Wood Ducks are the total package. They are undeniably beautiful, have an eerie but dazzling song, bombard lures at incredible speeds, and are one of the best table foods of all waterfowl. For many, this duck is at the top of its target species.
But wood ducks aren’t found just anywhere, and if you want them in your freezer, you better know where and how to attack them.
food and loneliness
Part of wood duck hunting is knowing what your typical environment is. While they may inhabit standard Puddle Duck habitat to feed on smart grass and duckweed, Wood Ducks are mostly nut and grain eaters and therefore become highly associated with the habitat that contains their favorite foods.
For Matt Heinrichs, a wood duck hunter in Iowa, finding a combination of solitude and food, like tree-lined bays on lakes and shallow meanders along rivers, is key.
“I think that wood ducks, more than any other duck species, seek solitude,” Heinrichs said. “So more ‘boots on the ground’ scans are needed because you’re not going to see those places from the county road or from the pier.”
Of course, a food source combined with solitude is a plus, and it helps to know what Wood Ducks eat in your area.
Throughout their range, they eat many acorns, beech nuts, fruits of the black gum tree, and duckweed. In the south central, you’ll find them eating nuts in and around cattle ponds. In the Midwest, they stick to soybean and corn fields, especially when there is flooding and water. Lastly, sneaking through the silage fields in early fall is a sure way to find large concentrations of wood ducks.
Browse them to the record
While scouting is an important component to most waterfowl hunting, wood ducks take it to the extreme. Just knowing there’s something hanging out in the local swamp or silage field isn’t enough. You must know exactly where they want to be.
Hunter Rud, an eastern Minnesota waterfowl, targets wood ducks in the early part of their season, when they are most frequent.
“Exploring them is definitely important,” Rud said. “It’s hard to get them out of the place they want to be, so you have to be exactly where they want to be. He would say within 50 meters of his bubble.”
In my experience, this is the most significant difference in hunting Wood Ducks versus any other species. Your “bubble” is similar to a favorite hat or cup of coffee, except with wood ducks, it’s a log, beaver dam, rock, or whirlpool.
“It can be as specific as going to a single registry,” Rud said. “In our local streams, that bubble could be a 20-foot-by-10-foot area in a backwater eddy. Once, it was a beaver dam where the beaver had used some corn stalks.”
What this means for your scout is that you must put your boots down and be willing to sneak through the woods to find the “x”. First, focus on places that are home to the traditional habitat of wood ducks. Beaver dams, logs placed in the water, oak bottoms, meanders, and maybe even silage fields near rivers.
But, if your time to explore is limited, Heinrichs has a creative resource for finding these wooden ducks.
“I’ve found that one of the best ways to find a spot for wood ducks is to talk to local deer hunters,” Heinrichs said. “They spend a lot of time in the woods and see and hear everything that moves. Since they’re chasing a different creature, they’re much more likely to give up goods for a few ducks.”
The last important part of the scout is to walk around the area slowly and quietly, listening for their calls. Wood Ducks are usually quite loud on the water, so knowing what to listen for is a real advantage. It takes a long time, but if you do it right, you can watch their perch without scaring them.
Once you’ve found where the wood ducks are, hunting is easy. Be punctual, stand still and be prepared.
“Getting there on time is important, because it’s going to be the first 15 minutes of light shooting, if that’s what it is,” Rud said. “The weapons are loaded and on the shoulder at the time of the shot, no joke. It’s just silhouettes bombing through the trees at first light.”
And while Wood Ducks often come with reckless abandon, I personally still use a few decoys to try and center them in a good shooting spot. You’ll also want to be very still, hide behind a tree, and wear a mask. Although they usually don’t pay much attention to you, you want them to be fully engaged and try to land at the speed they’re going.
As far as lures go, it’s all about keeping it simple on the “x”.
“My throw is usually seven lures and one string,” Rud said. “Being where they are is much more important than the decoys.”
Finally, there is the shooting. You’ll want to give yourself some space for these speedy birds. “It’s really hard to shoot them when they’re turning, it’s an instinctive shot,” Rud said. “They slide through the water when they land. I sit 15 yards from the lures and shoot 6 shots because they are so fast.”
Once the shoot is over, enjoy the memories of a lifetime; a 15-minute hunt with smoking barrels, a beautiful bird, and the best acorn-fed meat a duck hunter could ask for.