Wood Ducks

Few things in hunting sound as “wild” as a hen wood duck squealing before daylight. Turkeys gobbling and elk bugling both have their own mystique and are maybe more impressive. But hearing a wood duck always reminds me of my earliest duck hunting endeavors in sloughs and creeks that seemed to be miles from anything.

I grew up in west-central Kentucky, where wetlands and duck hunters were few and far between. This was rolling hill country. Whitetails and turkeys were king, and small-game hunters focused on squirrels, rabbits, and quail. But we had a few wood ducks around, and I was fascinated with hunting them. I’ve crawled many a mile along creek banks, stalking small flocks of birds that I’d spotted from a distance, my dad’s B-80 in tow. I quickly learned to use bends in those creeks to my advantage. If things weren’t playing out to get close enough for a shot, I could stand up and flush the ducks from a distance. If they weren’t spooked too badly, they’d usually just fly around the next bend and sit right back down.

But even more fun than those early jumpshoots were later hunts in sloughs when I discovered duck decoys and boats, and took the time to learn a little more about the birds’ habits. Wood ducks typically hung around just long enough to catch them on the Thanksgiving opener, and those wintertime drakes were trophies. From time to time, I’d shoot a mallard or black duck as well, but the setup always focused on wood ducks. The only problem was the best spots were hard to get to, and with a two-bird limit, the day was often over in a few short minutes.

Most of my hunting time is spent on bigger water these days, but sloughs and wood ducks have definitely been on my mind this year with the new three wood duck limit in Kentucky and other states in the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways (check the 2008-2009 waterfowl hunting regulations in your state for specifics). An extra bird would make the effort involved to get to some of those places more worthwhile. And, I’ll have all season to hunt big water. Most of the wood ducks will be gone soon after opening day. Time will tell what I end up doing. Are any of you guys altering your hunting strategies this season to focus on wood ducks?

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19 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Brook said,

    I won’t be focusing on woodies, in particular. But I’m planning a lot more flooded timber shooting, and woodies are certainly part of that experience.

    I’m in central Kentucky, where we’re covered up with wood ducks. There aren’t too many waterfowlers here, to begin with, and, other than the early season, not many people target them specifically.

  2. 2

    Lewis Bays Jr said,

    I enjoyed your thoughts. I grew in the Mississippi Delta, flatland full of sloughs and cypress creeks. My Dad would take me when he could.we’d go to the green timber flooded for waterfowl as part of his job as a Waterfowl Biologist for the state. Wood ducks were his focus, He was one of the pioneers of the nest boxes and we put hundreds out here in the Delta. He spent a lot of time on calling wood ducks and he fashioned a call that would bring them to you, on the water or in the air.

  3. 3

    Rob Steiner said,

    I’m not necessarily focusing on wood ducks but, Michigan has a limit of 3 per day. I am hunting small ponds and marshes and have seen mostly wood ducks in fact, I got a beautiful drake opening weekend. He was the first duck that I have taken over my own decoys by myself and will be a special memory. I hope to see lots more through the season.

  4. 4

    Justin Tackett said,

    I’m not the Justin Tackett you all might be thinking of, but in my area of West Virginia the wood ducks are plentiful. Our early season we have a small WMA of approxiametly 1,000 acres which about half is marsh. They early season count of Wood Ducks was over 1,000 in just that small area. I think they are one of the funniest species of duck to hunt because of there early arrivals in the spread, they are there before you know it.

  5. 5

    Mark Alcott said,

    Muhlenburg County, Kentucky is wood duck central. My favorite time of year is the early duck season and hearing that familiar sqeal of the wood duck as they dart through the cypress swamps. There is nothing like that first “Take ‘em!” of the year.

  6. 6

    Doug Allard said,

    Lately my friend and I have only had wood ducks flying near our duck blind in Michigan. We usually split what we shoot. I like to “breast out” the ducks when I clean them. Although they’re a challenge to shoot, there’s nothing more priceless than the look on my wife’s face after she sees the small portions and realizes the amount of time I’ve spent in the blind. Cost effective?

  7. 7

    Will said,

    Mark,

    There are a lot of birds in Muhlenberg County. There can be some pretty good regular-season puddle duck and goose hunting there as well at times. I’m from Hopkins County myself, so I know that area well.

    Will

  8. 8

    Gary Z said,

    My son and I hunt nothing but wood ducks. This is partially because I can’t afford the money or expense involved in some other types of duck hunting, but even if I could, stalking woodies on a creek or slough is a unique experience. I hunt a certain National Forest in East Texas. No big water here, just lots of bottomland, full of wild hogs and wood ducks. My Haydel’s WW-90 never fails, and nothing’s more exciting to me than calling and having the ducks respond like I’m one of them. Can’t wait til they up the limit here in Texas, but I can make do until then. Time in the woods, seeing things through my son’s eyes can’t be measured in portion size, dollars spent, etc. The feeling really is priceless.

    (Got a banded one down from Missouri this past weekend – woohoo!).

  9. 9

    Clifton said,

    North Carolina is home to a lot of wood ducks and many others as well. I have hunted waterfowl for about 8 years now and have come to love the “woodie” the most. It was the first duck I ever shot and NC is blessed with marshes, creeks, rivers and coastal hunting but back in the swamps where the woodies make their home will always be my favorite. I couldn’t think of better duck to be chasing although they all are fun but the wood duck holds a special place.

  10. 10

    Jerry said,

    One of the best hunts of my life came one year when it was very dry and the woodies were “centralized” on this particular slough we knew about in Northwest Louisiana. We found a place where the slough made a 90 degree bend at the edge of a clearing with the slough turning into the woods. At daylight, the birds came across the clearing fast and hard at an alarming rate headed right into the straight “landing zone” created by the bend. It was an absolute video game. Five of us were able to limit out within ten minutes and the hunt was over. I had never experienced anything like it.

  11. 11

    JayDee said,

    In southcentral Wisconsin the Woodies are the prize of the early season in the sloughs. In recent time it’s a shooting gallery within the first hour to hour and a half and then it slows down to a standstill. That’s when the adventure of jump shooting and working your way down the backwaters becomes the challenge of the day. A good set of eyes is a must to keep on top of the Woodies who are up ahead feeding and hovering around the banks. They do spook easy and trying your best to keep quiet in the rustling leaves and working through the mucky crossings makes my day. It’s November and the native Woodies have thinned out and it’s now time to move up on the big water and start working on the Greenheads. For me it’s a 3.5 hour drive from home to hunting ground so the 60 days season, mixing in a little bowhunting (with gun season opening in a few weeks) is a perfect way to transition from the summer and fall fishing season.

  12. 12

    Jason Hudlow said,

    To me, there is nothing better than jump shootin wood ducks off back water creeks and flooded land. I have a big water blind on the Red River that does have it’s share of excitement, but nothing compares to them woodies.

  13. 13

    Dana Miller said,

    My club is a small club that we’ve devoloped into natural habitat. Lots of trees and tulies. North of us are 100 year old oaks and miles of natural lakes and sloughs, perfect habitat for woodies. In California we can shoot 7 woodies in a day. California Waterfowl Assn. has a wood duck box program which volunteers have put up thousands of boxes and hence thousands of baby woodies! We have had as many as 20 boxes on our property and have hatched as many as 200+ woodies in a season. Early in the season the wood duck is our main bird, but as the season goes on we key in on Mallards, and have woodies landing in the decoys.
    Woodies don’t always respond to the call, but when they do, they drive in like a Teal!

  14. 14

    Newt said,

    I have many fond memories of hunting wood ducks also. Especially with my Boykin Spaniel “Casey”. Here in Eastern NC we are usually rapped up with them. A lot of guys get bored with them. So far the reports have been good. We have one spot that will only be hunted, maybe 4 times this season so as not run them out. There are so many that they are roosting in the trees and trading back and forth from one swamp to another. Could be because of the recent drought that they are behaving like this. Swamps are a little dry but there is still plenty of water around.

    Hope everyone has a great season!
    Newt

  15. 15

    Johnathan said,

    I love hunting woodies as much as it sounds like everyone else here does. I am from east TN, much like central KY it is not a strong hold for waterfowlers. But those of us who do love the hunt wait impatiently for the short season, unfortunately we are starting a little bit later this year so that we don’t overlap with opening rifle weekend for deer. I am pleased to hear that there is still a passion for woodies out there as I am headed to Auburn University to start work on my master’s degree, I will be studying breeding ecology of the wood duck.

  16. 16

    Josh said,

    I am 14 and i love the long sharp sound of the woodies.I love it even more one they are cupping in on you fly’s.Where i am there is a great strong hold for waterfowlers.I am SOUTH EST TEXAS!!! I love it down here.But this year most of the marshes ar closed because of hurricane “Ike.” I hope to go to colege to become a biyoligist for migortory game birds. And to ceep suporting DU to keep the waterfowlers happy.
    IT FLYS IT DIES,Josh

  17. 17

    Jason Hudlow said,

    Today in Stonewall, LA (Northwest LA) was the first time I was able to take advantage of our states new three wood duck limit! It was awesome! I was also able to finally get some responses from this wood duck call. The call help make quick work of getting a limit, in about 20 min. Does anyone else call woodies? It was cool seein em locked up and comin in!!!!

  18. 18

    John Zimmerman said,

    Where I hunt on the east side of Mississippi woodies make up a lot of what I see. I took one of my college buddies and his dad last season and we had a flock buzz behind us just out of range. I pulled out my wood duck call and his dad looked at me like I was crazy and made some comment about how they can’t be called. I quickly changed his mind after I got not only that flock but a few others to make a complete 180. The best part was I got to give him a hard time all the way to Huddle House after we got out of the woods. Oh and we all shot our woody limit that morning.

  19. 19

    tom brans said,

    Up here in Idaho you dont really see a lot of woodys but i shot some last year mostly divrs and mallards up north


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