WOOD DUCK WAYS: Try to nail down the location of preferred feeding areas. Look for beaver ponds, quiet bottomland creek bottoms, shady oak-flanked swamps, and even rice marshes where available. They won’t turn down high-protein insects either, as seasonal weather and migratory locations often dictate. (DU media photo)
By Steve Hickoff
Acorns litter the riverbank. The sun? Still just a rumor. You ease into your pre-dawn location, headlight flashing here and there like something out of a horror movie, but this story will have a happy ending, or so you hope. You set your half-dozen decoys in the flat water, if only for the desired visual reference, beyond the riffled elbow that gurgling current makes. Then you wait, hidden inside deadfall, washed down there during springtime floods. But this is autumn, and game time is about to begin.
Suddenly as the sky brightens, two dark forms buzz in as if scripted, successively splashing into plain view. A drake, as colorful as the hen woodie is not, composes head and chest feathers in one quick motion as the female looks on, seemingly baffled by the fakes, but not yet spooked. You stand, alerting them, take aim at the rising bright form the drake makes as it wings off, and drop the bird: one quick shot, and a whiff. The second more distant shot connects. The hen moves off, a fading squeal peppered with chirping quacks; the forested riverbend now quiet. Get back to your hide; more action will likely follow if other woodies have been there.
For the early-season waterfowler, wood ducks offer a unique angle in off-road places. Your Yamaha ATV or Side-by-Side can get you and your gear there, through swamp and muck, into that food-rich location where these birds like to hang during their fall migration. Here are some details to keep in mind as you hatch your wood duck hunt plan:
Wood ducks fly to feeding areas at daybreak. They can be patterned, especially in the early season.
I’m not sure if they’re indifferent to other species, but woodies usually stay with woodies, and don’t tend to mix with other puddle ducks the way mallards might.
They loaf nearby during the day, prime for jumpshooting, the waterfowler’s wingshooting equivalent.
Ask any duck hunter which table bird he prefers, and he’ll answer in succession: (1) mallard then likely (2) wood duck. The meat is delicious.
A difficult bird to down, wood ducks fly fast (45-50 mph), head above the plump body but bill tilting noticeably. I carry No. 4 waterfowl loads most often, though you can go with 3s and even 2s.
Woodies are tree nesters. In the off-season (make a note on your calendar for next year), make an effort to hang predator-proof nesting boxes to posts or available trees at your hunt club or personal property. They’ll choose a rotted tree cavity crafted by a woodpecker just the same, but your effort can’t hurt.