuskeet and Bodie Island, with guides on private lands and freelance hunted in Palmico Sound and the Outer Banks. Nowadays, I go my myself when I am fortunate enough to draw a permit. Each year I use a different muzzleloader. I have been successful with single and double-barreled replica shotguns as well as an original 1842 British .75-caliber (11-gauge) musket. These have all been more-or-less 12-gauge guns. This year I noticed a blunderbuss kit offered by Sportsman’s Guide and put it together.
Blunderbusses are strange guns with a funnel-shaped muzzle and sometimes had tapered bores. The replica gun, which is made by Traditions, has a short .54-caliber cylinder-bored barrel that works out to be about 26 gauge. Using 70-grains of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder, I was able to load 1-ounce of shot and get reasonable patterns at 20-25 yards. Although swan are huge birds, the way to kill them is to shoot for that nearly yard-long head and neck. At very short range, I felt that I could reasonably make a kill with a 1-ounce of no. 4 steel shot with a layer of HeviShot no. 4s on top. I had only three days to hunt. I had not submitted an application for a blind on Bodie Island, but would try for the stand-by drawing for the blind that was most likely to yield a successful result. There was no problem getting this blind each of the three days because very few hunters participated in the drawings for week-day hunts. With three full days to hunt, I felt that I had a reasonable chance of getting a swan in range.
Morning hunts for the first two days only produced two swan landing in the pond that were too far away to shoot. On the afternoon of the second day, I did an interview at Sanctuary Vineyards and with the company Wine Maker sampled some of their excellent wines. A video of this interview may be seen at: http://youtu.be/73r0DgDXV70.
The last day of the hunt arrived. I decided that I would hunt all day, but the morning and afternoon passed without seeing anything. I took equipment to stay the day. Out with me went a Marsh Seat, my homemade cushion, Zuse Barge (aka Rocket Sled to float my equipment across the lake), the blunderbuss and a Mossberg Model 300 3-inch pump with its newly applied coating of Mossy Oak Graphic’s waterfowl design along with a shooting bag with my muzzleloading components, calls, shotgun shells, lunch, water etc.
My half-dozen snow geese were in the pond in front of me, but the low breezes had them sitting on a mirror-like surface most of the day. At 45-minutes before the end of shooting time, the swan started to fly. Groups came from all points of the compass, including a large group of about 30 from the sea. All were too high for blunderbuss, except for one that was low enough, but I did not see it until it was going away and only offered a shot at its butt – not a shot that I would take.
At 5:00 PM I could see one line of 6-7 birds approaching. I crouched down and decided to attempt these if they were close enough. They came in good killing range for a 12-gauge gun, but beyond my self-imposed 25-yard limit for the blunderbuss. I shot anyway and broke the bird’s wing, bringing it down. I picked up the Mossberg and fired three shots on the water attempting to finish it off. Some shots apparently hit, but the bird was still swimming away. Grabbing more shells, I chased it across the pond and ultimately bagged the bird.