Rail hunting is a great way to start off your waterfowl season. It is an excellent way to fine tune your pass shooting. It includes that day on the water that all waterfowlers find irresistible and your reward at the end of the day is most often one of the best tasting birds that fly. There are a number of different species of rail found on Delmarva's eastern shore which include Virginia, Sora and King, but Clapper Rail is by far the most common on Virginia's seaside marshes.
There are two basic ways to hunt rail. The traditional method is done by polling a shallow draft boat over the flooded marsh. To do this, three conditions must exist. First it must be high tide. Second there must be a strong easterly wind (preferably Nor'east) and third, it must be at or just after the full moon. If any of those conditions don't exist, there will not be enough water in the bay to cover the marsh. This makes it very difficult to schedule your trip in advance. The locals have been using this method for years with great success. During these flood tides, the birds are forced up to the high ground, such as duck blinds and stumps. Hunters have often limited out by firing into a duck blind without ever seeing the birds. Rail will often remain in the cover even after repeated shooting, as they have nowhere else to go. This method of hunting rail has been going on for hundreds of years and has accounted for many fine meals, but leaves something to be desired in the way of sport.
A more predictable and in my opinion a more sporting method of hunting rail is to walk the marsh and flush the rail as you would when upland hunting quail or pheasant. This can be done at any time other than when the three above conditions exist.
This is done by sailing to some distant, secluded marsh. Putting one to three hunters ashore on the wide portion of an island or Peninsula. The hunters then walk toward the narrow portion, driving the birds towards the point. As the rail start to feel confined, they take flight. As mentioned, this method of hunting can be done sometime during the day, regardless of weather conditions, so your trip can be planned well in advance.
Equipment required consists of a shotgun from 410 to 12 gauge. Nontoxic shot is required for rail. One of the biggest problems hunters have is practicing their pass shooting on sporting clays or skeet with lead shot, then waterfowl hunting with steel, which travels at a far different speed. If you shoot steel, 2 3/4, #6 shot is a good load. If you are shooting hevi-shot, #6 or 7 1/2 works well. It's best to wear a pair of old sneakers or jogging shoes, white gym socks and long pants. Waders and hip boots are difficult to walk in and also too warm for this time of the year. A hunters orange safety vest is not required but is recommended.
Dogs are not necessary but can be helpful. There are many small creeks running through the marsh which are easier traversed by a dog than you or your guide. There is currently a 15 bird limit on rail, so it can be a good workout and tune-up for you and your dog.
For additional information please contact Capt. Pete Wallace: