Waterfowling the old fashioned way

Mallards are prime targets of Alan Page and his clients, with some wood ducks mixed in.

NC hunter uses old-school methods on ducks

Old school doesn’t begin to describe Alan Page,  although he falls in the age bracket, if not in fact by inclination.

Had he been born two centuries earlier, the Virginia Beach native now living in Garland (Sampson County) would have been perfectly satisfied. He’s always enjoyed working with his hands, making just about anything he needed for his home and to pursue his passion for hunting and guiding.

An artist in wood, paints and glass, Page is the owner of Leaning Tree Game Calls. He hand carves beautiful geese, trumpet calls for turkeys, friction and deer grunt calls plus working, inscribed duck calls of hickory, oak and cedar. He’s also sculpted juniper duck decoys since his high school days.

While being interviewed for this story, Page worked on a handmade 14-foot push pole to maneuver a canoe around nearby saltwater flats.

“I want to use it for red drum fishing, poling without a motor because drum are so skittish in shallow water,” he said. “My next project is to learn to fly fish for them so I can take clients who want to try it.”

With his heavy beard, Page resembles one of the Smith Brothers of 1950s cough-drop fame — but with a bald head. He shaved it when his first born son, Dakota, battled cancer 20 years ago. Treatments caused the boy to lose his hair, so Page shaved his own head in his son’s honor. He’s kept his shiny pate.

When he was a teen, Page roamed the wilds of southeastern Virginia, from the sand bridges south of Back Bay to Currituck Sound. That’s where he began to learn waterfowl hunting.


Black Labradors are favorites among waterfowl hunters, including Alan Page. Inset: Hand-carved duck calls are a specialty of Alan Page’s Leaning Tree Game Calls.

“There was one store, and a next door neighbor used a pickup truck to go to False Cape Gun Club,” Page said. “I’d ride with him down the beach to get there. We hunted ducks and geese from land.

“We used handmade decoys, like the old-time carvers and waterfowlers. We hunted from blinds at coves and waved our hands to attract geese. We hunted waterfowl from ‘spits and spats’ (rough-made leaning blinds of reeds and sticks tied together, open on one side).

“I’m a carpenter by trade and was a one-man construction crew. I started when I was 18 out of high school. I had a reading disability, but I can learn anything if I can see it. Then I can build it.”

He harvests the wood he shapes into calls and decoys, except mahogany.

“I use red cedar, black walnut, magnolia, dogwood — any wood with pretty grains,” Page said. “I bought $1000 of mahogany from a guy and now have enough to last a lifetime.”

Today Page lives with his wife and son near the Black and South rivers, not far from Bladen Lakes State Forest. A 23-year-old daughter, Skye, has a blog, “Mentally Sailing,” she writes from a sailboat in Virginia.

Page likes to pursue mallards and wood ducks during the most challenging wing shooting waterfowl hunts — float trips in a two-man kayak at tributaries of the Black and South rivers. He also floats creeks and rivers for gray squirrels.

He owns 37 acres he partially cleared and developed for turkey and quail hunts.

Unseasonably warm weather has curtailed waterfowl migrations, but Page manages to find teal, wood ducks, mallards, widgeon, gadwall, ringneck and black ducks “but the main ducks are woodies.”

Weather dependent

The recent problem has been weather. In the past, northeast winds pushed waterfowl to North Carolina on 7-year cycles.

“One year, duck movements would be good, then slowly decline,” he said. “But this (cycle), it got bad and never got better. The past 5 years have been the worst I can remember.”

Friends in Canada have told him the weather’s been so warm, ducks have remained in the north.

“We need good weather fronts and a few nor’easters to push ducks down the east coast,” Page said.

Waterfowl also short stop at Eastern Shore (Maryland and Virginia) grain fields. If ducks, geese and swans reach eastern N.C., they set their wings at private impoundments.

“So many people are building impoundments and charge $50,000 to $100,000 a year for memberships and $550 a day for non-members,” he said.

But Page would rather pursue waterfowl the old-fashioned way, interacting with nature in a kayak on a stream and showing clients a better way.

Two ways exist to do that — when weather is dry, rivers shrink from bank to banks. But ducks still swim there for food during the day and for safety at night.


Small streams concentrate ducks. A two-man kayak is a perfect way to glide close to them, with two hunters sharing time in the front gunner’s seat.

“You’ll come around a bend in a river or stream with a blowdown ahead, and you might have 15 or 20 woodies – or just a pair – sitting behind a tree,” he said. “That’s when it requires teamwork to be successful. If the kayak must turn left ahead after you see or hear ducks, the driver must turn the kayak to the right so the hunter with the gun can face left where the ducks are.”

Slowly moving water also makes retrieving downed birds fairly easy. Hunters don’t have to worry about dead ducks floating away.

The big freeze

The other opportunity occurs when the mercury drops enough to freeze streams from banks toward the middle with an open channel between the ice.

“That’s where the ducks must be,” Page said. “They don’t walk on ice if they can avoid it.”

Then it’s just a matter of hunters remaining quiet and floating down a channel until getting near ducks.

“When ducks flush, they go straight up and are gone like rockets,” Page said.

Needless to say, shotgun-toting hunters must have quick reactions.

Page eschews a trolling motor for his 16-foot Wilderness Systems kayak, opting to paddle instead.

“It’s quiet, easy to maneuver, and won’t tip,” he said. “You can’t tip it over. It’ll also slide over logs, which you can’t do with most johnboats.”

A kayak, stream and jump-shooting seem made for each other.

“But, like any wildlife, sometimes ducks are there and sometimes they aren’t,” Page said.

Besides that, roast duck or duck l’orange makes a tasty main course.

Learn to  lead

Most waterfowl and upland game-bird hunters have developed a wing-shooting method that helps them down fast-flying game birds.

It’s mostly an instinctive feeling, with some rules to follow that can make it easier and more successful (see the video at https://www.Facebook.com/LeaningTreeGameCalls/videos/745522450044622).

Alan Page, a veteran outdoorsman/hunter and owner of Leaning Tree Game Calls, has developed his own system that may ring bells for good wing-shots.

It’s basically how to establish a proper lead for a flying game bird.

“It works for me on everything, from quail to ducks — every time,” Page said.

Proper shot technique comes in handy when hunting mallards like this one.

To visualize the method:

(1) Put three upright shotgun shells about 10 inches apart on a deck’s railing.

(2) Stand back about 10 to 15 feet and look at the center shell (that represents the bird) while pointing an unloaded shotgun muzzle 10 inches to the left or right of the center shell. The left or right shell represents the direction the bird is flying.

(3) Now swing the shotgun (mounted to your shoulder) right or left until the muzzle matches the same speed as the bird is flying — then pull the trigger.

(4) You will have simulated dropping a flying bird by giving it the proper amount of “lead.”

Now game birds almost never fly nicely and horizontally left or right. They may dip down, up or angle toward or away from a hunter.

In that case, remember to look at the 10-inch space in front, below, above, etc., of the bird and swing the shotgun muzzle until your swing matches the speed of the flying bird. Then pull the trigger.

Think about this: if a bird is approaching directly, the 10-inch lead will appear to expand from small to larger, even though the bird is closing the distance. When it’s directly overhead, the 10-inch muzzle lead actually will be its largest. This is the toughest wing shot.

Conversely, if a bird is flying away from you, the angle you see appears to be getting shorter but it’s actually increasing. So this 10-inch rule angle accounts for that greater distance from the gun’s muzzle.

In either case, shoot before a bird is out of gun range and shotshell pellets will intersect its path.

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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