Hovey's Outdoor Adventures

Hovey Smith

Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures – All About Swan Hunting: Part 1.

All About Swan Hunting: Part 1.

Taking a bird the size of a swan with a single-shot muzzleloading shotgun is always a challenge, but Hovey found that these huge fowl also presented problems for cartridge-gun uses during a field shoot for swan near Lake Mattamuskeet, North Carolina.

Hundreds of thousands of swan winter along the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia. Each year a limited number of permits are issued to hunters to keep these huge fowl from driving other birds away from limited food sources on their wintering grounds. By chance, this hunt provided the opportunity to sample both public blind hunting at the Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge as well as an outstanding private land hunt on a harvested field some 15 miles from the lake.

Although prepared to hunt alone, including dragging my boat and an almost unbelievable amount of junk 500 miles from Georgia, my first day’s hunt was with Billy Best and his son Andrew when a blind unexpectedly became available at Lake Mattamuskeet. This blind, number 6 on an impoundment, was ideal for the windy, warm weather we were experiencing. It offered me two shot opportunities at swan. The first failed when the cap fell from the gun’s nipple as I raised the gun, and I very likely shot between the next pair of swan. Many more swan flew near, but all were out of range.

The result was that we all shot ducks and I took a coot for my annual New Year’s coot soup, which is described in the cooking section of the show along with an interview with the new owners of Harris’ Restaurant in Fairfield, which is now the Lone Goose. I and the new owner, Rebecca Gibbs, discuss the problems of running a restaurant in a small town (300) that receives significant business from visiting hunters, fishermen and bird watchers in an era of rising prices and a down economy.

The next days hunt provided dozens of shot opportunities, but some of the cartridge- gun hunters struggled to get their birds, particularly the youngest hunter of the four. His shotgun did not fit him and although he fired a number of times at flying birds, he was only able to kill one when it landed in the decoys. Two others made relatively poor hits and had to chase down their birds. I dropped my swan with a single shot early in the hunt, and never reloaded my gun.

This hunt illustrated that although shooting a bird the size of a swan may look easy, hunters need to know where their gun shoots, as heavy waterfowl loads may shoot feet below the point of aim. With steel shot, the only quick-killing opportunity is to shoot for the bird’s nearly yard-long head and neck, rather than at the body of the bird.

Calling and full-size decoys made by Don Bald of Lebanon, Illinois, attracted the birds along with additional help provided by plywood silhouette decoys brought by my host, Carl Hiatt. Each year Hiatt brings a group of young hunters from Wilmington, North Carolina, to hunt swan. Best told me about Hiatt, and suggested that I contact him. He graciously allowed me to join his group for an outstanding hunt which I recorded for this broadcast.

Bald makes a variety of custom turkey calls and insists that they work. He even took a solid ivory call and used it to kill a turkey. You can see Bald’s calls at his website You may also E-mail him at With coaxing he might make more of his swan calls, but only makes his decoys for himself.

Photos of the hunt and Bald’s decoys may be seen on my Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures Radio Show Blog. A live link to this blog is found at my website at the bottom of the page where you will also find my books and videos. Or you can go directly to the show page by clicking on the following link:

Ads on this show include one from Delta Dawn Wake Up Drops and SIN (Synthetic Industrial Non-Nutritives) Inc.’s swan which comes in either a silver or gold foil wrap or you may cover it with the hide and feathers from your own swan. There is a caution that if you use the pelt from your swan you may have some hundreds of uninvited guests at your dinner table.