Hunting my trophy in the Lowcountry

Published 1:08 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2023

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“Trophy hunting” is a term that comes with more baggage than an airport carousel during Thanksgiving. Many hunters shy away from the term and cringe anytime it is used. Unfortunately, the few bad apples and a voracious media desperate for clicks highlight the worst of every group. So, with hesitation, I have to admit I went on a trophy hunt last week. 


Just saying the term trophy hunting probably starts a slide show of examples in your mind. Does the word “Pintail” conjure up any images?

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The Pintail Duck is a prized trophy in the waterfowling world. They nest in the Dakotas and Canada around cut stubble fields near water. While nesting, they are easy prey for predators by land and air. 


Farming practices can also take a toll on the survival of nests. What’s interesting is that groups of trophy hunters are putting forth the money and the time to make this bird flourish. Groups like Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited have worked with farmers and trapped predators to give this species a fighting chance. 


What draws trophy hunters to the Pintail is threefold: grace, beauty, and fat. 


Last Thursday, I witnessed groups of 50-100 pintails landing in a swimming pool-sized hole in the South Carolina Lowcountry. As the ducks came down from the sky, it was as if someone was rolling a carpet of ducks out on the water. 


Their long graceful necks pushed their head forward and soft wingbeats lowered their body into the water without a splash. 


The duck itself is a large streamlined bird. With a blue bill, chocolate-colored head, and gray, green and black feathers, it seems ready for a formal dinner party. Its namesake tail is two feathers that make it unmistakable when they fly overhead. 


One of the best things about these birds is that they always seem to have a thick layer of fatty skin. Duck fat may be one of the richest and most satisfying flavors in the animal world. 


For twenty years this bird has alluded me. Throughout many states and flyways, the Pintail was never in the air when it was time to shoot. A few times I came close, but the curse of the Pintail followed me for two decades. 


After the carpet of ducks was laid out last Thursday, my first thought was, “I wish I was where they landed. The curse lives on.”


 As luck would have it, the flock got up and flew right over our heads minutes later. I took one and watched smiling as a young Labrador retrieved my trophy. 


The rest of the day, we watched hundreds of Pintails in range fly by. The limit for this species is one bird per hunter. That’s all I needed. It gives me great pride that fellow trophy hunters around the country put in the time, money and effort to ensure the survival of this bird, so that they aren’t the last ones to see a flock of pintails land gracefully, admire the plumage, and savor the meat the bird provides.