by Rod Haydel
Dad picked me up from school early that day and I knew something was up as he had his camo on. In those days, this meant an old gray flight jacket from his days in the Air Force. There was a chill in the air and a smile on his face when he said, "Hurry, the flight is on." I was excited at the anticipation of actually killing my first duck.
Indeed I did that afternoon, and dad even let me call it in with him. After a little instruction he had taught me to produce a decent quack on an old Faulk's call that he had for emergencies, as it had a split reed. Together we sat him on the water and I made my first kill. Old "Smokey" brought him back and delivered to hand a pretty drake. I spent some time admiring the many colors on my trophy and tried to figure out why dad referred to it as a "gray duck."
That was more than 30 years ago and today I still love to bag a few of these controversial birds late in the season. This is when they are in full plumage. To many it seems to be an inferior duck and almost something to be ashamed of. While times have changed, the sound they make sure hasn't. I still remember telling dad, "I hear a mallard," and his reply was, "That's just a grey duck, boy."
With the explosion in the population over the past few years I'm sure this species has helped fill the bag on many a marginal hunt. Gadwall do indeed have a language that is all on their own and not easily mistaken once you've heard them. The hen makes a low-pitched series of three to four nasally quacks similar to a pintail hen that imitates a kid on a duck call just learning. The drake produces a single monotone "tat-tat" quack, which sometimes, as in my case, gets mistaken for a mallard.
Most hunters underestimate these curious birds. They say they're crazy. Some work a call and others want no part of it. In my experience, all it takes is speaking their language and studying their habits. Most birds want to associate with their kind, hence, birds of a feather flock together. While I admit that I have personally watched many pairs not even trust one another, only to land 200 yards apart. I also have witnessed them turn on a dime to a gray duck sound with which they are familiar, working as a mallard would.