A true story by John M Coffman
On one of our duck hunting trips to Chincoteague, VA, the subject got around to hunting rails. In Chincoteague that would be mainly Clapper Rails, a long-legged bird of the tidal marshes, also one that you seldom see but hear often.
It is also one of Virginia’s game birds, which means I need at least one nice specimen for my game room. We talked our duck hunting guide into taking us on a hunt for rails after we got through hunting ducks that day. It turned out to be a modern rail hunt.
I remember reading about rail hunting where the boat operator stands in the back of boat and pushes the boat through the reeds with a pole while the hunters sit on a seat in the front of the boat. It reminded me of my visit with a gondolier in Venice, Italy.
The modern way to hunt rail, is the boat operator operates his boat from a seat at the controls in the boat and the hunters wade in water up to their knees, walking in front of boat among the reeds.
I remember we were out quite a way and the guide slowed the boat and told us to get out. You couldn’t know how deep the water was but I knew I couldn’t swim. Was this the end? I slithered out cautiously and I finally felt my feet touch bottom. That was a grand relief. The water came up to just above my knee cap. It could have been 10 feet deep for all I knew.
We weren’t hunting very long until it started to rain. Here we were walking in knee deep water in pouring down rain. I ruined a good shotgun, a Model 50 Winchester autoloader. It seemed like the rain was made of salt water. Everything that got wet rusted immediately. At the end of the hunt the gun had to be completely disassembled, dried out and oiled. The finish on the stock looked like I had used varnish remover on it. I never did get another finish applied.
You would walk cautiously and check out any pile of brush or discarded pallets that were floating on the water and flush out a rail or two. They would also like to hide in the reeds. They were slow fliers and easy to hit. They could take some pointers from our Ruffed Grouse on evasive flying. When hunting the grouse half the time you don’t get a glimpse of them.
I collected six rails before it was time to go back to the dock. Mission accomplished never-the-less.
I invite you to next month’s adventure …John