Be ready when gunning for fast-flying wood ducks
When sitting in an East Texas deer stand before daylight, there is time to reminisce about all sorts of things. The first sign of the coming sunrise is the raspy sound of the thrashers. These little chatterers seem to always be around to usher in the new day.
Should the deer stand be anywhere near a creek, pond or flooded timber, be ready to hear the thrashers. Soon after the thrashers do their thing, there will come the squealing calls of wood ducks in flight. You can count on them to come-a-humming down through the woods seemingly no matter how dense the timber. I’ve always wondered how they can manage to fly so fast through the treetops and never fly into the trees. Sure they nest in trees and spend their life around them, but unless you have witnessed their crack-of-dawn flight, it’s difficult to visualize their nimbleness.
At one point in time the wood duck population seemed to dwindle down to dangerously low levels. Over the past 30 years or so, there has definitely been an increase in their numbers. For years, the daily bag limit for the woodies was two per hunter. Their numbers have now increased all across the country. The bag limit has increased to three per day.
After having done my time in a deer stand and witnessing all of those ducks coming around there, was nothing for me to do but to make a wood duck hunt. By doing a little scouting after the deer hunt, it was possible to locate where the birds were going. They were flying across the heavy timer, then along a spring branch and then to an open pond in the woods. In doing this, the woodies would travel through a nice break in the timber that allowed enough opening for a hunter to set up.
When I mention an opening, I don’t mean a large clearing, but only a slight break in the timber. A hunter must be ready for a quick shot at the ducks or hit only treetops. The latter has been the case many times for anyone that has hunted wood ducks in their home environment. First you hear the thrashers and then the easily identifiable squeal of the fast flying woodies. Then they are on you and gone unless you are ready for a quick shot.
Wood ducks are considered by most folks to be the most colorful ducks around. The drake sports a large array of bright colors. The white bills and red eye rims blend in with the iridescent feathers on their backs and wings. They have light colored belly and breast feathers that blend into gold and black under their wings. The hen is much more drab than the drake, much like most bird species.
When hunting the wood ducks in the timber, especially during late season, be prepared for some mallards to show up. The late migrating mallards are big, and the drakes also sport brilliantly colored. The always identifiable greenhead, yellow bill and bright orange feet are what the mature mallard is all about. Many of the locals refer to the late season mallards as Artic mallards since they always show up late in the season.
By the way, that timber hunting for the woodies only lasts for a short time. The birds seem to have their morning flying down in an hour or two. Keep in mind that these colorful ducks will make a similar flight in the time just prior to sunset when legal duck hunting ends each day.
The mallard has long been the most popular duck species for hunters. They are big, beautiful, and normally plentiful enough to go after. They are also really good table fare in my opinion. Both the blue wing and green wing teal are considered the more desirable duck for the table by practically all of the traditional marsh or rice field duck hunters. I’d certainly agree that both a fat mallard and fat teal are at the top of desirable wild ducks as table fare. The pintail is also right up there in that prime culinary group. In my humble opinion, the wood duck is at least as tasty as the teal, mallard or pintail, if not one notch better. A mature bird is slightly larger than a teal and smaller than either the mallard or pintail. Their flavor is extremely mild and their flesh is much lighter in color.
I do not recommend a full choke scattergun when going after the woodies. A modified choke or improved cylinder is better. Steel No. 6 or 4 shot will do a good job for you if you don’t shoot the treetops.