By Mark Fike
Each year waterfowlers are waiting with great anticipation for the so called “big flight” or “big push” of ducks to be shoved south across the United States from Canada. However, many years this event seems to stall or sometimes never occur until the season is pretty much over. Sometimes the flow of ducks is inconsistent and hunters become frustrated.
What can you do to ward off the frustration while waiting for the main attendees to the party? Take advantage of the ducks that migrate early or are already here.
The main species that migrate earlier than others include teal and wood ducks. Some teal migrate through the midsections of the country as early as September or October. Wood ducks generally wait until a good freeze shoves them further south where open marshes and swamps are easily found.
My bread and butter for good dog work and good eating is the wood duck. These cavity nesters are common during the early seasons and sometimes will stick around until the first really hard freeze. There are some great pluses to hunting woodies.
First, wood ducks do not require much more than a dog or waders, shells and a gun and a small body of water to hunt them. For years I had access to a place that was less than 30 yards across and had one small stream trickling into it during wet seasons. The wood ducks would pile into this spot every morning to feed and loaf a bit and I had some of the best hunting I have ever had in my life for years in that spot.
While you can certainly use a boat and hunt larger waters, wood ducks are more commonly found on those out of the way places where you hike or walk to. You really don’t need decoys, but I have thrown out 2-3 decoys or 2 decoys and a spinner or Mojo to entice any high fliers to come on down and join the fun. The Mojos seem to really work well.
Once during a hard freeze I went wood duck hunting anyway. The ducks were just about gone due to the weather, but apparently a few were still in the area. I had to break ice to put my pole for the Mojo in at the beaver dam of a swamp. The rest of the small pothole was frozen. Ten minutes later two woodies came flying in and hovered for a long time next to that Mojo.
The dog went crazy, broke and nearly was able to jump from the ice up to the ducks to grab one before they climbed up and we got our shots. Even with no place to land the Mojo brought them in!
It is important that hunters keep in mind that you can “burn” a spot by hunting it too frequently. It is recommended that you find several small bodies of water to hunt the ducks and then switch them up. Give each one a rest and hit it no more than 2 times a week. Sometimes even that can be too much and the ducks will start avoiding the area.
To hunt swamps for woodies, camo up, find a bunch of tall grass, a big bush or some brush to hide behind. Use a facemask, gloves and don’t move much when the birds are coming in. I prune out shooting lanes that I can step into when the birds are in range.
When hunting beaver swamps it is great to have a dog to send after birds. However, try hard to keep your dog from leaping into shallow portions where beavers cut off saplings to sharp points. This can be deadly for dogs.
Because you are generally hunting small bodies of water, a light gauge shotgun is perfect. So, a 16, 20 or even a 28 gauge is great. I prefer to use HeviMetal shells as they are affordable and do the job. Shot sizes of #5s or #6s in your favorite load is plenty good enough.
Be sure to put back what you take though. Come late season, consider building a wood duck box and place it in some of your hunting haunts. The wood ducks begin scouting out nesting sites in mid Feb to March in many areas.