Ramsey Russell's GetDucks.com Reviews Russia Duck Hunting

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Fumbling hurriedly through loose ammo that’d also been dumped into the coat pocket, the wooden duck call was retrieved just in time to blow 4 lousy notes that squelched due to dried cork.   It was enough.  The drake mallard’s head yanked as he hit the end of an invisible tie, he turned on a dime and locked onto a solitary, paintless decoy and descended cupped-and-committed until his feet were right above ice-rimmed creek water near.  He recoiled backasswards at the clap of a single shot and I could only chuckle at having traveled such inconceivably great distance to start the hunt with a ordinarily beautiful greenhead.  It was only the beginning.
Russia duck hunting offers one of the few spring waterfowl hunts remaining in the world and it coincides with hunting for Capercaillie and Black Grouse during their famous courtship rituals.  Until recently, nearly everything I knew about Russia derived from watching James Bond reruns.  The real thing was much better.
In addition to hunting 2 of the most coveted trophy grouse species in the world, duck hunting in Russia presents
the opportunity to hunt waterfowl species uncommon in the Americas, in a pristine and rarely hunted boreal forest environment situated narrowly within the Arctic Circle.  With only six weeks advanced notice, it was like a short fuse burning.
Russia hunting requires the formalities of a visa. Mine arrived a day later than anticipated, but the bag was packed.  Less than 2 hours after FedEx knocked at the door, I was aboard an eastbound flight that later landed in St. Petersburg and 9 hours into the future.  Hunting camp near the White Sea remained about 14 hours northward by car.
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Russia in one word, as viewed from the passenger’s seat: trees.  The northern Russia landscape is an enormous taiga consisting of pine, hemlock, fir and larch, and interspersed with innumerable lakes and rivers, from which mostly raw, weathered-lumber settlements had been sparsely torn.
Russia duck hunting was nearly everything I had hoped for an exploratory trip.  A topographic map, appeared to show more water than dry ground, but despite daytime highs in the mid-50s waterways remained predominately frozen due to an unusually late spring.  Another hunting guest from Malta had hunted precisely the same dates the preceding year and observed that waterfowl numbers were comparably lower, presumably due to ice.  Still, there were enough.
Whether for a new experience or for specific bird species, collector hunts are typically low-volume, high-quality affairs.  Duck hunting in Russia was no exception.  An impressive variety of species were tallied: Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Green-winged Teal, Smew, European and Northern Common eider subspecies, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander (Common Merganser) and the ubiquitous mallard. Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Hazel Grouse, and Snow Grouse (Willow Ptarmigan) were among the upland bag. 
Puddle duck hunts involved short, easy walk-ins to creeks or small lakes.  Small spreads of 1 to 4 old decoys seemed lacking, but worked well enough.  Memorable: a beautiful adult drake smew plucked from a trio that careened precariously over our blind, a drake tufted sliding lifelessly across spring ice before splashing to a stop, paddles up, on the water, a drake northern common eider seen swimming meters beneath the White Sea’s clear water before resurfacing to his demise, the striking coloroation of an felled drake Eurasian Wigeon ablaze in sparkling, afternoon sunlight. 
White Sea duck hunts were conducted from small, nimble speedboats and from strategic points along shore by which ducks flew as the tide receded.  In the absence of the sporting waterfowl hunting traditions, with which we’re blessed here in the US, there was a lack of proven traditional hunting techniques – such as trolling long-lines to toll naive sea ducks.  It was sorely missed and we’ve since arranged to help refine our Russian friends’ waterfowling methods during upcoming visits.
Regardless of quantity or when-in-Rome methods, the boreal forest environment established the context of this adventure.  Previous to this trip, I’d have said it impossible to become ever again enamored with hunting any game bird.  Then I met Capercaillie.
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We began hiking towards the lek about an hour shy of midnight as dusk slowly approached. The dim, snow-crusted road was little more than two lonely tire ruts that suddenly ceded to a foot trail meandering through a shadowy, fairy tale-like forest.  Lichens, mosses, ferns and ground blueberries billowed into plush groundcover carpeting that felt like puffy green cloud underfoot.  Centuries-old conifers stretched into a near-starless sky.  Other tracks in the snow about the length of men’s size-8 were an understated reminder that we were also among brown bears.
We overnighted in the woods while capercaillie hunting.  It was essential.  Night never became completely dark.  The sunset’s colors would slowly melt into the horizon for hours, but afterwards it seemed only just out of sight, like a giggling child hiding under a bed.  Dozing on soft beds of lichen, sipping hot tea or snacking on cold cuts, cheese and coarse breads, our wait was spent in a wonderfully utter silence that was interrupted only by the clucks of nearby hen capercaillies and whisper of wind sifting softly through dark pine.  Dawn was an hours-long event of sunlight slowly reclaiming the Arctic day.  In the interim between night and dawn, cock capercaillies began singing the distinctively soft metallic clicking and slapping of steel honed against whetstone, signaling that it was Game On.
Capercaillies are the world’s largest grouse species.  Males achieve an average of about 9 pounds.  There are 10 species of capercaillie in the world and Western Capercaillies endemic to this part of Russia are the largest.  During the breeding season, cock capercaillies perch atop conifers that oftentimes overlooking openings.  They sing briefly and watch for incoming hens.  Enabled with keen eyesight and an acute hearing that can reputedly detect a snapping twig from 100 meters away, it’s nearly impossible to get within effective shotgun distance during the autumn.  Traditional capercaillie hunting is venerated around the spring courtship ritual, when capercaillies are vulnerable to approaching hunters.
During the final parts of the capercaillie song, swelling within their inner ear evokes brief deafness.  It’s enough time for the hunter to take 2 careful steps.  The hunt unfolds 2 quiet, purposeful steps at a time, usually in unison with a Russian guide that is without doubt better attuned to the sound than inexperienced hunters. Despite near-darkness, it sounds easy enough doesn’t it?
Everything came together on my third successive capercaillie hunt.  During the last two-step stalk of the morning, I peered breathlessly around a hemlock and there he sat, 30 meters away, topping a pine as perfectly as a Christmas angel and silhouetted against dawn’s pale bloom.  I realized in hoisting the capercaillie up in admiration that it was exactly the kind of extraordinary trophy, in a magnificent forest setting that resembles God’s intended creation more closely than anywhere, that compels me such distances.  And that already beckons my return.

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Special Note: GetDucks.com carefully reviews each destination to provide seamless travel and ensure that minimal customer complaints.  Bird hunting in Russia presents a unique set of problematic circumstances.  There are communication barriers, which are remedied with an interpreter, and there are traditional waterfowl hunting skills to be learned.  For dedicated species collectors, trophy bird importation into the US is NO LONGER an obstacle, but because Russia is among countries listed as affected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, the appropriate paperwork is required.  Trophy bird hunters visiting Russia – or any country among on USDA’s bird flu listings – are advised to insist that respective outfitters or booking agents provide the proper assurances and necessary documentation well in advance of travel.
Package information: Russia Duck Hunting

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