Yamaha Outdoors Tip of the Week - Hunting the Acorn Duck

Drake wood ducks are among the most handsome waterfowl out there. They also make for great table fare and early-season gunning. Steve Hickoff photos

By Steve Hickoff

 

I took my first wood duck back when lead shot was legal, and the species wasn’t doing as well as it is now. Just this month I’ve found New England woodies in some of the same locations decades later. Habitat is everything, and if you find a good spot that holds these birds, work hard to maintain access to it. Some general rules for locating them follow here:

 

FOOD: Find the acorns along a river or other waterway and the wood ducks might follow.

 

TIMING: Wood ducks often fly to feeding areas just as legal shooting commences. They can be patterned, especially in the early season.

 

LISTEN UP: I’ve found birds in feeding locations simply by listening for their distinctive chattering, clucking and squeaking; also as they wing in with their hooting, peeping and whistling flight calls.

 

SAME SPECIES: 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.

 

LOAFING TIME: They rest nearby during the day, after feeding, prime for jumpshooting—the waterfowler’s upland wingshooting equivalent. Look for deadfall along riverbanks in particular.

 

TABLE FARE: Ask any duck hunter which table bird s/he prefers, and s/he’ll answer in succession: (1) mallard then likely (2) wood duck. The meat is delicious.

 

LOADS: 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. Even 6s (Wingmaster HD for instance) work well for close-range flushing woodies.

RIDE TO THEM: I’ve found wood ducks in backwater swamps surrounded by oaks, winding rivers and distant beaver ponds. Get on your Yamaha ATV or Side-by-Side vehicle and explore some new territory this fall. Chances are you’ll find wood duck locations off the main access. Your four wheels will also aid in lugging decoys to and from that location.

 

WHAT TO EXPECT: You ease into your pre-dawn spot. 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. Acorns litter the riverbank.

 

Legal time arrives. Suddenly as the sky barely brightens, two vocal dark forms buzz in as if scripted, successively splashing into plain view. A drake, as colorful as the hen woody 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.

 

NEST BOXES: Woodies are tree nesters. In the off-season (scrawl 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.

Need some plans? Write to: Wood Duck Box Plans, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., One Waterfowl Way, Memphis, TN 38120, or log onto to: www.ducks.org

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