Grand Forks hunter recalls Alaskan adventure to bag elusive King Eider ducks
Rick Acker, a Grand Forks taxidermist and avid outdoorsman, shared this story from a January 2012 hunting trip to an island in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, where he pursued King Eider ducks. "The King Eider is the most difficult duck t...
Rick Acker, a Grand Forks taxidermist and avid outdoorsman, shared this story from a January 2012 hunting trip to an island in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, where he pursued King Eider ducks. "The King Eider is the most difficult duck to harvest in the world," Acker said. "Mostly because of its location. The only real place to hunt them in the U.S. is on St. Paul Island in the middle of the Bering Sea some 700 miles from Anchorage."
ST. PAUL ISLAND, Alaska -- "King Eider drake -- take 'em!" my native guide, Dustin Jones, yelled.
My heart pounded as I carefully aimed across the Bering Sea at one of the world's most beautiful and elusive ducks. As the drake fell and splashed into the blue ocean, I could hardly believe my eyes.
My first King Eider duck, my dream for as long as I could remember. ...
This adventure had an auspicious beginning. I arrived in St. Paul Island on the afternoon of Jan. 2, 2012, when the ocean was as calm as could be. Seasickness had been an issue for me on a previous trip to Alaska, and needless to say, I was hoping it wouldn't rear its ugly head again.
We didn't get to hunt that day because of time constraints, and as would be my luck, the next morning, the wind had picked up considerably, and 10-foot swells were quickly turning into 20-footers. This was a very intimidating sight for a North Dakota boy who doesn't even like to go out on Devils Lake in 3-footers.
After a couple of hours in the boat and zero opportunities at King Eiders, I could feel my breakfast rumbling. I hung my head as I asked my guide, Capt. Moe Neale from Alaskan Eider Outfitters, if he could take me back in. I spent the rest of the day in the lodge by myself, barely able to move, dejected and wondering if I was even cut out to do this.
The rest of the crew arrived back at the house that evening with five beautiful Kings, some Harlequins and a stack of long-tailed ducks -- also known as Oldsquaws -- to boot. I smiled for the team picture for the "first day" shoot with the other five hunters, but inside I knew I had to find a way to beat this.
All in my head?
I had researched motion sickness thoroughly before I left on the trip, but I must have spent another two hours on the subject that evening. I had tried all the little tricks of the trade with no success: Keep your eyes on the horizon, a motion sickness bracelet and even ginger candy, which nearly made me vomit before I made it to the boat.
Finally, I read something that just made sense. I had to convince myself that "I don't get seasick."
It was that simple. After all, I can jig for walleyes all day long in rough water without getting sick. Maybe it was all in my head?
After a good night's sleep, I headed out with a new attitude. I was still a little nervous venturing out on the Bering Sea in a boat that's smaller than my 17-footer back home, but I felt a sense of calm. After all ... "I don't get seasick."
That day, we saw a lot of King Eiders, and although I didn't pull the trigger, two Kings fell to our boat. It was a beautiful sight: The most difficult duck to harvest in the world working the decoys, even if they didn't fully commit.
The next couple of days, my fortune would change. Not only did I get my first King, I also worked up enough nerve to go out into the Zodiac, a small 14-foot boat/raft with a 10-horse motor. My guide that day, Capt. Jeff Wasley, was a Wisconsin native and a true veteran of the Bering. As we drifted with the sea, crab boats and Kings were on the move. I would take two more Kings that afternoon and ruffle the feathers of a third.
One last shot
The next day would bring on the wind, and we had few options even for shore hunting. I was still one bird short of my limit of four King Eiders for the season. It would all come down to an hour or so of hunting on our final day.
Alaska is the only place in the world where you can sleep in to go duck hunting. Shooting time was about 10:30 a.m., and we had to catch our flight back to Anchorage early that afternoon.
Wind and snow were flying that final morning as I set out in the Zodiac with Jason, the only other hunter in camp with a King to fill. We had to play the wind and were forced to hunt an area with typically less Kings. Captain Jeff flagged several times at Kings in the distance, but they had no interest.
We finally had a lone drake turn into our decoys. He came from the back of the Zodiac, and I was seated in the front of the boat. The King drake flew straight up our line of decoys, and I had him in my sights as Captain Jeff said, "Take em." I heard a shot ring out, and Jason had dropped him stone cold. I congratulated him, but I knew I had missed my final opportunity of the trip. I don't know if it was the North Dakota "nice" in me or what, but I tend to want to let the other guy shoot first when I hunt. That's probably not the best trait when you're trophy hunting, but he deserved it in my opinion.
As we worked our way back to the ramp, I managed to scrap out a limit of longtails and a Harlequin for the wall. It seemed like I had just blinked and my Alaskan adventure was over. I was going home one short of a limit on Kings, but it really didn't matter. The prize was in a lifetime of memories that most waterfowl hunters will never have the opportunity to witness -- an ocean with so much history and beauty, killer whales, sea lions and some of the most beautiful waterfowl on earth.
The backdrop alone made it all worthwhile. Everything else was just gravy.