Monday, January 27, 2014

Stone Tipped Arrows and Winter Waterfowl Part I

My Dad and I got a bit of a late start that morning. He still had to head into the neighboring town to purchase his Federal Waterfowl stamp and some lead-free shotgun shells. I made up a new batch of conifer resin glue in an abalone shell and finished up some last minute hafting and fletching.

Note-all my stone points have the date incised into one surface (opposite face in this image) so if lost they will not be confused with authentic artifacts.

We loaded up the Kayak and headed out to a new hunting spot in rural northern California.

Hunter and I made ready our mobile blind with burlap, comoflauge netting, grass, etc., a technique learned from my uncle Bill. This double kayak, also Bills’, has seen many ducks aboard over the years.

When we pushed off and started paddling we both had huge grins. The distant hum of an occasional dairy truck and the trickle of water dripping off our paddle blades was all that broke the serine natural silence. After a time we began seeing birds. At first it was a great blue heron, then a snow white egret, and then the game birds.

Growing up where we did, we often hunted for wild boar, turkey, squirrel, quail, etc. but had only targeted waterfowl once. As I am still relatively inexperienced in hunting these seasonal migrants I decided to start with the most approachable of prey. The American Coot (Fulica americana) is actually more closely related to the rails than ducks, yet it travels with and behaves like ducks and geese. Coots are nearly jet black with a white beak and bright green feet. Unlike ducks, their feet are only semi lobed, not fully webbed making them adapted to both terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Most shotgun hunters do not pursue coots and I can see why. With a scatter gun, reaching your daily limit of 25 would be easy (there is a very high bag limit because they are so abundant). I, on the other hand, am an opportunistic forager. Say what you will about the coot, but taking one down with a maple longbow carved from a tree you cut on a mountain top, cane arrows you harvested from the river banks and fletched with feathers, conifer resin glue and plant fiber cordage you gathered... and tipped with a heat treated chert projectile point from stone you gathered and flintknapped, with nothing but an antler and hammerstone…take any bird down with this setup and I assure you it will be a day you will not soon forget!

For the first half of the day my dad paddled from the back of the boat while I shot at bird after bird. Each time my arrow scooted an inch or two above or to the side of one of these birds my dad and I would both burst into laughter. “Almost!” we’d say with a grin, “I really thought that one was going to connect!”
The old saying goes "It's the Indian, not the arrow!" Now I know why. My arrows flew beautifully, but I still am in need of some practice!

And then everything came together. As we rounded a bend I saw three coots in a small group. I set up and began to draw, but a thought of a miss came into my head. I relaxed the tension from the string and remembered the words of the Master from Zen in the Art of Archery that went something like this. “Why bother shooting if you have already decided to miss? You must realize that the bow, the arrow, the target and the space in between are all one. The arrow has already struck the target before you release!” I took a deep breath, focused on the middle bird (the largest of the group), drew my bow, and instinct took over. I do not remember releasing. I never saw the arrow in flight. But I was jarred from a surreal state of mind by a familiar THWACK! The stone tip had met its mark! “Paddle, Paddle!” I said to my dad as we closed the 25 yard gap. The bird was not going anywhere though. As our boat advanced to the muddy bank I saw the bird circle its head twice and then fall. My stone tipped arrow had hit the bird square in the head from a moving kayak at 25 yards! As I stood on the bank with my bird in hand and a wide grin I was completely content!

Hunter and I switched seats in the boat and started looking for buffelheads. Over the next few hours of paddling through the stunning countryside, Hunter took four buffelheads with his Remington 870.

By the time we paddled back to the launch site we were both grinning wide. This had been a truly great day!

That evening we plucked our birds and marinated them in Indian spices. I was taking mine for a surf and turf feast the next day with my good friends Alex and Jesse…but that is a story for later!

Keep the old ways alive!

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