Through the door and out of the biting autumn wind I quickly follow Captain Reilly McCue’s past mountainous decoy rigs with countless origins and configurations used for puddlers, divers, sea ducks; past a bench of ornate hand-tied streamers underneath dangling wildfowl, catalogued feathers and patterns; past chest-high stacks of colorful moth collections painstakingly labeled. Beyond the ginormous custom-built sea duck hunting and striper fishing boat are even more decoy rigs, a taxidermy station, fishing gear, a gunsmithing bench, and countless reminders of a lifetime spent perfectly experiencing outdoors New England. Everything’s perfectly organized. Spotless. Touring the shop is like walking into a living museum, reminding me that whether collecting waterfowl species or just special experiences, nobody but nobody is a better guide than an avid collector. And Captain McCue is that guy. Bet you’ll agree after hearing today’s episode.
Meet RPM Outdoors’ Reilly McCue
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, I’m in New England with one of the most interesting people I happen to know Mr. Reilly McCue runs RPM outfit, is that right?
Reilly McCue: Call it what you want RPM Outdoors, I guess.
Ramsey Russell: RPM Outfit, RPM Outdoors. Reilly, I’m glad to see you again, man. Making this North American tour coming up through here, I called you about a month ago, I said, Reilly, I got to stop by and see you. Number one, I enjoy your company, I always do. I’ve been here several hours, we hadn’t stopped talking yet and I always like coming out here to you. I don’t know what you call this, some people would call it a shop, some people would call it an office, some people would call it a museum, it’s the damnest collection of stuff I’ve ever seen in my life.
Reilly McCue: We’ll call it the man cave.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I guess you could call it that. It goes to the heart of who you are and why you are, one of the most interesting people I know, let alone for a sea duck captain, man. You’ve been on here before, but remind me how did you get into duck hunting?
Reilly McCue: Like a lot of us through my dad, dad used to take my brother and I out since we were little guys and being here in New England out on the salt marshes was kind of our start chasing black ducks in those creeks and tidal creeks and just shooting what we could black ducks, buffleheads, golden eyes, red breasted mergansers eventually, as we got older, mallard started showing up here on the Atlantic flyway. But the black duck was always the big one growing up.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you told me earlier that, if you were just hunting for yourself and no other reason, every time you duck hunt you go out just to shoot black duck and I mean, every time I’m up here, everywhere you look, there’s black duck.
Iconic New England Waterfowl Species to Hunt
Folks come out to hunt black ducks, common eiders and the Atlantic brant are 3 of them that you really are going to concentrate on as duck collectors here in New England.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, I mean, that’s really the iconic New England species. Folks come out to hunt black ducks, common eiders and the Atlantic brant are 3 of them that you really are going to concentrate on as duck collectors here in New England. But black ducks always been near and dear to my heart.
Ramsey Russell: But what is your number one? Folks, when you walk in the door, it’s a big old looking garage, but you walk in and there is stuff hanging off the rafters and the one little station is decoy repair, the next little station is fly tying of epic proportion and this is, I think taxidermy and that over there is something else and there’s the biggest freaking dang boat, I’ve ever sat in, sitting right here and beyond it is a reloading station and more of taxidermy and more decoys and then you go up, stop and you got half of is waterfowl and half of it is fishing is the dang thing, it’s a lifetime of New England getting along. But as a duck guy, what would be the number one reason somebody would come and get in that boat to go hunting, because I’m looking at the decoy and I’m judging, I’m thinking, it wouldn’t be black duck.
Reilly McCue: Number one is probably going to be the common eiders when I get off – get on the phone with guys the first time, the eiders is usually number one on their hit list. Black ducks, real close and then it just depends on, what other trips guys have gone on whether they need all the scoters and the old squaw or some of the different diver ducks. But, yeah, eiders number one.
Ramsey Russell: You just touched on a lot of different subjects, I want to cover with you Reilly, because New England, this part of the world that common eider and associated sea ducks, this is where to go in the United States. Now, if you want to go out west to shoot different subspecies of its not quite as many but, but certainly, deserving of somebody’s attention. But just to me, to the average guy that’s sitting in Texas, that’s sitting in Oklahoma that’s sitting in Mississippi that’s just starting to stretch his wing and start checking boxes on birds and experiences, New England. But because here I can get the black duck, I can go out and shoot eiders and scoters and long tails and brant and even Canada geese and maybe even a few snow geese with a guide like yourself. I mean, it’s just endless. You could really fill up an ice box with a lot of those species people are trying to collect right here, this is it, am I right?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of how I market myself as a bird collector and those initial phone calls with guys reaching out, trying to put a trip together I just let them know that that’s kind of the mentality that I go through my hunts, it’s all just shooting birds with the idea that we’re getting them for taxidermy collections and bouncing around trying to get lots of different species. And I’m fortunate the New England coast has lots of different kind of eco types real close together, which translates to bird diversity and allows us to get lots of different species for guys.
A Unique Approach to Sea Duck Hunting
I mean, you go down a different rabbit hole than most sea duck captains out there.
Ramsey Russell: One thing that attracted me to you, how we became friends is, you stand out to me, Reilly, you stand out as a sea duck captain as a duck guide in this part of the world. Because so many businesses in your space, you show up at the boat ramp, you go out, you shoot stuff, you go back but you’re different. I tell everybody and I’m telling all you guys listening, you want to sea duck hunt, call these guy, but he ain’t going to just take you sea duck hunting. What are you going to ask these guys if they call Reilly? I mean, you go down a different rabbit hole than most sea duck captains out there.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. Well, just right off the bat, I want to make sure that we’re matching up our expectations. So for me, duck hunting has a real strong focus on bird collection, it’s not necessarily about shooting limits, it’s about getting – everyone in your group might want a pair of eiders, we’re going to try to knock those off the list and then what’s the next bird on the list that guys are interested in getting? We go get a couple of those, whether it’s scoters or old squaws or the black ducks or brant. Boom. We get those and we just keep on building your 3, 4, 5, 6 day trip trying to knock off different species on your list as opposed to every day, just going out and randomly trying to shoot a limit of birds and take some the big pile shot, I’m more interested in just trying to get quality over quantity and trying to have nice experiences out there in a new world up here on the New England Coast.
Ramsey Russell: For reasons, we’ll talk about later in this podcast episode and for reasons, we’ve been talking about the last 3 hours, it is more about quality than quantity anymore that should be the mindset going into, that all of us should approach duck hunting with is quality over quantity. You mentioned just a minute ago that you all are blessed with a lot of habitat niches so that you can find these birds in close proximity and it all looks the same sitting there bobbing on a boat, getting my equilibrium off when I hit dry ground back at the boat ramp, it all looks the same to me, just a big old chop of water and rock horizon and stuff like that. But I noticed today I went out with a good friend of mine, Steve Caron, we went eider hunting in a place that you do a lot of photography and it was just obvious to me that there have been some eiders right there where we set up and something, the wind changed or something changed with them, we got our limit pretty good, but it changed. But I just noticed how we would see scoters and they weren’t coming around that point and going in the same direction and queuing in on the decoys, like the eiders were, they were kind of running a different angle arc around and going somewhere else. Oh, my gosh. There was a bunch of harlequins I’d always heard about these Atlantic Coast harlequins, we probably saw two or three dozen and they like to hang out right up there next to the rocks, some of the long tails we saw, behave totally different, what’s going on out there beneath the surface of that water. What are those birds queuing in on?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, it’s just all food preferences. So, the rocky jagged coastlines in New England are going to have different types of food, the different crustaceans and mussel beds and then you’re going to have the sandy beachy shorelines are all going to be full of different species of clams that different species are going to queue in on. And then, along the shoreline, there’s lots of different brackish river systems that are dumping in. So you go up the brackish inlet, you come into salt marshes, whole different landscape, whole different set of food sources for different species of birds. Then you go further up into that river where it turns into a freshwater ecosystem and then boom, you’re in a whole another series of food sources for yet again, another set of different waterfowl species.
Ramsey Russell: Is it literally a different something they’re eating or is it similar something in different water depths or structures?
Reilly McCue: No, just a lot of times, it’s different food sources. The situation you described with the harlequins right up on the rocks, just picking all the stuff off the snails and little crabs and stuff right out of the rocks, the eiders off the rock point where there’s a rocky bottom where the mussels can adhere to the rocks on the bottom and then the scoters and old squaws sounded like they’re out on the sandy substrate and targeting different foods.
Ramsey Russell: Seems like it make it tough. Do you have a guy that wants to kill him? Is that doable? I mean, what are some of the –
Reilly McCue: Yeah, that’s what I would consider from the guide perspective an easy hunt is when I have a group of guys that are real beginner collectors. One question, well, what’s the best time of the year to come up? And the honest answer is, well, this is your first time in New England it doesn’t really matter because we got to start chopping away at your wish list and a lot of times to really complete what New England has to offer, it’s going to take a couple of trips. So that first trip, the dates are not as critical because everything is still on your list, the next time you come up, maybe we’re going to get a little more specific, maybe have you come later because you didn’t get a red breast that was taxidermy quality on your first trip because they weren’t plumed out quite yet. So, boom, we’re going to slide into a late January date, the next trip to get that red breast off your list or same thing with golden eyes. Those are one of the last birds that we get here in New England out on the coast, so it’s got to be a cold winter or it’s got to be a real late season to try and get that common goldeneye for you guys.
Ramsey Russell: You all will never see barrows out here, do you?
Reilly McCue: There’s a few, there’s a few out there. I mean, there’s parts of the Atlantic coastline going further north from me in Maine where there’s actually some legit populations. But in New England it’s a real rarity. But we do see them.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What about King eiders? You always hear of a stray king eider getting shot out here.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. I mean, it’s a possibility, every day you go out eider hunting, you could get a king eider. Yeah, it could. I mean, they’re out there, we haven’t shot one out of my boat for, this will be the 3rd year. But they’re out there.
Ramsey Russell: What about the northern common eider, the borealis we call it. I know you all get them, do most of your clients that are checking list, do they even care if they pick up a borealis.
Reilly McCue: Most of the borealis is that my clients have gotten over the years, they didn’t know what the heck they had. So, I do have guys that are a little bit more advanced collectors that that’s on their list and I just tell them the reality of it, it’s one of those birds, we may get 2 or 3 in a season, we may not get any in a season. So it’s not one of the most common birds for us to have on our coastline, but it’s something that’s more common than King eiders, that’s for sure.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about some of the real uncommon prizes. Because you post up a lot of cool photos, Reilly, let me add that to your list of interesting things, you’re a accomplished waterfowl photographer.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, I appreciate it. I put my time in, it’s something I really – it’s another layer to the whole guiding that I’ve added over the years which I’ve really been enjoying just trying to capture the moment on my hunts and try to share all the different sites and things that I see out there that a lot of people don’t get to see every day. But yeah, so the real rarity in New England, like my personal dream birds as I’m out there every day are, I guess some of the European stuff, definitely, the northern eider is one I love seeing, I just think they’re gorgeous. But there’s the potential every year in the northeast, we’ve got pink footed geese and you’ve got tufted ducks and like you were mentioning before the barrows and there’s all sorts of stuff out there. I mean, it’s the Atlantic Flyway, I mean, most days we’re hunting within a quarter mile of the Atlantic coast of New England and I mean, that’s the highway, that’s the runway for all this stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s all out here, isn’t it? All right. And I want to do this virtual tour of your New England Museum, I’m going to call it.
Reilly McCue: Man Cave.
Ramsey Russell: It’s more of a museum than a man cave. Look, I got a man cave, man caves have big comfortable sofa and big screen TVs and I’m going to tell you right now, there ain’t no way, no how I ask you, do you ever watch TV? No, I never watch it. No, I know you don’t. Because with all the stuff you got going on in here, there’s no way you got time to watch television, you probably don’t even watch the 5 o’clock news. I want to start with the center attraction, which is this massive boat. Tell me about this one of a kind boat you got sitting right here.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. It’s a custom aluminum boat deep V 25ft long, close to 10ft wide.
Ramsey Russell: How deep is it?
Reilly McCue: That’s a good question.
Ramsey Russell: That’s got to be almost 40 inches, I’m going to say, it’s not quite 4ft tall belly button high.
Reilly McCue: It’s a boat that I did a lot of the design work to accommodate both my sea duck hunts in the waters that New England has in December and January when we’re doing these sea duck things. And I also wanted it for the dual purpose of being able to accommodate my flats, fishing charters that I do for striped bass all summer long.
Ramsey Russell: Is it a custom build?
Reilly McCue: Yeah. It’s a custom boat, custom aluminum. So, yeah, I can take a good sea but it can also be in aluminum and super light, I can get into some really shallow water to do my flat fishing stuff.
What to Expect When Sea Duck Hunting in New England
When you go sea duck hunting, do you have any kind of blind contraption on there or is that how you hunt?
Ramsey Russell: Well, walk me through the whole thing because we got to climb up a ladder because it’s sitting in the trailer right now. We walked up in it and a lot of decoys in there the way you’ve got your rigs, the most striking feature to me is how it’s like you got a walking platform on both gunnels.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, that’s what I did. I made it so that for fishing, my clients can be up on that gunnel, I add some different fishing decks in the summer and then in the winter that 2ft gunnel has shelf units underneath it. So all my sea duck decoys on long line clips fit underneath in the shelf units and then all the other equipment is in 5 gallon buckets that fit under the shelves too.
Ramsey Russell: That’s amazing. When you go sea duck hunting, do you have any kind of blind contraption on there or is that how you hunt? I mean, it’s a dark boat, I can see it where it blends right in with the rock terrain in the background at the sea duck level. If he’s looking in, it’s going to match the color matches that rugged Maine and New England rocky terrain.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, so that’s one of the common questions I get when guys are first inquiring about my hunts is how do we hunt these things? So my answer is, well, we kind of hunt them 3 different ways, one would be hunting right out of boats which you were just alluding to. We’d put this boat right up against a tidal background, rock background where we’d blend in with the black rocks. Two, would be what I call drop off hunts where I put guys on land and set decoys and I’m just retrieving with the main boat or three, which we seem to be doing more of here the last few years is, hunting out of our big two man layout boats.
Ramsey Russell: And when you take those layout boat, do you trail them behind or?
Reilly McCue: No, goes right in there, just fits right in.
Ramsey Russell: How many clients can you carry out of that boat that size?
Reilly McCue: Up to six, the more common group size is 4 but 4 to 6 is right there.
Ramsey Russell: So 4 guys go in there, plus you and a helper. Sea duck hunting ain’t like going to pitching a bunch of decoys in a little woody hole. I mean, it’s a task.
Reilly McCue: Lot of equipment.
Ramsey Russell: Lot of equipment, a lot of lines to keep sort, a lot of stuff to get out, you got to back up, pull forward, get the line just tight to drop that long line and you need a helper in there.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, but just for example of the size of the equipment, instead of using little, 1, 2, 3 ounce weights to put your decoy in place, I’m putting 10lbs of weight on each side of my long lines. So, buckets of 10lbs weights.
Ramsey Russell: Go out and sea duck hunting, how many decoys? How many lines do you putting out?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, I mean, it depends on how much time we have in the morning to get everything set before shooting time. But I don’t know, I guess probably an average sea duck spread would be 70 to 100 sea ducks out there.
Ramsey Russell: And that’s just what you’ve got on the side, are the floating decoys that are going on long line, what are you doing with these massive sleds you got up here?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, those ones, I mean, some days maybe it’s a little choppier or maybe I know we’re going to be hunting an area that doesn’t have quite as many birds. So I want to try and draw as many birds in as I can and those big sleds V boards that I use, they’re huge and they just draw birds in from a lot longer off.
Ramsey Russell: And when you say huge, how many of those silhouettes do you get out of a standard 4 bait sheet of ply board, 3, 4?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, I think it was 3. Yeah, they’re big.
Ramsey Russell: They are ginormous, they take up a little room, that’s why you need a big boat.
Reilly McCue: That’s right. Not to mention the safety aspect, I mean, we’re playing in New England Waters in December and January, so playing in that boat right there, I just feel so much better. It’s just such a safe rig.
Ramsey Russell: What are the conditions? God, I tell everybody, I don’t care where you go in the world to sea duck hunt allow that you’re going to get weathered out, what is the threshold for sea duck hunting getting weathered out? What are you looking for?
Reilly McCue: I mean, right off the bat, you’ve got to be able to launch that boat without injuring people and injuring equipment, I mean, you got to get that thing off the trailer and then you got to get it back on too. So, I mean, sometimes it’s just, that wind is cranking and you might not want to do that or the team of guys that you’re with that are going to help in that process might not be interested in doing it. So we’re going to go hunt marshes and go hunt black ducks or hunt inland waters and target other stuff.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a great thing about New England is, you do have a plan B, C, D, E, F, G, when things gets sideways here and you don’t go out to hunt sea duck, you’ve got other options.
Reilly McCue: You might have to work for it a little harder, I mean, like a real typical thing if it’s blowing 50, 60 or whatever and we’re going to go try and do a hunt out in a salt marsh, well, somehow you got to get out in that salt marsh. So we’re going to be huffing across the salt marsh with gear and so you got to work for it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it’s not nothing easy about hunting sea duck hunting, is it? Except that they’ll decoy pretty easy.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. There you go.
Ramsey Russell: They’ll decoy easy, they decoy real easy. Well, that’s a heck of a boat you got. Now, let’s talk about this, I don’t know how many decoys you got Reilly, I bet you don’t know how many decoys you got. There are stringers upon stringers upon countless stringers, big, littles, middles, sea duck, puddlers, V boards, I mean, it’s every decoy old and new.
Reilly McCue: Well, you don’t want to get rid of any, right? Can’t have too many. But the other thing I like to do too, about halfway through the season, especially with my drake eiders, it is flop out the ones you used for the first half and put in a nice fresh spread for the guys for the second half.
Ramsey Russell: You paint them every year.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. Every year, February the end of the season. Boom, we’re setting the boat’s going to be out of the shop for a little while and we’re going to set up tables in here and paint all the decoys every year.
Ramsey Russell: So, first half of the season you’re going to run 150-200 of these and midway through the season, swap them out and keep them fresh, keep them nice. Hard on equipment, isn’t it?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, it is. That salt water is just, it’s hard on everything.
Ramsey Russell: It is, isn’t it?
Reilly McCue: Yeah. I mean, look at me.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, it haven’t been kind to you at all. Talk about some of these more interesting decoys you got. And then I’m going to loop back around and ask you about your rigs, I like the way you custom your rig. But I want to hear, tell me about you got some really cool decoys around here.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. I mean, it’s not something that I’ve really gone after having a decoy collection, it’s just over time being in New England, some of them kind of just falling in my lap and my favorites are old L.L Bean cork, black ducks, it’s something we hunted over since I was a little kid. So, every once in a while, Facebook marketplace or just something up on a little auction, a state sale around here, I’ll see that there’s some L.L Beans in there and try to pick up a few. So that’s my favorite of the ones that I have in here.
Exploring a Man Cave of Uncommon Prizes
So I just got this big old box of, I don’t know, there must have been 20 different decoys in it and long story short, a bunch of them were just super hard to find…
Ramsey Russell: You’ve picked up just some other stuff. What do you just rummage around and just happen to walk up and see something cool.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, you have buddies that just know you love duck hunting and decoys and all of a sudden they find out about something and give you a call and say, hey, someone’s getting rid of their decoy spread over here.
Ramsey Russell: Can you talk about those decoys you showed me early in the cabinet?
Reilly McCue: Sure. So one of the little Facebook job that I did, someone had some magnum George Soule just old school cork black duck decoys, went over there, got in touch with the person through messenger, went over there and was in the process of buying them off of this person. And they said, I got an old dusty cardboard box down in my basement with a whole bunch of old decoys, would you mind taking those off my hands for another $100? I said, well, I don’t really know how many decoys I need and they pleaded, I said, well, bring them up, let’s take a look at them. So just got this big old box of, I don’t know, there must have been 20 different decoys in it and long story short, a bunch of them were just super hard to find, Samuel Toothaker golden eye decoys, and just something you don’t see around, it’s a Downeast Maine carver from the earlier parts of the 19th century to mid-19th century and just online, I can barely find any of his decoys and they are just super cool.
Ramsey Russell: No, they’re really nice looking folk arty.
Reilly McCue: And used, I mean, you can see the lead shot that’s in a bunch of them. I mean, this was a spread that was used years ago right here in New England. I mean, that’s the value to me. I mean, just imagining those cold mornings where someone was out there with these little tiny, I mean, they must not have really believed in magnum decoys back then, these things are tiny.
Ramsey Russell: Well, they had to carry them or row them out.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. There you go. Yeah, no, big 250 Suzuki.
Ramsey Russell: When the tide went out, they had to lug them through the mud. I mean, they were tiny decoy.
Reilly McCue: Just a cool part of New England decoy history.
Ramsey Russell: And you’re a decoy carver yourself by necessity because you’re a hunter, I mean, a lot of your rig and I’m looking back to some of your personal rig you’ve modified and carved and done stuff yourself too.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, a little bit. It’s something I could see myself getting into more at some point in time, it’s not something that I – I mean, I’ve got definitely have decoys in my spread that I put together. But as far as having the title of a decoy carver, that’s not something I’d give myself, but there’s plenty of them in my spread that I’ve put together.
Ramsey Russell: Your decoys don’t ever get shot, do they?
Reilly McCue: One thing, day one when I’m kind of giving my little pregame sea duck speech to the guys that I have is, I tell them if a bird crashes in the decoys, don’t worry about my decoys, make sure that bird is dead. And you were just talking to you today about your eider hunt, you did up there in Maine, you found out just how tough these eiders are? So shoot them out of the sky, they land in your decoys and you just got to put the pepper to them and finish the job so they don’t get away. So decoys get hit.
Ramsey Russell: It really doesn’t matter what kind of ammo you’re shooting, you’ve still got to connect the dots. If you hit an eider in the back half, you better keep pumping him. You really got to head shoot them birds good, good and solid, they’re the toughest bird I’ve ever seen and their plumage is like armor.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. You got to really – as an experienced waterfowler when you’re watching a bird get hit and go down, you got a pretty good idea if that thing’s still alive as it’s going down and when you see that a bird’s just kind of hit and going down, you got to stay on that, you can’t get greedy and go for that double. You got to wait for that thing to settle, it’s going to splash kind of go underwater for a second or two. Pop up. Boom. You got to be right on that thing again.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. And I think sea duck hunting takes a lot of getting used to because you’re not just dealing with right and left, you’re dealing with the up and down components too, even on a mild day like today, you’re going up and down a foot or two, it takes a little getting used to, Reilly.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, it sure does. And as a joke, I always tell my clients before they come up to do a little bit of practice on the trampoline.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a great idea. That’s about what it’s like. Today, we were picking up Steve’s decoys and I ain’t saying I did, I ain’t saying I didn’t, it’s possible, Fred said the same thing. Somebody center pattern one of his decoys, man, that’s something. But those eiders and scoters come in just right on the decoys. I mean, they’re eyeball level with those decoys when it’s about time to take a shot. And I like the way I’m looking at your repair table over in the corner, I like the way you bulletproof those decoy.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. First day they get in the garage, I take a 3 quarter inch drill bit, I put a hole right through the head of the decoy and then I put one about halfway down the body and then it’s a 3 or 4 stage process to fill those things up with spray foam and that’s it brand new decoy, I’m going to drill holes in it and fill it full of foam, turn that thing bulletproof.
Ramsey Russell: Thanks to my buddy Steve, we knocked eiders and scoters off a Char dog’s life list today. And well, I tell you what, that ocean, even that protected little Cove, we hunted that’s a real big place for a small little lab. She did great heroic, but I didn’t realize and I guess she didn’t either, she jumped off like she knew what she was doing. But you get that little 1ft ocean wave and she couldn’t see nothing, man. Whistling and hollering out that way and hope she smells it. But that’s a tough play for a little dog, isn’t it?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, it is. I mean, they got to be powerful swimmers too. Some of the currents that we deal with up here, I mean, it’s tough on a dog. If I have clients that really want to bring their dog, I mean, sometimes that’ll kind of dictate where we’re going to go on a given day, some of the places that I hunt there’s just a dog doesn’t make sense, there’s just too much current, too rough.
Ramsey Russell: And of course, if you hunt out of a layout, it makes zero sense and then you’ve got marine life that probably don’t like a little old dog swimming around them.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, I mean, we don’t use dogs enough for me to really verify that seals could be an issue with a dog, but I have seen them in the limited amount of time that I’ve used labs out for sea ducks, we’ve definitely had some seals coming in, nosing around and bumping them. So that’s something to consider.
Black Duck Central
Do you take a lot of your clients, do a lot of the clients that come up here and want to do puddle duck?
Ramsey Russell: You talked about the decoy carver Soule, and I was telling, we were in a conversation the other day because eiders have become to New England, what mallards are to Stuttgart, Arkansas. But to me, the black duck and I think it really goes back to those old L.L Bean style decoys, to me it does, the black duck is really what the – and maybe it’s just my old puddle duck roots. You know what I’m saying? That’s what I like. I think on the one hand, if you’re going to be a species or experienced collector, you’ve got to do the sea duck hunts, you’ve got to put yourself outside of your comfort level into that trampoline environment, into that marine environment, shooting those sea ducks, but at the same time, it’s just ask me what I want to do tomorrow, Reilly, I want to go shoot puddle duck, you all have got some beautiful places up here to do that. Do you take a lot of your clients, do a lot of the clients that come up here and want to do puddle duck?
Reilly McCue: No, not really. I mean, it’s all about those sea ducks. I mean, the time where we do get puddle ducks is when we’re in the salt marshes, hunting black ducks and a group of mallards or gadwalls pitch into the black duck decoys and we end up having a little bit of a puddle duck hunt. But for the most part nowadays, I’m just really focusing on those sea ducks.
Ramsey Russell: We’re in black duck central.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, we are.
Ramsey Russell: People ask all the time, where I need to go to go kill a black duck in New England. Now you kill them, as far west as Pennsylvania, New York, very common bird out there. But man, right here, they just seem to spawn out of the marsh and emanate from here, this is it. I remember one of our former associates telling me one time that the highest mid winter waterfowl count of American black ducks was the Boston metropolitan area.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me, from Boston north up into New Hampshire, it’s called the Great Marsh and it’s the largest contiguous salt marsh this side of, down by, I guess Long Island. So it’s a huge habitat for black ducks to rely on for their wintering is that salt marsh, and it’s pretty special. Those salt marshes are pretty special places for me, for those black ducks.
Ramsey Russell: In addition to duck hunting, a big part of your life and living is fishing, you were talking about earlier with just big boat, does this boat got a name?
Reilly McCue: The Stella Jay, that little Rascal, a little while ago –
Ramsey Russell: Stella Jay, smartest little girl I’ve ever met in my life.
Reilly McCue: I think for me too.
Ramsey Russell: Now, Reilly, I’m just going to remind you, my granddaddy used to always say to train a dog, you got to be smarter than the dog, good luck with your daughter.
Reilly McCue: That’s a tough ask right there.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that is the smartest little girl I’ve ever me, that’s a good name for that boat. But I want to talk about you fishing because I loved it. Like I say, man, you got to go off, you got to check things off your list, I don’t really see myself in that boat sea duck hunting because I’ve sea duck hunting, Char dog, sea duck hunted, I want to go fishing. Tell me about, if I talk my bride into coming up here, she don’t listen to this podcast, so I can say that she’s been jabbering about doing a vacation and I suggested Maine today as I was pulling into your driveway thinking, oh, yeah, Reilly. Reilly catches them big striped bass, we ain’t come up here in duck season, we’re going to come here during fishing season I was thinking, but tell me what time of year and tell me about how you catch these fish?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, it’s June, July, August, September, most of what I’m doing – most parts of the day where I’m finding fish, it’s with my eyes, whether we’re casting at individual stripers or there’s a couple acre blitz going on, a lot of sight fishing, I’m a flats fishing guide but I find myself out on the beach fronts all the time, most of the times we’re targeting these things in 2.5ft to 20ft of water. I do a lot of throwing plastics and big plastics and top water baits, keep the gear as small as possible, 4000 size reels. Then I’ve also got a contingency of clients that come and we fly fish for them with 8 to 10 weights are the common size rods we’re using and just throwing big minnow patterns, big streamer patterns, all stuff that I tie, mimicking all the different baitfish that we have in my area, kind of the epicenter of my striper fishing terrain is Plum Island National or Plum Island Parker River National Wildlife Refuge all around Plum Island and just a fantastic fishery.
Ramsey Russell: What’s a big striped bass?
Reilly McCue: 40lbs, 40lbs is a big one. I mean, I guess it’s how experienced you are. I mean, some guys are a 50 pounder is a big one, some people, a 2 footer is a big one.
Ramsey Russell: But back here behind your shop, here’s what I’m getting at, back here behind your shop, you got a whole bunch of lobster traps and I got to go out and I mean, man, look, I was neck deep for a 48 hour trip, I was neck deep in Maine culture in a very minor short time, we went and Canada goose hunted, we went and looked at black ducks, we went and shot sea ducks, we went and pulled lobster traps.
Reilly McCue: How much fun was that?
Ramsey Russell: Well, I mean, I tell you what, I really kind of thought we might catch one or two and the first trap we pulled up had 7, 6 keepers in it and I’m like, wow, I mean, and it was good and his wife said, oh, we want to leave them all, yeah, there’s no way we’ll eat all these, I’m like, oh, yeah, we will, trust me that is going down and we did. But I said, well, how long is the lobster season? He said, all year long, all year long you can catch lobster. And I think, well, it must be a lot like, shrimp down south, it must be just, but any time you start seeing a sea life like that, you got to figure, well, it must be a food base. Well, what in the heck eats lobsters? And he said, I think stripers eat them, there ain’t no way a striper eats a 1.5lbs lobster, 2lbs lobster.
Reilly McCue: I caught a 34 inch striper a few years back that had 2 and a quarter lobsters in it. So, legal lobsters, the smaller ones you would get on a menu at a restaurant had two of them in it. A 34 incher, it is crazy, I don’t know how that thing got them down.
Ramsey Russell: I just can’t even imagine.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, we get lots of them when I’m cleaning fish at the end of the day, we get lots of them depending on where we’re fishing, that’ll have little 10, 12 inch lobsters in its belly. But that one that had those two chick lobsters in it, man, that’s something else.
Fishing During the Off-Season
Because it opened up my world, I learned something, but it’s almost like, you’re a great duck hunting guide, but I think it almost looks like your passion is fishing. Personal passion.
Ramsey Russell: So when I look around you museum here, your shop, Reilly, you’ve got a lot of fishing gear here and a lot of duck hunting gear here. But you’ve got a – where some people have a tackle box, you got a tackle wall and I mean, it almost makes me wonder and like this whole station next to us is, fly tying, which we’re fixing to talk about. Because it opened up my world, I learned something, but it’s almost like, you’re a great duck hunting guide, but I think it almost looks like your passion is fishing. Personal passion.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, I guess, it just depends on what time of the year it is.
Ramsey Russell: Did you grow up fishing with your dad too?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, you bet.
Ramsey Russell: For stripers?
Reilly McCue: When I was a kid we barely had any stripers, it was a dream in our salt marshes to go out there and catch a striper.
Ramsey Russell: Well, then what were you all fishing for?
Reilly McCue: We’d go out for stripers and there weren’t any. So we’d settle for second best flounder fish. So that was the other little inshore game that you can get into pretty nicely up here and good eating fish. So, yeah, we grew up fishing, I mean, this garage is New England hunting and fishing, it’s got it all in here, everything you need from catching a little tiny brook trout in a mountain stream up in Vermont to going out and catching giant bluefin tuna right out here off of one of our underwater mountain ranges out front.
Ramsey Russell: Do you fish for that too?
Reilly McCue: I don’t very much, but I have, but I don’t go out for them very often. I’ve got a few under my belt but I haven’t really put the time to take that full on.
Ramsey Russell: You got a lot of irons in the fire, that’s for sure. How did you get into fly fishing? I mean, fly tying because a lot of folks fly ties, but this is a whole another level, Reilly, this is a whole another level on a lot of different levels. How did you get into it for starts?
Reilly McCue: Well, I think it started like a lot of my little interests that I have in the outdoors. I had a little book and saw flies in there, no one in my family history had ever fly fished and I took a hook and I went down into the basement and my dad’s little workshop and I put the hook in a big old vice and I started wrapping some of our dog hair on that hook.
Ramsey Russell: How long ago would that have been, when you were a little boy?
Reilly McCue: Little boy. So it was back in the early 80s and I just started tying flies. Mom and dad saw that and one Christmas, I got a little fly tying kit and I got another book, I tied every fly in that book and I just started going, just started going and going, getting different books of some of the old fly tying masters, Lee Wolf and lots of other guys and gals and just self taught, how to do it and everything and it was just started flying, I didn’t know how to fly fish yet, I started tying flies before I had a fly rod. So that was another Christmas, I got a nice, my first Fenwick fly rod.
Ramsey Russell: You still got it?
Reilly McCue: Oh, yeah. And it’s been broken a few times and then sent back and repaired, but I still got it. And then mom and dad got into fly fishing and that ended up being their passion together in life as a couple, traveled all over the world to catch taimen in Mongolia to Christmas Island, bone fishing to Patagonia, up to Alaska. My brother’s this summer, well, his whole adult life, he’s been a bush pilot in Alaska this summer, he worked at a fly fishing lodge in Alaska. So the whole fly fishing really took off in our family just from that one hook, I put in a vice and started tying some of our yellow lab Shawn’s fur onto that hook and became part of our family tradition as outdoorsmen.
Ramsey Russell: You come a long ways since you tied your dog’s hair onto a hook, talk about these patterns you are tying right now because you told me, well, I’m going over here, I’m going to tie all the pattern, she tied, I’m going to do all this. And then you said something about duck species and it’s just like, when I walked over because I knew you’d gotten into duck taxidermy as a hobby more or less. And so when I saw these ducks hanging up, these partially taxidermy ducks, I didn’t realize that was your feathers, I mean, that’s amazing.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, those are all feathers for my personal flies. So I took on a project, some of the most iconic flies in the world were tied by a lady named Carry Stevens. She was from Maine, she was originally a milliner, I believe that’s the right term where she used feathers, put feathers back in the old days where all this plumage of birds was the fad on women’s hats, her husband meantime was a fishing guide. Well, at some point, he introduced her to fly tying and said I need someone to tie flies from my clientele. So Carry Stevens started tying flies, came up with patterns of her own, which now include the Gray Ghost, I mean, one of the most, arguably the most famous streamer fly in the world. Well, over the course of her fly tying career and profession, she developed, I don’t know, 120 and 140 different types of streamer flies and that’s what I’m working on right now is tying each of her flies and then framing them, putting them in a big shadow box and having that be part of what you’re calling my museum.
Ramsey Russell: But they would be each pattern, each streamer pattern must have an application.
Reilly McCue: Well, it’s arguable. Some of them were truly tied to mimic baitfish and to catch fish and people are thinking maybe some of them were tied to attract fishermen. Different colors and stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Like modern day bait.
Reilly McCue: Exactly. So some of them were really the real deal, some of them who knows, they had different concepts of fish’s vision back then, so some of the color thing ideas we have today that we know how fish sea didn’t necessarily apply back during Carry’s time. So, yeah, that’s been a fantastic project and it’s another layer to my duck hunting.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the other project you’re working on that involves, a lot of waterfowl species that you – I mean, you were showing me, you’ve got all these, I call them museum trays.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, that’s what they are. Cornell trays for –
Ramsey Russell: Cornell tray, yeah. And like, if I was at Smithsonian and walked up and started pulling out collections as something would be in there and you’ve got another one that’s got, you were showing me hooded merganser and I think I saw a gadwall, I saw a guinea fowl, I mean, where’s that going?
Reilly McCue: Well, so another one and it’s in its infancy at this point, but I’m going to tie a streamer fly that utilizes the feathers of all the different waterfowl species in North America and it’s just one I’m kind of getting going. But that’s just another reason for me to, instead of just using the meat from a duck that I shoot, I’m also preserving the skins and all the feathers to work on this little personal collection of mine. So, yeah. Good time.
A Collector’s Mentality
I mean, this your shop, your man cave, your museum is a New England experienced collectors…
Ramsey Russell: Where did you get this collection mentality? I mean, this your shop, your man cave, your museum is a New England experienced collectors, what do you call them folks, don’t throw stuff away, hoarders, keep sake.
Reilly McCue: If you talk to my better half, she would say that for an answer.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what this is, Reilly. It’s like, every little trail, every little ravel involves New England hunting and fishing is unravels right here, where did you get that bug, do you think? Probably the same thing that led you into biology and wildlife, the whole systematic thing.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, I mean, it’s the connectivity of everything that I’m really interested in studying, my science mind. But going back to my dad too and looking at all his –
Ramsey Russell: What did he collect?
Reilly McCue: Well, just his gear, just looking at his stuff over time and putting together my own stuff. I guess to answer your question, one thing, dad was a big Ducks Unlimited guy, so we always had collections of prints, waterfowl art, so that had an impact on me for sure. But yeah, just time, I’m doing it all here in New England and it’s like there’s tools for the trade for all these different layers of hunting and fishing here in New England, so you got to have the gear for it.
Ramsey Russell: I showed up starving, I had a clam chowder, you got lobster traps out back, you’ve got the fishing and the waterfowl and then some all up in here, I mean, we didn’t talk about the reloading stuff over here and all these experiments you got going in the firearm world. What about the food base? Clams, lobsters, what else? What else are you all into? There’s got to be a culinary side to all this, I’m just guessing.
Reilly McCue: I mean, it’s the same thing, I mean, you can go forward for the mushrooms and all that and then, first couple of weeks of May, people go out and look for the morels and it’s all of it, that’s one of the beauties of New England is the seasons. I can’t imagine living some place without seasons, there’s just so many environmental cues that put you into that next season and tell you this is what you’re supposed to do. It’s whether it’s the spring peepers get going and guess what? It’s time to get those turkey decoys out, get the tight choke into the gun and it’s turkey season. I go down to the coast and I hear the common turn or the roseate turn. Boom. I know the stripers are in or middle of October, I hear geese going south, it’s like all of a sudden there’s these different environmental queues, smells that just put you into that next season and it’s time to roll that garage around a little and get different gear up to the front of it and it’s time to do that.
Ramsey Russell: Last collection, I want to ask you about, we had time to cover it all. But I just find it fascinating, the first time I walked in your home you had head tall stacks all over your den of these Cornell trays full of a certain moth. Now, look, I got like a homemade little something another like that about half the size of one of yours with the butterflies of Mississippi, this is a whole another level again. Tell me about these moths and your fascination with them and where it’s going to go beyond, just, hey, I got all these pretty moths to look at.
Reilly McCue: Sure. Well, originally I got the idea in my head from a summer camp, I used to go to an all boys camp, they had an incredible nature program and one of the occupations you could do was insect collecting. I never did it, I was more of a jock back then, but that seed got planted. And at one point or another I saw one of the moths that was a real trophy at that summer camp, it was an under wing moth in the Catocala genus and I saw one here at my house in New Hampshire and I said, man, I go, that’s one of those under wings. And I said, you know what, I’m going to get a light to try and bring some of those things in. So I did the research and you have 365 to 400 nanometer wavelengths of light, okay, so I got the right bulbs got a little bit of equipment and lo and behold right here in my backyard was this under wing Mecca. In the first year I collected 36 different species of under wings in that genus, the Catocala genus right in my backyard, including a couple of New Hampshire firsts. So, I just started going and that became part of my summer gig, I would put lights on a timer, go to bed early, wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning to go do a Striper gig and I would go out and check my lights and see what kind of insects I had underneath them. Before I went to go do my Striper Charter and if it was something I was interested in collecting, which would be preserving them with their wings spread out all on a scientific routine and then dry them and then a little technical difficulty, there we go. Thank you, sir. And then put on a scientific tag, put them in these drawers, I’m making a legit scientific collection of insects from here in New Hampshire. So a database of life here in New Hampshire that can eventually be donated to a museum. And again, I guess going back to my hoarding mindset, I just got a little carried away with some of the different geniuses that I really liked. But again, back to the whole kind of my science viewpoints and the connectivity and really focusing on how everything links together, that’s what guides are doing, we’re trying to put together the big picture to narrow down where these different species of critters live, whether it’s stripe bass or lobster or these sea ducks that we’re after. So the insects really gave me a whole another level and appreciation for the connectivity of what we’ve got going on here in New England. As I dove in deeper and deeper into especially the moths, I found that many of these species of moths I was seeing had one plant that they were reliant on for their entire life cycle. So finding a moth – and then I started taking my lights and bringing them to different areas, studying different landscapes with these lights.
Ramsey Russell: Same thing you do with duck hunting, same thing you do with fishing.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, that’s it. And by finding these insects, it was telling me what plant species were in this area without me ever even taking a step into the woods. And then those plant species rely on a certain soil type and the insects really just completed the puzzle in a lot of ways for me linking everything together. And then, well, you say, well, what good is that? What kind of application does that have as a duck hunter as a fishing guide? Well, here’s a good one, right in this box, right here, Ramsey, there’s a member of Sphingidae family, the Sphinx family, the Hydrangea Sphinx. Well, if you’re setting up your moth lights next to a swamp and you see the Hydrangea Sphinx that tells you that that swamp is loaded with button bush, button bush to me is a nightmare for duck hunting, it’s a waiter killer. One out of three men enter a swamp with button bush and they’re going to come out with leaky waiters, don’t quote me on those numbers. So it’s just kind of fun, you can use these insects to tell you everything else that’s out there around you.
Ramsey Russell: I love these kind of conversations Reilly. And, I know, a lot of people listening like, what in the heck are we talking about moths for. It’s like Mr. Gene Campbell, one of my great friends down in Texas. He’s a lot like yourself, it’s not moth, it’s birds, songbirds, wading birds, hummingbird, shorebirds, plants, the water cycle of managing moist soil management and the waterfowl and probably more, but it’s this whole ebb and flow of, like one of the little dioramas or one of the little pictures you see in school about there’s the landscape and you got the stuff in the sky, the stuff on the land, the stuff below the soil below the water, that whole ecological ecosystem, it’s all feeding into each other, ebb and flow, it’s like, I’m a duck hunter man, I’m a duck hunter, boom duck, but the more I know about the plants they’re eating, the more I know about what’s eating those plants, the more I know about what else we get you, the more I can complete that whole circle, the better duck hunter I am. And so that’s why I find your collection is so interesting because sea duck hunting, the fish and they both have common prey base. You know what I’m saying? Now, we’re going up here, I just see that the kind of duck hunter that you are the kind of duck hunter Mr. Gene is, is a lot higher level than what I am and I should aspire to be that level, that’s why I find it so interesting.
Reilly McCue: Well, I appreciate it.
Quality vs. Quantity to Preserve Waterfowl Hunting
…let’s shoot what we need for our collections and leave the rest for the next guy.
Ramsey Russell: Change the subject. Let’s talk about sea duck, let’s talk about the upcoming season, I really kind of would have expected you would have been hunting by now.
Reilly McCue: Yeah. Well, it’s been a trend that’s been going on for quite a while when I started my career 20 some years ago, we had 107 days I believe to hunt sea ducks here in New England. And this year up and down the Atlantic coast, they combined sea ducks with our regular waterfowl limits, there’s no longer a separate sea duck limit. And along with that, our sea ducks season goes with the same 60 day season that your respective state gives for waterfowl. So, what that did this year, there’s a 7 day season in mid-October that we typically would hunt puddle ducks, wood ducks, teal some of our earlier birds that are on their way out. Well, this year, those 7 days are also going to count, also did count for our sea duck dates. So, really what we got now is 53 days to hunt sea ducks at least in Massachusetts where I am, that’s going to run from December 1st, till the end of January.
Ramsey Russell: So, the season used to run like from when, October 1st to January 31st continuously? And back in those days because I was meeting with a decoy carver over Maine the other day who used to be a guide and Mr. Steve was saying that, gosh, the limit was 7 eiders, 7 sea ducks and if I’m not mistaken, was that a good old day? And he didn’t say this, I’m saying this is, was there a time in history that I could go out and shoot 7 sea ducks and whatever puddle ducks too?
Reilly McCue: That’s correct, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And so now it’s just how many, like what? So my days are small, my number of days are smaller, my bag limits are much smaller, like I know today, we could shoot 4 eiders, please don’t shoot the hens but the Mulligan of one but 4 sea ducks in aggregate.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, only 3 of which can be –
Ramsey Russell: 3 eiders, one Mulligan hen, but 4 sea ducks totally, mix and match them all.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, they got it broken up into three categories for sea ducks, eiders, old squaw and scoters, 4 total, only 3 of which can be from any of those categories, one of those categories.
Ramsey Russell: So I could shoot 3 old squaws, 1 eider, 3 eiders, 1 old squaw, mix and match any way I want to not to exceed 4.
Reilly McCue: That’s correct.
Ramsey Russell: What’s going on? Where do you think this is coming from?
Reilly McCue: Well, just from my own experience being out there all season, I mean, I started already recommending to my clients years ago, hey, this isn’t about shooting limits and these things, let’s shoot what we need for our collections and leave the rest for the next guy. We’ve been watching numbers go down for a long time for years and years, so in my ball, we started doing that a while ago, what do guys need to shoot 4, 5, 6, 7 birds that, let’s face it, they’re not the best eating birds. You need what, 2, 3, 4 to mount for your collection? Most guys want maybe a pair. So I was just flat out sick of it. There was no reason why I could – we were wasting or the end of a 3 day trip, I’d have a group of guys not knowing what they were going to do with all their birds that they got on the trip. So put me in a situation. So that was it, we just started really fine tuning our mentality on why we’re doing this and then also having the background of me seeing the bird numbers reducing year in and year out.
Ramsey Russell: You could see the difference declining.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: You bring up a good point about and it just getting to the quality versus quantity. I heard a conversation, I don’t know recently about a man, telling, man I can shoot 15 king eider, I’m like, why? I mean, a few Inuits eat eiders, well, but most of us don’t, most of the guys I know they’ve gone out to King eider, they want one drake, a pair and I’ve been gifted a lot over the years from guys that did shoot their limit and gifted the two they didn’t want to mount. So kind of sort of, what’s the point? It’s easier for me to watch those Atlantic harlequins today because I’ve shot 4 harlequins mounted them. What do I need another harlequin for? It takes it to another level, right? And like today Steve was in the middle with a pair of binoculars and as bird were coming in, especially in low light, hen, drake, he would look out just so we would have a great identification of what we were looking at. And we did shoot few hen scoter, one hen eider, but the rest were drake and as it got light, it was very easy to see those drake black scoters which are gorgeous, I don’t know, how I saw a black bird with that little yellow bump is so good looking, but it is, it’s a good looking bird. But what’s the point in shooting the other bird, unless you want a pair for mounting or something? Really, what’s the point? Now, we’ll say this about table fare. Mr. Steve over in Maine said matter of factly, that common eider was the best eating duck in Maine. But he qualified that statement with you can’t freeze them, he said, countless of the client didn’t want those excess birds, he said, I take them, take them home and he said, you filet them and you cook them in a skillet and the minute you see the blood kind of coming out the side, boom, they’re done. Now you put them in the skillet and you see that blood come out the top, they’re done, those juice run, he said, you take them out and you cut them right down and eat them, he said that’s a fine eating bird, it has ever existed, I find it hard to believe now, but I am going to try it.
Reilly McCue: Put a couple of wood ducks next to that breast, we’ll see.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what Steve said. He said, I’ll take it over anything else in the state of Maine. And I know I talked to some associates up in Newfoundland.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, they love them up there.
Are Waterfowl Numbers Declining in New England?
What about the food base? Are you seeing anything going on with the scale –
Ramsey Russell: They want the eiders. And I said, how do you cook it? And he said, when you get up here, I’ll show you, we’re going to pluck it, pot, roast it, son and he said, I promise you you’ll get sick because I said, I’ll try anything once. But still it is getting to that quality. Why do you think sea ducks here in New England are declining? I mean, I know you haven’t done a lot of research on it, but you’ve been out there observing a lot, what are your thoughts? Why are these birds declining?
Reilly McCue: Well, one thing I can tell you that I do know is because I’ve seen it. I volunteer to help out and do all the eider banding in Massachusetts and there’ll be an eider nest on an island 10ft away from a great black backed gull nest. Great black back gulls are the number one predator of eiders, nothing else. So there’s an overlap of breeding habitat between eiders and some of the larger predatory gulls. I wasn’t around back in the day, has that been the case all along? I don’t know, I can tell you right now, it doesn’t make sense to me. So, potentially something’s happened where –
Ramsey Russell: What about the food base? Are you seeing anything going on with the scale –
Reilly McCue: Yeah, just from reading. I mean, I’ve read some different researches on our native mussels. There’s some studies they’ve done on mussel beds up in Maine where 1000 acre muscle bed is down to 1%, that’s the main food for riders. So, to me, well, what’s going to do that? Well, there’s a Eurasian green crab that’s in our waters now, and they can specialize in eating what is called the seed. When tiny clams and mussels are not even a quarter inch, long they’ll crush them and then suck all the protein and fat out of them. And so potentially those crabs are what’s decimating somewhere on mussel beds. But I don’t know, I mean, a population decline that’s been as drastic, as our eiders, there’s got to be multiple factors involved. This year, a lot of our birds that we get here in northern New England, they’re nesting up in the Saint Lawrence, well, avian bird flew tore through that place.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard it in Connecticut, I got an email from the state waterfowl biologist, I’ve also heard that a lot of the license holders and stuff were notified from Maine, please don’t shoot the hen eiders.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, make sense to me.
Ramsey Russell: By all means shoot one, but please don’t because I heard they really got kicked in the cojones over bird flu.
Reilly McCue: Yeah, we’ll see what comes down here another couple of weeks and see what we’re dealing with. But again these things, they nest in remote places a lot of times away from people, so it’s hard to quantify this stuff, what’s happening? All we know for sure is that their numbers are going down. So from my end, protecting my livelihood and protecting a resource that I love and respect in these eiders, I just try to make, what I think are smart decisions on how we use them as hunters and how we approach what we want to do on a given day for how many birds we’re going to take of a certain species. With that being said, I’m never going to argue with my clients if they say, hey, we got limits, we want to shoot our limits and then, hey, that’s up to you.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s what they’re there for, of course. But Reilly really and truly, most of the people I’ve talked to – because you’re a U.S Huntlist outfitter, most of the clients, I’ve talked to that end up coming up here and booking a trip and hunting with you and going home with ice chest load of birds, that’s what they’re up here for. They’re here because as we talked earlier, you can hit a lot of different cadres, I can get a pair, I can get two, I can get one. If I shoot one is, he’s spectacular, well, what’s another one going to do unless I’m going to mount him. But then again, if I do shoot a gray mantled eider, boom because they’re very hard to tell when they’re coming in, flapped out, looking at you and you can’t see their nape boom, I can get another one. But that really is kind of – and it dawned on me as we were talking, what a great guy to come and build your collection with a collector like Reilly McCue, who collect everything in New England. So it is, it’s a lot to do, you don’t have to, I mean, you only get 4 sea ducks, man, go for the gold. It’s not to say there’s not any birds out here, there’s plenty of opportunity, I saw just about every species you named in the sea duck world today and in a very short hunt because we targeted eiders, shot a few scoter –
Reilly McCue: You got white wings too, didn’t you today?
Ramsey Russell: Shot a white wing, saw some white wings, saw some old squaw, saw some harlequins which is just you get to see them and that’s cool enough itself, the eiders, white wing and black scoters. Where are the surf scoter?
Reilly McCue: Yeah, they’re around. We have them, there’s different parts of the coast where I hunt in the north shore of Massachusetts where it’s kind of like, that’s where they like to go. A lot of times it’s sand, sand bottom or a mud bottom. I’m not exactly sure what they definitely seem like, they have potentially a little different food requirement than some of the other ones, at least up by me. I know different parts of the coastline, they’re mixed in with the blacks and with the white wings. But for me, they’re a little bit more picky, sometimes they’ll have their own little spots that they like to hang out at, I’ll have a winter where we’ll have scattered surf scoter all through the coastline, but then I’ll have a couple of hunting holes, it’s like, wow, look at all those surf scoter. So I don’t know, why they weren’t up. But you didn’t see any of them today?
Ramsey Russell: Steve said, he saw a small flock come outside the decoys but I didn’t see the bright beak. He saw something about their facial feature that told him. The white wings are very distinctive. Obviously the white on their wing the commons are, the black are very distinctive with the yellow bills, I didn’t see the bills on the – I didn’t see any of the bright bills of the skunk heads.
Reilly McCue: They could have – I don’t know what happened up in Canada, in the Boreal forest where they’re nesting. But sometimes if their first nest attempt fails, we’ll have a little bit of a stagger, they had to re nest and then boom, all of a sudden, we’ll start getting waves a little bit later for a given species if they had a little tougher time, so I don’t know.
Ramsey Russell: How are the brant doing down here?
Reilly McCue: My traditional brant grounds, it’s changed. It used to be mid-October boom, there was a ton of brant there already, seems like for me, it’s been a little later, it seems like I have more birds the last 4 or 5 years just later. I used to like my earlier brant dates, now I really like my later January brant hunts just seems like we got more of them. So I’m thinking it’s birds that are didn’t necessarily winter right in my area, but ones that are already starting to come back up the coastline on their way north again, that’s all I can think I did get a client got a cool one last year that had, it was triple banded with a backpack unit on it.
Ramsey Russell: What research project would that have been related to?
Reilly McCue: I can’t remember, it was down in Jersey, it was one that was banded in Jersey, so I’m not sure who the biologist was that did that. But it was nice, I got to get all the way points, all the data points for that bird for 2 months in my hunting area. So for a guide, that’s some pretty good intel, yeah, it was pretty neat to see.
Ramsey Russell: What have we got planned tomorrow? Because I told you, I said, man, last time I was here, given everything we could do in New England, I said, Reilly, I just want to go shoot a few puddle ducks. I want to get off the beaten path from New England and that’s what we did. We got in a canoe, the foliage was spectacular –
Reilly McCue: Wood duck jumping out of a canoe.
Ramsey Russell: Wood ducks, black ducks, mallards, it was amazing. I loved every bit of it and I got to see something way off the beaten path. What do have we got planned tomorrow?
Reilly McCue: Well, the only thing that’s open for this trip of yours was Central Massachusetts. So it’s an area that I don’t hunt very often, so it was kind of a fun opportunity for me for the last 3 days to go scout some new ground. So did a lot of satellite work, did a lot of mapping and Googling started tearing up some different WMAs with water and found one that had some birds, there’s not a lot of birds around right now, but we had some mallards and some wood ducks and a couple of black ducks, where two nice wetlands come together and the kind of the pinch point little connector for these two wetlands, we’re going to set up where I found some birds today right close to that pinch. So hopefully we’re going to get them to decoy right in. But being in that pinch, it’s only 40 yards across this nice little duck highway canal connecting these two little wetlands, so there’ll be some chances for pass shooting any wood ducks that are flying around in there, they’re going to come right through that pinch and even if they don’t want anything to do with the decoys, we’re going to have some nice opportunities. Got about a half mile walk in through a beautiful New England hardwood forest. And yeah, it should be a nice little morning out there. This morning out scouting, we had that full lunar eclipse, that was pretty fun, that was a nice way to start the morning.
Ramsey Russell: Man, and when we got to the boat ramp this morning, it looked like a card cheat little nick on this card just barely starting. And by the time we were getting settled in and anchor the boat down, it was blood red, that was amazing.
Reilly McCue: That was fun.
Ramsey Russell: And shooting stars galore. Wow, it was just a very memorable morning, I’m looking forward to it. Reilly as always I love coming up here and visiting with you and touring your growing museum.
Reilly McCue: Well, I appreciate it, Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: And folks, you all have been listening to my buddy Reilly McCue, Reilly, real quick, tell everybody how they can get in touch with you. I know they can go to ushuntlist.com and look at New England. But how can they can connect directly to you?
Reilly McCue: Well, kind of the one forum that I’ve been a little bit active on and my love cyber world activity is on Instagram. So that’s just at my full name at Reilly McCue. Well, thanks again Ramsey, appreciate it.
Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Reilly. Folks, go to ushuntlist.com. Check out the New England sea duck hunt. I know a lot of you all love to collect experiences, love to collect species and who better than the collector of all collectors hoarders almost to collect new English species with then my buddy Reilly McCue. Thank you all for listening to episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.