Clapper rails, Rallus crepitans, or marsh hens, whatever you want to call them is fine by me. Today, I hunted them.
I got lucky and had a friend invite me down to the coast for what was promised as a good time with lots of shot opportunities. Despite our best efforts, the little marsh hen would turn out to be an elusive foe, evading our every attempt, and by the end of the day, laughing us out of the marsh.
One thing would prove to be very neat, I would get to hunt with my grandfather’s (father’s side) side by side .410. It was given to my sister shortly before he passed away, and she was nice enough to let me take it on the journey. I’m not kidding, it kinda turned into a journey, all for a marsh hen.
The journal entry:
- Marsh hen hunting
- Shot Papa’s sxs .410
- 1 marsh hen killed
- Flood high tide @ 11:20am- 7.2ft
Finally, I get a chance to hunt these little birds. I met up with Chris around 9:30am, we were on the water by 10:15. The ride to our chosen hunting grounds was short, the salt air was a welcome and familiar smell. I honestly had no idea what to expect as we pulled up to the first grass island. Chris mentioned that we were early when the boat came to a stop up against the taller grass. So I grabbed a short paddle and pushed the nose of the boat back out into the creek. Chris took to his spot in the boat and began to pole us down the bank, slapping at the thicker spots to drive any tight holding birds out of their cover. I sat anxiously on the front, Papa’s old .410 gripped tightly in my hands. I was so unsure of how it would all take place when we saw our first bird. Would he jump up 20 yards out or right in front of me? Would there be a warning first? Would he make a noise? Admittedly, I really wasn’t even sure that what I thought was a marsh hen was, in fact, a marsh hen. I was thankful that I could leave all of that up to Chris and just worry about making a good shot, if and when the time came.
I was fortunate in that our first bird would show himself about halfway down that first grass island. I had let my mind drift off on a blue crab I saw in the water beneath us when Chris shouted, “There’s one!” My eyes snapped over to the sound of his voice, catching a brief movement across the water. The marsh hen was swimming out of the edge of the grass and just as soon as his full body emerged from the camouflage, He leapt into the air. I threw up the gun and pushed forward the safety but it was when I felt the trigger that I started to panic. It felt heavier than my other guns, so unfamiliar, causing my entire body to forget the task at hand. This frozen spot in time felt like an hour, my mind racing over what to do. Then, with another blink of the eyes, I refocused on the bird and squeezed the trigger harder. A shot rang out and I watched my first marsh hen fall.
I wish I could say that we watched many more fall today, but we didn’t. The truth is we would only flush two or three more birds with zero shot opportunity and then we would break down. Literally, the motor broke down on us when the impeller decided to quit working. So we parked our little boat on the edge of the marsh and waited on friends to come tow us home. Chris and I could only laugh as we sat there waiting and listening. The whole marsh erupted with the familiar laughing call of the marsh hen and there was nothing we could do about it but enjoy the scene.
Such is life, especially with boats. The bottom line is this, I got my marsh hen, I got to hang out with a friend in the marsh, and I learned how to hunt something new.
The only bad part about this weekend is that it had to end.