The final blow to the historic Mattamuskeet Inn came with Hurricane Irene in 2011 when the storm swept over the Outer Banks and pummeled the mainland areas of coastal North Carolina. I, as had thousands of hunters, stayed at the Inn over the years to hunt waterfowl with the Simmons family and a succession of assistant guides. Some of these guides, like Adam Jones who now works out of Engelhard, have started their own guide services. There was also a succession of memorable dogs, such as Meg, who recovered my first swan, and most recently Ginger who appears in the photo of the Inn.
Joey Simmons and his wife lived at the lodge during its last years of operation. As they raised their family I enjoyed hunting with them and hearing stories of his father’s and grandfather’s hunting experiences. I added my little bit to Mattamuskeet lore by taking, so far as I know, the first swan in living memory with a flintlock muzzleloading musket loaded with the now-required non-toxic shot.
That was my most memorable hunt with Joey. During the morning we hunted a flooded impoundment. While we attempted to shoot what few ducks were flying on a blue-bird day, we watched as another group of hunters in the “swan blind” progressively shot their birds. Their technique was when a swan flew over them everyone in the blind shot and kept shooting until the swan fell dead. After they limited out, we exchanged blinds, and it was my turn to show what this replica of a Brown Bess musket “Indian Gun” that was sold by Dixie Gun Works could do. This .75-caliber musket is 11 gauge and wads in this size are available from Dixie. I had it stoked up with 100 grains of FFg black powder and likely about 1 3/8ths ounces of steel no. 4 shot.
This gun had no choke, but fired reasonable patterns with the steel shot, although I had to aim a bit above the bird to drop the shot charge on the target. This is a robust gun using a 1-inch flint (an original English flint salvaged from a shipwreck), and I had no doubts that it would function if I did my part. Joey called an approaching swan using the same type of hail mouth calling that I use today. The swan came in, and I crouched in the blind. Not only did it come, it landed in the impoundment outside of the decoys – too far for me to shoot. This was too much for Meg who bounded off the dog step and went after it.
The swan took flight to escape the charging dog and flew in the direction of the other blind where the hunters were rearranging the decoys. The swan then reversed its direction and came back towards us. “Move over here. It is going to pass by this corner of the blind,” Joey said.
I pushed and half climbed over my partner and Joey in the tight blind and stood by the door as the swan approached. The swan continued plowing through the air with those enormous wings. As it made its closest approach to the blind, Joey said, “If you are going to shoot, take it now.”
I cocked the massive hammer, raised the gun and started pulling past the bird with the barrel. The gun caught on some brush tacked onto the blind, and I had to lift over it and resume my swing. By this time the bird had flown by the blind and was pulling away. I swung past the bird, held above it and pulled the trigger. The black smoke erupting from the gun completely obscured my view.
The hunters in the other blind later said that they did not think that I was going to shoot. When I finally did shoot they saw a pillow of black smoke erupt from the blind, envelop the bird and it fell dead on the water. It was hit from beak to feet with the charge of steel no. 4s. That blind erupted with a cheer. By the time I heard their encouraging shouts, the smoke had drifted away, and I could see the bird dead on the water with Meg swimming out to get her bird.
Even by the time that I made by first hunt in 1998, the Lodge was showing signs of age with continuous patch-up work being needed to keep the plumbing and electric systems working. The Oyster Bar at the lodge provided some after-hunt activities as well as good-eating seafood. When the Simmons family disposed of the lodge, it was in need of considerable repair. The new owners purchased it, sight unseen, so the story goes. They attempted to fix it up, but when Irene swept through and did additional damage it was apparently time to knock the entire structure down and start over.
Blowing around outside was a fairly recent photo of the Inn, as Joey’s most recent dog, Ginger, was in it. This is the somewhat wrinkled photo with the grit on it at the head of this post. I have many fond memories of my experiences at the lodge as, I am sure, do thousands of others. I regret seeing it go, but I have no doubt that the new owners are making the correct economic decision.
There are still nearly places that cater to hunters. The Hyde-A-Way (252) 926-8101 is a little further down the road at Fairfield and Carawan’s Motel (252) 926-5861 is located at the other end of the causeway. Harris’ restaurant has changed owners and is now known as the Lone Goose, but it still offers dinner and supper. Hotel Engelhard (252) 925-1461 or toll-free at (800) 290-53411) is located at the other end of the lake and has a limited menu. When I passed by, the hotel was operating, but was for sale.
I also shot my swan with a muzzleloading gun in 2012. This time it was a repeat visit for a Thompson/Center Arms Mountain Magnum 12-gauge shotgun loaded with Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder and HeviShot. This hunt was recorded for my radio show, “Hovey’s Outdoor Adventures” and may be heard by visiting my website and activating the live link below the banner. If it is not the current show, it is still available under the “archived shows” tab or on Apple’s iTimes as “All About Swan Hunting: Part 1.”