Hun­ters find un­ex­pected mes­sages on their tar­gets

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS - Tee Clarkson out­doors@Times­Dis­patch.com — Dy­lan Gar­ner

On the morn­ing of Dec. 31, Bill Lon­gan, his son, Robert, and his son’s friend, Russ Brown, searched the skies for ducks from a blind in Co­hoke Marsh on the Pa­munkey River.

Time was run­ning out. The club only al­lows hunt­ing un­til noon. With only a few min­utes left, the hun­ters started to pack their things from the blind, ready to grab some lunch.

Brown un­loaded the first shell from his gun when he caught some­thing out of the corner of his eye, two mal­lards drop­ping into the spread. He turned to Robert, who looked at his watch. “11:59,” he said. “Take ’em.”

Brown raised his gun and dropped the drake mal­lard; Robert folded the hen.

Robert’s dog went for the birds, re­triev­ing the drake first, which Robert tossed on the bank, be­fore send­ing his dog for the hen. It wasn’t un­til the group had picked up the de­coys and the last of the birds from the bank, that they re­al­ized that last drake was banded.

For wa­ter­fowlers, this is a spe­cial prize, a piece of jew­elry de­liv­ered from the sky.

They are a tes­ta­ment of the mi­gra­tion, proof of where the bird has been, proof of time spent in the field and proof, too, of a lit­tle luck.

The vast ma­jor­ity of bands found on mi­grat­ing wa­ter­fowl are part of the North Amer­i­can bird-band­ing pro­gram, which has banded mil­lions of birds rep­re­sent­ing hun­dreds of species since 1904. They typ­i­cally con­tain a se­ries of num­bers.

When Bill Lon­gan asked what the band said, he ex­pected a se­ries of num­bers. Russ’ re­sponse was much dif­fer­ent.

“Ye must obey God,” was in­scribed on the band.

Just 10 days ear­lier, and a hand­ful of miles from where Brown’s bird was killed, Bobby Whit­ten, also from Richmond, had shot a hen mal­lard that came in on his side of the blind.

“I just poked my head out and killed it,” Whit­ten said.

His dog re­trieved the bird, which, with­out much fan­fare, had been placed in the corner of the blind. No one in the group had no­ticed that the bird was banded.

It wasn’t un­til later, at the car, when it was re­vealed.

The in­scrip­tion on the band read, “Have faith in God.”

“I didn’t know what I had,” Whit­ten said.

What he and Brown both had were bands from the Jack Miner Mi­gra­tory Bird Foun­da­tion in Kingsville, Ontario, con­sid­ered by many wa­ter­fowlers the crown jewel of bands.

Jack Miner founded the Jack Miner Mi­gra­tory Bird Sanc­tu­ary for the con­ser­va­tion of mi­grat­ing Canada geese and wild ducks in 1904. The same year, he was the founder of the wa­ter­fowl refuge man­age­ment sys­tem.

Miner banded his first duck in 1909. In 1915, he banded his first goose. By then, all bands in­cluded Bib­li­cal verses, a tra­di­tion that has con­tin­ued to this day.

Miner was a very re­li­gious man, ac­cord­ing to Krys­tle DelBen, com­mu­nity en­gage­ment co­or­di­na­tor at the Jack Miner Mi­gra­tory Bird Foun­da­tion, which is what led him to orig­i­nally hand stamp the Bib­li­cal verses on the bands. He viewed the ducks and geese he banded as “mis­sion­ar­ies of the sky.”

Ac­cord­ing to Del-Ben, the foun­da­tion has re­ceived more than a few re­ports of the bands’ mes­sages hit­ting at the right time for their founders, even one hunter who was con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide and at­trib­uted the mes­sage on the band with sav­ing his life.

Miner, who passed away in 1944, banded more than 50,000 ducks and 40,000 geese in his life­time.

The foun­da­tion con­tin­ues to band wa­ter­fowl in Ontario each year. Most of the birds stay in the Mis­sis­sippi fly­way and are killed as they head south. Only a rare few jump fly­ways to the east or west, mak­ing Brown’s (whose bird was banded in 2007) and Whit­ten’s (whose bird was banded in 2015) even more prized.

In search­ing the records, Vir­ginia hun­ters are lucky to bag a bird or two a year banded at the Jack Miner Mi­gra­tory Bird Foun­da­tion.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Jack Miner Mi­gra­tory Bird Foun­da­tion, visit jack­miner.ca

Capt. Art Con­way of Con­way’s River Rat Guide Ser­vice (804-746-2475) out of Ed Allen’s Boats and Bait re­ports Chick­a­hominy Lake mid­day wa­ter tem­per­a­tures have been in the mid-30s in the lower main lake from the week­end through Wed­nes­day. The lake level Wed­nes­day was a few inches above the top of the dam and had been sta­ble for a few days. The wa­ter was light brown and clear in the cen­tral lower lake. The lake had been cov­ered in ice since last week­end and still was cov­ered at mid­day Wed­nes­day. The ice should clear out in the next sev­eral days. The fol­low­ing win­ter pat­terns were in place be­fore the freeze and should hold when the ice clears.

Most blue cats and bull­heads were on flats and chan­nels in the main lake and scat­tered in creeks and hit­ting live min­nows and cut bait. Most crap­pie were along dropoffs and in chan­nels in the main lake, es­pe­cially near wood cover. Ac­tive crap­pie were hit­ting live min­nows, Wright Bait Co. and South­ern Pro curly­tail jigs, small tubes, Kalin crap­pie scrubs and small swim baits. Small to medium yel­low perch and white perch were scat­tered or in loose ag­gre­gates on some main lake flats and chan­nels. They were hit­ting live min­nows, small swim baits and small jigs. Most bluegill and shell­cracker were along chan­nel edges in the main lake. They were oc­ca­sion­ally hit­ting small jigs, Nikko nymphs on drop-shot rigs, small swim baits and live worms. Most bass, pick­erel and bowfin were on flats, along drop-offs or in chan­nels in the ma­jor creeks and the main lake. When ac­tive, bass and pick­erel were hit­ting live min­nows, spin­ner­baits, swim baits, stick worms, crank baits, jerk baits and jigs.

Stan Cobb of Green Top Hunt­ing and Fish­ing (804550-2188 or green­top­fish­ing.com) re­ports the fol­low­ing:

With the win­ter weather last week­end, not many of the salt­wa­ter an­glers ven­tured out. Re­ports have been slow. Wa­ter tem­per­a­tures have dropped in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, mak­ing even the tau­tog fish­ing tough. The bet­ter bet for most species is the ocean. Ocean wrecks are hold­ing good fish, but weather con­di­tions have been less than fa­vor­able. Deep-drop­ping prob­a­bly is the best op­tion for bring­ing back loads of good-eat­ing fish, but re­ports have been slow. Hope­fully, this week­end will draw an­glers to try their luck.

As men­tioned be­fore, weather con­di­tions and ramp con­di­tions have been less than fa­vor­able. Not many re­ports ma­te­ri­al­ized from last week­end. Some were able to get out Satur­day dur­ing the snow, with good re­sults, which of­ten hap­pens dur­ing snow­fall. Many of these re­ports came from Lake Anna, and those fish­ing for bass. Jigs, sil­ver bud­dies, jerk­baits and swim­baits are mostly used in clear, cold wa­ter. The James River re­mains an ex­cel­lent op­tion, both the lower and the up­per. On the up­per James, it’s mainly the small­mouth that draw the at­ten­tion. The up­per Rap­pa­han­nock is an­other ex­cel­lent des­ti­na­tion for tar­get­ing small­mouth bass now. Nasty weather con­di­tions seem to pro­duce the more me­morable catches. Big small­mouth seem to bite more will­ingly in these times. On the lower James, most of the at­ten­tion goes to the giant blue cats and the out­stand­ing large­mouth fish­ing. Both species bite well all win­ter, es­pe­cially since there’s a warm wa­ter dis­charge at Dutch Gap. Many of the pits at­tract the bass and bait­fish, and the many jet­ties along the river are great cur­rent breaks for the cats. There’s an abun­dance of bait in the James, so gath­er­ing bait usu­ally is not a prob­lem. The Chick­a­hominy River is an­other ex­cel­lent op­tion for win­ter fish­ing. Bass get most of the at­ten­tion here. How­ever, the crap­pie fish­ing is out­stand­ing. Look for the yel­low perch run to oc­cur soon. Most of the ti­dal rivers will of­fer great op­por­tu­ni­ties for these fish. Sil­ver bud­dies are ex­cel­lent lures for any­thing that bites, and should be tied on at all times dur­ing the win­ter. Dress warmly and wear flota­tion de­vices.

PHOTO COUR­TESY RUSS BROWN

Robert Lon­gan (left) and Russ Brown dis­play the ducks they shot on the last day of 2016 at Co­hoke Marsh on the Pa­munkey River.

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