Some of the big game hunters like us want a little change and a different kind of challenge when it comes to hunting. No one fancies staying on a single diet if you know what I mean.
When it comes to choosing a small game, wood ducks are the most strange and challenging among their kind.
They do not quack, but instead, they whistle and squeal. They adore the thick cover and tree cavities, which makes it even harder for hunters – especially for those that give up quickly. They are not so easy to hunt and present a kind of a challenge any good hunter may find exciting.
As a long time hunter, I share the following wood duck hunting tips so that you may not go home empty handed – I know how frustrating that can be.
About Wood Ducks
Wood ducks are undoubtedly among the most beautiful of birds. I usually find myself admiring the different colors and smooth feathers they adorn. The crested head is a unique feature for both the hen and drake.
However, there are some differences between them. For the hen, the body is pale grey while the drake is a mixture of white, purple and indecent green.
The woodies have characteristic squeals that resemble a baby’s whimper. It is not hard to miss it, even for beginners.
They are early risers and will be the first to make the early morning flight- this is the ideal time for hunting by shooting them from the sky. But they sometimes take midday flight if spooked by predators or hunters.
The woodies love roosting on trees close to a water body such as a river or pond and will fly down to their preferred feeding spots when light set in. They keep to the same tree and maintain regular routes when flying – it’s mostly like the majority of us. These habits make patterning such a breeze with the right wood duck hunting tips.
Why is Duck Hunting such a Challenge?
Some time ago, not so long ago, wood ducks were becoming a rarity.
And why was this happening?
The high rate of logging and draining of wetlands to make way for civilization were taking a toll on their habitat.
However, the story seems to be changing in recent years due to increased habitat restoration efforts.
It is now not so hard to come across conservational groups rooting for this cause or the other, and it is a good thing. It is helping bring the lovely game closer home and in number – the joy for every hunter worth their salt.
I have come across hunters that thought wood ducks were the simplest to hunt only to end up with an egg on their face. Woodies have peculiar survival tactics and easily elude conventional hunting methods. For starters, they seem too crafty for decoy spreads and avoid areas closer to civilization.
They have a particular fondness for river systems and creeks which make scouting them an uphill task.
However, don’t throw your hands up just yet as I am going to share several wood duck hunting tips obtained through years to help you take a brace home.
1. Scout Cleverly
You must know the best places to scout to enhance the chances of success. The ideal areas include forested backwaters, beaver ponds, and creeks usually lined with oaks. They just live someplace with adequate cover and water bodies.
Most wood duck hunting guides may recommend swamps along the rivers, but that mostly applies to southern parts of the United States. Your primary goal is not only to uncover where they are but to also do so in a covert manner. Avoid detection as much as possible, and everything will be okay.
Wood ducks have a far-reaching reputation for disappearing into thin air when they detect an unusual presence around them. Move to the location you suspect they could be silently and use your sense of hearing, keenly. Their chuckles and squeals are all you need to confirm their presence and move in for the hunt.
Use the woodies preferred habitat to your advantage by staying hidden in the trees and thicket.
Demonstrate you are craftier by utilizing everything at your disposal to the maximum – this one thing that has proven critical for me over the years, reading and using your surroundings.
2. Using the Spread
Wood duck decoy placement along running traffic of woodies outside their intended destination is never an easy task. The idea here is to find the actual place – the x – to place it. You only need a dozen wood duck, and mallard decoy spread without worrying about the old formation routines – they old formations never really work.
Typically, the woodies will buzz them without giving much attention to wind direction or buzz. And unlike other dabblers that readily decoy to mallards, woodies are quite specific and usually stick to their own kind. Therefore, make sure the majority of in your pack are wood duck decoys.
Making assumptions that the woodies are just like their other cousins is what leads to failure. I prefer utilizing spinning-wing decoys together with the wood duck varieties for more success. A little movement is sometimes criticized for visibility and legitimacy.
When positioning the decoys, let be closer to the thick as much as possible. I believe it increases confidence among the wood ducks since it is a much more natural set up. But that’s just me.
This may not be among the most effective of wood duck hunting tips, but it’s always worth a try.
I often hear many people say that woodies are insensitive to calling but nothing could be further from the truth. The woodies are quite fond of keeping to the course and may rarely respond to the various wood duck calling techniques.
However, there are times that they may react.
So who is to tell you that you can’t start calling them? As a hunter, you are free to try different methods and see which works best. After all, you are dealing with a crafty game.
There are times that woodies may respond better to calls when they are on the water. Similar to aquatic turkeys, wood ducks may paddle in the direction of the chuckles and squeals. Once they respond and are in range, stand swiftly to flush them out of the water and take the shot.
Some of my friends that are astute wood duck hunters suggest moving the decoys closer to your hiding spot. This allows you to you to make effective calls that the genuine woodies can relate to. A closer location also allows you to be in the position to vary the decoys as necessary.
You will find more success jump-shooting with wood duck more than any other game. They love loafing around forested creaks and may run into several of them when canoeing. The trick here is to ready yourself for unseen woodies when approaching a bend.
If there are two of you wood duck hunting, the better. One hunter can position themselves downstream as woodies customarily follow the water down as they escape. Your partner may have more success with escaping woodies if they are a good shot.
For good jump-shooting, don’t be afraid of the wooded or grass-rimmed creeks to flush out the woodies hiding beneath the overhanging bush and grass. Also, be on the lookout for gliding woodies along the stream, and mark the location for a decent sneak – stealth is the primary focus here.
But the most appropriate time to jump-shoot is in the morning hours. This is the time that the birdies are taking flight and you may shoot a brace off the sky. And if jump-shooting proves an uphill task, then slide down a kayak or canoe downstream.
Talking about good shots, you need the right equipment to experience better success. Apart from having the right gun, efficient and easy to use, a scope is the next best equipment you need so that you are more successful. Typically, you must identify the right scope to make those perfect shots.
It is significantly more comfortable to use a riflescope than the iron sights. All you need to do is line the crosshairs with your target and shoot. The good thing about having the right kind of scope is the possibility of adjusting the reticle focus.
I have met older hunters with some sight difficulties, but the right scope has always been the remedy especially when early season wood duck hunting on a creek.
There are countless scopes on the market that you can choose from.
However, the most important quality to look out for is ruggedness. The ideal scope for me must hold its zero no matter the shock it experiences.
It must not leak as you will be around water for most of the time when wood duck hunting. My particular favorite has always been the Bushnell Elite 4200 for a number of reasons. For starters, the scope has always proven my greatest companion without a single screw up, especially when duck hunting.
To pick out the woodies in the creeks or woods, it is imperative the scope has an ideal amount of sharpness. Make sure to pick the right scope that serves to your advantage when hunting. There is a reason many hunters go home empty-handed and among them is having the wrong kind of scope.
Avoid complications of any kind like the plague. I have come across enthusiastic hunters with a top of the range scope who get frustrated in the end. The thing is you will not be flexible enough to utilize the gun if it worries you to ruin the scope.
The more complex the scope, the more likely it is to break adding to the overall cost.
In terms of magnification, anything above 10X is overkill and only adds to the overall weight and, of course, the price. Ideally, bush hunting will do just fine with a 3X-9X.
6. Float Hunting
If you are the type of person that loves float hunting, then a 12-foot johnboat will be among the perfect tools for wood duck hunting. As you paddle around bends, be on the lookout and ready for a surprise shot on the ducks.
You may choose a canoe, but a johnboat is incomparable in terms of stability. You need stealth in the water and should employ the current to your advantage. Stick to edges of the stream and the inside of bends.
Paddle gently if need be and take care not to stir the water too much – yes, it can get a little exciting to hear the wood duck chatter around the next bend but calm down. Take a long breath and steady yourself for the shot as you approach the spot they are loafing about.
Apart from stealth, paddling smoothly allows you to efficiently spot the squealers. They usually produce several ripples as they feed and will not be so hard to spot. A smooth paddling and a little bit of luck may get close enough for the ideal shot.
Shrewd scouting uncovers a number of ideal spots to do your waiting. This must be a short distance from where the woodies frequent – their favorite spot. The best places include an extensive and calm stretch of water, a pool, and a wide area.
The woodies are not very specific about wind direction. Your primary focus should always be to stay hidden than the direction the wind is blowing – this is not buck hunting where the big game has an acute sense of smell.
Place dozen of wood duck decoys and use the Kritter getter wood duck call a few times to just attract their attention. However, leave sufficient room of the real woodies to land. You can then steady yourself for the shot and make it.
You must have quick wits if you want to be successful. The woods may often fly over the decoys in silence, and it will take a quick response to nail them. And their preferred habitat, you may not see them until they are flying above your head.
8. Don’t Put Too Much Pressure
One thing you should know about the squealers is that they are sensitive to pressure. You may think you are out for fun by inviting a few of your buddies to the hunt, but you are doing yourself a disservice. The ducks may soon detect encroachment and migrate to somewhere they feel safer.
Ideally, limit yourself to just a brace or a few squealers and then move on to another spot. This reduces pressure, and you can return sometime later for more at the same location.
And if your usual hunting spot is no longer productive, then it is the ideal time to move. It is probably that the squalors have had enough of constant hunts choosing to move locations. If that is the case, don’t stay too long hoping for a miracle as that will not do.
Instead, try a different location, and the results may take you back wondering why you never thought of it. But in the new site, learn your lesson and avoid overstaying and overhunting. Two days in a row is just too much, and you will be lucky if the squealers don’t move on the third.
9. Hunt Early
It is always best practice to hunt early and not stay too long. People are staying on the hunt too long, and that is leading to stress on the spots.
In ideal situations, consult the weatherman. A dark overcast in the morning hours to noon is perfect. It sends the woodies the ponds, and if you pick your spot well enough, then you will be set for the hunt.
Just like you would with other game hunting, have the right camouflage to reduce chances of the woodies spotting you – it would be tragic for your hunting efforts.
Typically, your chosen attire should match the surrounding as much as possible. But if you are utilizing a blind, then you may not require camouflage.
One thing you should always remember is that camo cannot replace the need for stealth. You need the element of surprise and good reflexes for you to succeed.
And if you are a first-time wood duck hunter, then you may need to go with an experienced hunter to learn the basics. It is not always as simple as it sounds. Even the experienced go home empty-handed once in a while – myself included.
The above wood duck hunting tips may just be the missing piece for a successful hunt. Basically, the squealers are not an easy game and will need to be at your best to go home with something. Scout first so that you can adequately prepare yourself well for an ambush.
Unlike other ducks, the woodies are quite hard to hunt and will often ignore decoys and calls. However, with a little bit of proper planning, equipment, and reflexes, you can take home a brace for a lovely evening soup. Happy hunting!