From Colonial times, the Susquehanna Flats (head of the Chesapeake Bay) and the Bush River and Gunpowder River necks and Spesutia Narrows/Island were famous for their duck shooting, and wealthy sportsmen came from all over the country for canvasback and redhead shooting from sinkboxes or blinds.
THE OLD DAYS ON THE SUSQUEHANNA FLATS IN 1894 AS REPORTED IN THE BALTIMORE SUN
It is worth while going for a day’s outing on the Susquehanna flats, even if, the morning does break too calmly, and if when the wind comes it does blow too hard or too easy or from the wrong quarter for duck killing. It’s worth while going there, even if the ducks won’t decoy, or won’t fly right, or won’t dart when you want ’em to. In a word, it’s worth while going there if you can’t get ducks, for you can sit in the cozy cabin of one of the big, roomy, light-draught, scow-built boats, and you can brew and sip hot rye and sit with your shoes off in one of the luxurious cabins and hear stories of how ten, twenty, yea, even forty years ago a party could go out and “bag enough canvasbacks, sir, to sink this craft, sir, by gum; and mind you, I’m talking to you!”
Then the next man starts out with a sweep of his hand, indicating the direction of the “battery.”
“Twelve years ago over there, north of the battery—here you hear the distant report of a gun and go on deck to see who has been lucky enough to get a bird within reach, and when you return to the cabin you hear the conclusion of the story in these words:
“Yes,-sir! Three hundred and thirty-seven in that one day, sir, and not a blackhead nor a common duck among ’em.”
The 10,000 acres of celery flats at Havre do Grace were filled with ducks Monday. One hundred of the birds were blackheads and the rest were decoys. The blackheads as a general rule refused to come and get shot. The decoys didn’t mind at all, but there is little demand for decoys this season, and the gunners wouldn’t shoot them.
The day opened unfavorably. There was nearly a dead calm at sunrise and just before it. So still was the air that the morning mists hung like a floating mass of thistledown over the broad river, and from any of the yachts the visitor could plainly hear two boats’ crews a third of a mile away pleasantly cursing each other for getting too close together.
As the sun rose and threw a breastplate of gold upon the bosom of the waters and turned the mists of morning into a rosy glow, white puffs of smoke burst forth upon the horizon, followed later by the reports or the ducking guns, and the echoes went rattling and growling and grumbling around among the surrounding bluffs. But the shooting gradually ceases, and at last stops altogether.
“What we need,” says Captain Billy, of the craft, “is a good nor’wester. That’ll drive the birds in from the bay.”
Then there’s a puff and a flutter on the river’s surface. A brown patch skims along and shows a flaw of wind. Next come the ripples, then wavelets, then a dashing of spray and lively white-capped waves.
“There’s your nor’wester, Captain.”
“Right you are. Here men, two of you go off in the small boat and take up the decoys. I’ll head the good ship Glycerine down upon you and take the sink-box and the rest of the outfit aboard.
“We’ll go into calm water and wait for them ducks.”
Quarters are changed. One by one the gunners lie for ducks in the sink-box, while the rest lie on board the Glycerine. All hands are waiting. The man in the sink-box, an eighth of a mile away, gets tired of seeing nothing and waves his hand for somebody to take his place and wait.
Then the growling gunner suggests, “I guess we’re waiting for those ducks to die a natural death.”
But the jolly gunner says “Tennyson” and quotes:
“The red rose cries: ‘She is near, she is near’;
“And the white rose weeps: ‘She is late’;
“The larkspur listens, ‘I hear. I hear’;
“And the lily whispers: ‘I wait.’”
The thirsty gunner cries: “Oh, let’s take a drink.”