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Seil finishes duck collection

By Staff | Feb 14, 2014

John Seil pictured with the red-breasted merganser he shot in January in Massachusetts, near the mouth of the Merrimack River.

It only took 14 years, but John Seil has officially shot at least one of every species of huntable duck in North America. Seil says that he has shot species that even ardent waterfowlers in the area have never seen, let alone shot at.

Seil, a Pierce County native who grew up five miles east and two miles south of Rugby, traveled for miles across North America on his hunts, and neither the threat of a tsunami, high waters, or a battle with cancer were enough to bring him down. He is the son of the late John and Lila Seil, and the youngest of five kids.

His collection began with a red-headed drake he shot near Williston. From there, Seil said, he was “captivated.” The last duck he added to his collection was shot in January in Massachusetts. It was a red-breasted merganser, or what he calls a “devilbird” because it eluded him for years. His travels took him to St. Paul Island, near the Bering Sea, up the Puget Sound, the Florida Everglades, and even in Mexico-where he shot birds in sight of Border Patrol agents.

“I never knew how it was going to progress,” Seil said.

Seil has noticed the slight differences in hunting between North Dakota and other states, particularly in regulation.

A drake eider and a hen eider are just a couple of ducks in Seil’s collection. Seil shot them in Penobscot Bay, Maine.

“Generally, North Dakota is more open than other states,” Seil said. “In North Dakota you can have a gun in your car. In other states you can’t have shells in your magazine. In Massachusetts if you’re going to have a gun in your vehicle it has to be in a case.”

Seil also said that compared to North Dakota and other states, Mexico’s bird hunting regulations are pretty much wide open. In Mexico, if someone can afford to hunt, he could shoot 20 birds with lead shot. But, Seil added that more birds are killed in season openers in the U.S. than in Mexico. He also said that some states allow hunters to shoot ducks from a non-anchored boat. In North Dakota, boats have to be anchored.

For his hunts, Seil has quite the toolbox at his disposal. He relied on his trusty Beretta autoloader, which he has used since the first bird in his collection. He considers the discontinued Remington Wingmaster HD shells to be the “best ammo ever made”. Seil stresses the importance of not scrimping on equipment (particularly that which keeps one warm and dry), studying up and preparing mentally, and mitigating risks with common sense. But he said the most important tool one can have is the “extreme desire to achieve, and the physical tools to do it.”

Seil had some memorable hunts over his 14-year quest. One such hunt took place on Kodiak Island, in Alaska, when the waters had what he calls “strange dynamics”. He and his party encountered waves that were 10 to 15 feet high.

A second memorable hunt for Seil was in the Florida Everglades, where he stood in knee to waist-high water with a possibility of alligator attacks. He was shooting mottled drakes near sharp sawgrass. The hunt was a contrast with the one on Kodiak Island.

“I never felt threatened by the gators, I felt more threatened by the ocean.,” Seil said. “You can defend from animals, but you can’t defend from the ocean,”

A third memorable hunt happened in Washington, where he was hunting brandts, or sea geese. Seil recalls his party having a limited window in which to hunt them because the geese feed on eelgrass during low tide. If they missed their window, they would have to wait hours before the next low tide. They barely got out of there.

Seil feels fortunate and blessed not only to be able to hunt, but to meet many unforgettable friends along the way. He is also contemplating his next hunts, which may involve either hunting subspecies or even traveling to South America.

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