Currituck Combo

Hundreds of ducks floated unconcerned on the water near Coinjock last December.

A fourth-generation guide keeps the family tradition alive by offering bear, deer, and waterfowl hunts.

Like a dozen Junebugs tied to a kid’s kite string, a flock of widgeons circled an open-water blind in Currituck Sound last December. Around they flew, bodies and wings flashing brilliantly, then seemed to turn black when the three hunters faced the morning sun to follow them.

“They’re checking us out,” said Aaron Mathews, a 24-year-old guide from Aydlett who watched the ducks along with his girlfriend, Kristan Midgett, a sophomore math-education major at N.C. State University, and a visiting writer.

The ducks, warily eyeing the decoys Mathews had placed around the spacious blind, continued their loops, shortening the distance after each pass.

Standing on a rough board floor, we scrunched down behind the blind’s plywood walls. Below us Mathews’ duck boat, safely tucked out of sight behind pine boughs nailed to the blind’s sides, bumped support stanchions.

Soon the widgeons’ tightening circle brought them within 40 yards of our 12-gauge auto-loaders. Mathews and Midgett stood, quickly lifting the stocks of their shotguns to their shoulders, swung on the birds and pulled their triggers.


If there’s anything consistent about duck hunting at coastal North Carolina, it’s that nothing is consistent.

Mathews knows first hand, but because he’s a native “Down Easter” and a fourth-generation guide, he has enough family friends and contacts that he can make adjustments when a particular blind doesn’t pan out.

His first coup during a waterfowl hunt last December turned out to be a key to the entrance of a locked-down camper site, a place with a boat launch ramp. After launching his duck boat into wind-swept Currituck Sound, Mathews turned north for a marsh-island blind.

In the dark, navigation was tricky, but he piloted his decoy-filled duck boat expertly. However, the journey quickly ended about 100 yards offshore when we ran aground.

“It’s the wind,” he said, of the northwest gale that had pushed the water out of the sound and stymied passage to the blind.

“No matter,” he said, using a boat paddle to push us backward until we found deep-enough water so he could crank his big engine and turn south.

Within a minute, we were headed toward another waterfowl blind.

Access to Currituck Sound hunting blinds isn’t routine, not only because some of them may suffer from ill-timed winds that blow the water out of the sound but because local hunters traditionally have guarded their use.

But Mathews has enough access and history on his side to assure hunting at more than one waterfowl shooting platform. And he makes sure to have even more blinds — each year he enters a “lotto” to hunt the 20 permanent blinds at Bodie Island, which is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“That’s a neat type of hunting a lot of guys prefer,” he said. “The sand blows and they feel the salt. You get chances at gadwall, widgeons, black ducks, teal and (tunda) swans.”

His clients, at other spots, may see mallards, wood ducks and black ducks.

“I’ve got 500 acres in the swamp I can hunt where we hammer mallards in the early part of the (November) season,” he said. “We can hunt woodies there the entire season. and we also get a few teal.

“At other places we get chances at blackheads, a few canvasbacks and pintails.”

This season Tar Heel hunters may harvest ducks, mergansers and coots Nov. 11-Dec. 2 and Dec. 16-Jan. 27. The short early season was Oct. 4-7. No black or mottled ducks could be shot until Dec. 1. Sea duck season runs Oct. 4-Jan. 27, 2007.

When the early teal season ended, Mathews had six blinds in Currituck Sound, including four marsh blinds and two open-water blinds ready for the bulk of the season.

“Most clubs have their own blinds on their land,” he said. “They own a piece of the marsh.”

Some hunters also use “floating” blinds they position between flying routes of ducks. Ducks usually take wing just before daybreak, and local hunt clubs have impoundments that attract the birds. Some hunters use a “floating blind” to position themselves in the sound underneath those “flyways” from the swamps or other water where ducks spend the night before heading to the impoundments.

“You have to pay a fee for a license to use a floating blind,” Mathews said. “One of the (marsh) blinds I can use because I helped build it. As long as I help build a blind, they let me use it. Three blinds we own, and I lease a couple of blinds.”

Floating blinds legally can’t be positioned within 500 yards of permanent (marsh or stick) blinds.

Unfortunately, our second blind choice didn’t produce any ducks, although a floating blind in the sound east of the Pine Island — and about 300 yards from our blind — had plenty of birds flying overhead.

Shotguns boomed intermittently, as we watched crippled ducks finished off by showers of steel sprayed across the water.

But Mathews doesn’t only offer on-the-water or swampy waterfowl hunts.

“I also offer (tundra) swan, snow goose and (Canada) goose hunts,” he said.

He also has access to 15,000 acres of farm land where swans and geese fly to eat winter wheat, oats and unharvested corn, soybeans and some barley.

“I’ve also got 250 snow geese decoys,” he said.

During 2005, Mathews guided 75 hunters during snow geese hunts.

“We’re almost always finished by 8 a.m.,” he said. “There’s plenty of snow geese here in the winter.”

Hunters must be lucky enough to be drawn in a wildlife commission lottery to earn a tundra-swan hunting permit. Only 5,000 swan permits are offered each year, but they’re not usually difficult to obtain by registering with a cooperator agent.

“We’ve got so many swans, I guarantee if you don’t get a shot at a swan, you get a refund,” Mathews said.

With Currituck County and its sound being the northernmost area of North Carolina that intersects with the Atlantic Flyway, hunters get plenty of chances at ducks, geese and swans.

“The good thing about my situation is you can do combination hunts for waterfowl and deer,” he said.

Last year, Mathews, who builds and refurbishes his deer stands during the summer, bagged one of the northeast’s top bucks, a wide-racked 10-point whitetail that had a little more than 130 inches of antlers, an extremely large buck for that section of the state.

“There are bigger deer around,” he said. “I’ve set up trail cameras and have pictures of them.”

Most of his summers are spent getting ready for deer season, he said.

“The stands are set up for my hunters,” he said. “Some are aluminum ladder stands and some are enclosed box stands. I have one-seat and two-seat stands.

He has 1500 acres of land to set up deer stands.

“I’ve got them at hardwoods and swamps, pine thickets, harvested corn fields and at cutovers,” Mathews said.

His swamp deer hunts may be the most interesting.

“I put my stands at little islands in the swamps, places where there are pecan trees,” he said. “Some of the islands have oak trees that drop acorns, too.”

Deer love to eat pecans, Mathews said. And there’s no better place to find a big buck, especially late in the season when dog-hunting pressure is greatest, than an isolated swamp island.

“I also have some blinds set up near honeysuckle patches and near berries deer like to eat,” he said.

Mathews said 30 percent of his deer stands are near cutovers and agricultural fields.

He also offers archery hunts.

“The only thing you have to watch out for when you’re bow hunting is making sure you know about the snakes,” he said with a chuckle.

Encounters with water moccasins are not unusual when going to and from deer stands.

“I wear snake chaps, and I’d advise anyone else who hunts a swamp early in the season to do that, too,” Mathews said. “But by November, the snakes are hibernating.”

Mathews also offers free skinning and dressing of deer that his hunters kill.

“All they have to do is show up — everything else is taken care of,” he said.

Black bears are beginning to appear at his hunting areas in greater numbers.

“They’ve always been around,” he said. “We’re just seeing more of them. And my land backs up to the (North River Game Land), which is a bear sanctuary.”

Bear hunting isn’t permitted at his baited-with-corn deer stands, but Mathews has 10 bear stands at standing corn fields. That’s a legal way to hunt bears in N.C.

“My bear hunts are three-day hunts ($600) and six-day hunts ($1200),” Mathews said. “Bear hunting isn’t like deer hunting; bear hunters need to be at a stand pretty steady at least three days. Sometimes the bear might come the first day, but usually it takes a while.”

“We always have a guide with (waterfowl) hunters,” he said.

“We also offer a (swan) hunt in the sound (from a boat), but the majority of our swans are killed at fields. The price includes us setting up decoys and breakfast.”

Anyone who wants to try a deer/duck combination hunt can do so for $175 per day. Snow goose/deer and swan/duck combo hunts are $150.

Deer hunters who take bucks must shoot six-pointers or better or pay a penalty as Mathews is trying to manage for better-quality bucks.

“Anyone can take a doe, but there’s also a $100 penalty for shooting a button buck,” he said.

Archery hunts cost $75 while gun hunts are $125. A special youth duck hunt goes for $75 per day per child, while Ducks Unlimited members (show your DU membership card) and repeat customers receive a 25-percent discount. Ages 16-under can hunt for half price.

Most visitors stay at Midway Marina and Motel west of the ICW Bridge at Coinjock. A house there sleeps five for $100 per night and motel rooms are $55 per night.

“Sometimes I pick up waterfowl hunters right at the (marina) dock if we’re going to an open-water blind,” Mathews said.

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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