By Will Brantley
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A creek bend, falling beechnuts and a cool October morning are heaven for a teenage boy with a borrowed shotgun. Years before I really considered myself a duck hunter—one with decoys, calls and waders—I was hunting wood ducks in places like this.
Today, I have a host of waterfowling adventures under my belt, but there remains something so pure and honest about jump-shooting a wood duck from a creek. If you live virtually anywhere in the Mississippi or Atlantic flyways (and quite a few places in the other flyways), chances are there's a place nearby where you can shoot a few wood ducks in the fall. One of the best things about wood duck hunting is that it can be done successfully in a variety of places without much gear.
Wood ducks often roost in great numbers in beaver sloughs, river oxbows and similar backwater wetlands. Woodies going to roost can provide fast-and-furious shooting opportunities, but hunters should be careful how they pursue them. It's mighty tempting to hunt the heart of the roost, where hundreds of wood ducks may pour in just before sunset, but such a move can ruin a great wood duck spot for the rest of the season, possibly even for years to come.
The better bet is to spend a morning or two watching the ducks and where they go before the hunt. Find a preferred flyway, perhaps a turn in a creek or a narrowing in a slough a couple hundred yards from the roost and set up there. Wood ducks are predictable, especially during the early season, so this is a high-percentage way to hunt them.
The limit on wood ducks is only a few birds, so it can be tempting to bring several buddies along. But more guns mean more pressure and fewer quality days of hunting. It's usually best to pass shoot woodies with only one or two other buddies.
Decoys and Calling
Yes, you can actually decoy wood ducks. These quirky birds are notorious for snubbing decoys and calling, but that's often the result of where, rather than how, you're hunting. If you set your decoys along a flyway where you normally pass shoot, wood ducks will likely ignore your spread while en route to a preferred feeding or roosting area. But if you're waiting for woodies at their final destination, they might fall right into your decoy spread like a flock of mallards.
Two Septembers ago, while scouting before the Tennessee wood duck/teal opener, I found dozens of wood ducks feeding along a mud flat with blue-winged teal. At daylight the next morning, the first 20 birds to drop into my dozen decoys were woodies. Toting a 20-gauge, it took a few more shells than it should have to take my two-bird limit and switch my focus to teal, but the action the woodies provided at dawn was impressive.
The bottom line: if you've found a spot where wood ducks are gathering to feed or roost, they'll work decoys the same as any other puddle duck. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have a wood duck call on hand to add another degree of realism to your spread.