Captain Chris Martin, owner of Bay Flats Lodge, was our host, and I can assure you, no expense seemed to be spared when it came to our accommodations. The rooms were all five-star quality; the outdoor bar and dining area were spacious and well stocked--not to mention the indoor dining room. If accommodations were the quintessential factor you would use to judge a hunt, Bay Flats would win hands down. However, hunting is about the hunt and the animal, and Bay Flats promised an experience like no other.
The quality of duck hunting along the southern Texas coast is far from a secret, and thus Texas made a great destination to film an episode of "Benelli On Assignment." To up the ante, Federal Ammunition came in as sponsor with a couple of new additions to its line, and Benelli was sending out cryptic emails about a new gun--a gun we all hoped to get the scoop on before it hit the market.
After a quick pep talk on what to expect from our guides and what our guides expected of us, the guns and shells were put out. Scanning the rack of shotguns left me a little flat. The rack held several Vincis and Super Black Eagle IIs. They're both great shotguns, and under any other circumstance I would have grabbed either with great enthusiasm, but neither of them was new or the prize we felt we had been promised.
Seeing my confusion, as well as that of the other writers, show host Joe Coogan laughed and asked if any information had leaked about the new gun. Having increased the image size of the teaser photo, seeing the "28" on the grip cap was our only clue. As suspected, the new intro was the Benelli Legacy 28 gauge. It was not quite what we were looking for to hunt ducks. However, we were informed that after the morning waterfowl hunt, we would come back for lunch and then head to a neighboring ranch for bobwhite, pheasant and chukar, so all was right again.
I'll admit to having shot a few ducks in the past, but I still like to consider myself somewhat of a novice in the diversity category. San Antonio Bay is known for high concentrations of redheads, and they topped the list of ducks still absent from my wall. By the end of the hunt, however, the incredible sprigs on the pintails were certainly the story, the best of which was pushing the nine-inch mark.
Heading To Sea
Through the inky darkness, a single overhead light illuminated the big airboat. As I stepped onto the pier, Capt. Chris briefly turned over the big Chevy engine and revved it once before shutting it down. Hearing the tremendous roar emitting from the rear of the boat, I rifled through my blind bag and retrieved my hearing protection before handing over my gear.
Soon the engine began its raucous rumble once again, and before we knew it we were headed out into the bay. The harder the engine worked, the farther I sunk into my parka in a vain attempt to defend against the biting wind. Thirty minutes later we reached a series of small islands. Illuminating them one by one, Capt. Chris surveyed the options. About half of them had some sort of blind built on them. Judging the wind and necessary space needed to run the cameras, the decision was made. We beached the boat and worked as a team to transfer guns, bags and cameras to shore.
With four hunters stashed in their sunken box blinds and a few dozen decoys floating, I waited with anticipation for legal shooting light. First light came and went, taking a few fine flocks with it. The anticipation hurt more with each swish, swish, swish or pintail whistle, but while legal, we still lacked enough light for the cameras.
Once the shooting started, the action was heated. By midmorning everyone had reached a limit on one species or another. Normally, every hunter would be responsible for keeping his own count, but when cameras are thrown into the mix, a break was needed in between flights to synch designated shooters to cameramen.