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?