BRUNSWICK — In the predawn darkness, as Krystal and Brett Johnson looked from the motorboat where they sat in Quahog Bay to the kayaks floating 30 feet apart from which they would hunt, the Minnesota couple considered how isolated and far apart they would be.

“This is not the Love Boat,” quipped Maine Guide Mike Andreotti.

Four hours later, after the two millennials and avid hunters bagged seven sea ducks between them, they were joking and grinning. Krystal gave Andreotti a thumbs-up when he motored past to retreive a long-tailed duck she shot. Then she posted photos of the snowy Maine coast on Instagram.

Sea duck hunts are coveted by hunters from across the country who come to Maine in winter to hunt from rock ledges or low-lying boats in pursuit of birds that summer in the Arctic.

Sea ducks can be hunted in other states along the Atlantic flyway and are harvested in greater numbers elsewhere. For example, the harvest of long-tails in 2017 was 8,200 in New York and 5,500 in Virginia, compared to 1,700 in Maine, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

However, Andreotti, the owner of Thornehead Guide Service, said about 85 percent of his clients are first-time sea duck hunters who come for this bucket-list hunt that is more rugged in Maine, where the climate is colder.

Maine’s sea duck hunt is held from mid-November to mid-January, when sea ducks like scoters and long-tailed ducks migrate to Maine from Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, where the birds summer.

But Andreotti said the hunt in Maine is about the experience as much as the sought-after species.

“There are some places with more birds to hunt, but many times they involve a city skyline, crowded areas and a less desirable tourist destination,” Andreotti said. “My clients love it here because we seldom see another hunter, have ample birds to hunt and people adore visiting Maine. There just are not that many folks hunting sea ducks in Maine as compared to heavily populated states like New York or Maryland.”

Sea duck hunting is completely different from hunting regular ducks.

To start with, Andreotti isn’t standing beside his hunters in a boat or a blind. And when hunting from Andreotti’s layout boats, hunters aren’t even standing, but lying flat in the kayak-like crafts.

To sea duck hunt you need a boat or a dog to retrieve the ducks. As a result of the gear-intensive nature of the sport and the frigid time of year it occurs in, not many hunters pursue it and not many guides offer it.

Last winter there were 1,300 hunters of sea ducks in Maine, 1,400 in Massachusetts, 1,400 in New York and 3,100 in Maryland, according to USFW.

Capt. Dave Pecci, director of the Maine Association of Charterboat Captains, thinks about two dozen charter captains guide for sea ducks, which is a fraction of the roughly 5,000 Registered Maine Guides.

But then, it’s an inherently dangerous sport.

Last December six hunters from Michigan were stranded on a ledge in Lynn Harbor, Massachusetts, when the engine of the charter boat they had hired died

They waited several hours for the marine patrol to rescue them.

Andreotti said this isn’t unheard of.

“I do everything by the book,” said Andreotti, a retired Brunswick police detective. “And I make that clear to clients.”

When Andreotti met the Johnsons at 4:30 a.m. two weeks ago in Brunswick, they drove 20 minutes to the coast where they geared up in darkness with the temperature near 10 degrees.

Then they waded into the ocean to Andreotti’s motorboat and took it a quarter- mile to a spot where the guide said ducks would come in to feed at sunrise. With Brett he hoisted two 100-pound layout boats out of kayak racks and set them in the bay on anchors. Then, after the two hunters climbed into the tiny crafts, Andreotti set out hand-painted duck decoys.

The Johnsons were ready to hunt at 6:10 a.m., a half- hour before legal hunting.

“I like to get here early so we have time to adjust,” Andreotti said.

Two days earlier the Johnsons stood together at dawn on a rock ledge in a snowstorm, with the wind blowing at 25 mph, waiting to start their first sea duck hunt.

In the end they loved every moment of the hunt.

Krystal, 29, is an avid deer hunter and Brett, 30, loves duck hunting. So for Brett’s 30th birthday his wife got him the Maine hunt. The trip cost $3,300 for two days of guided hunting and four nights’ lodging, an extravagance for the Johnsons. But they said it was worth it.

“It is the best adventure we’ve ever had. We can’t stop talking about it,” Krystal said. “The scenery was beautiful. It made us want to move to Maine.”

Within an hour after legal hunting, flocks of ducks landed in front of the Johnsons. Each time one of them shot a duck, Andreotti motored over to get the bird. After four hours of hunting the couple was ready to drive the 23 hours home to Minnesota, but hoped they’d return.

“If I could afford it, I would sea duck hunt in Maine every year,” Brett said.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.