Duck Speak 101

by Richard Simms          

This story is actually an educational tome, primarily for the wives of duck hunters. Duck season starts soon, and many duck hunting cliques will gather with copious amounts of liquid refreshment for various hunt post-mortem gatherings.

Usually the guys will gather in the den, possibly pouring over picture albums, whilst reliving the good days communing with nature. The wives will be coveyed up in the kitchen, perhaps feeling a bit left out.

In the interest of furthering marital bliss, I would like to teach the ladies some duck hunting language. That way, when the post-mortem begins, they can listen in without wondering if their husbands have started speaking in tongues.

Who knows? Maybe some brave woman will actually take part in the “duck chat.” Read and learn... and impress your husband with your newfound gift of duck gab.

“There are some ducks.”

Trust me... there’s not a duck hunter in the world who ever says “there are some ducks.” Usually the first person sighting ducks in the air, says “don’t move!” And he says it in such a way that you know violators will most likely be shot. If the ducks are really close, it’s more likely to be, “Oh s—t, don’t move!”

You see, ducks are most often scared away by movement. It catches their eye and they figure out that something is amuck. When they do, someone in the blind will say, “they flared, dammit. Who moved?”

“Flared” means the ducks saw you and obviously turned tail and ran. You can tell that by the intense increase wing beats and swift change of direction. Drake mallards will often vocalize as well with a loud, “wamp, wamp, wamp!”

You might hear your husband say “I had a bunch of woodies buzz me.” “Woodies” is duck-speak for wood ducks. “Buzz” means they flew by in range. However they had no intention of stopping and were probably going too fast to get a shot off.

But let’s assume things are going right and your husband says “those mallards were really cupped up.”

Don’t worry. We’re not talking C-cups or D-cups here. Nor or we talking jock straps. When ducks want to lose altitude to land, they quit flapping their wings. Instead they simply lock them in place like a parachute. But it’s real awkward to say, “they’re parachuted up,” so we go with “cup.” Or say “they’re on set wings.”

Often they’ll resume normal flight. It’s not unusual for ducks to fly in circles around decoys (or other ducks) several times before coming in to land. Other times they’ll just leave.

To insure that’s not the case, the key phrase we want to hear in the blind is “they’re hookin’!”

No, not hookers.... hookin’. That means they’re turning to circle and make another pass over the decoys. This process is liable to take place several times. The more times it takes place, the more often someone in the blind will mutter, “lock up you sons-of-bitches!”

“Locked up” means their wings are cupped, they’re losing altitude fast and are likely to be in range this time.

Not often, but sometimes, ducks won’t circle. You’ll see a single in the distance headed straight for the decoys on the first pass. No circling, no buzzing. He’s coming in. That’s called, “on a rope.” He’s headed at you just like he’s sliding down a rope. If anybody in the blind is any kind of shot, he’s dead.

When the ducks are in range and it’s time for the shooting to start, somebody in the blind will yell, “take ‘em!” If they’ve been watching Duck Commander videos, they might try to act like a pro and just calmly mutter, “cut ‘em.” Unless there’s a greedy game hog in the blind, in which case, you’ll be hunkered down hiding and the first thing you’ll hear is “Boom!” without ever having laid a hand on the trigger. This can cause ill will in a very confined space.

“Look at him wavin’ at the sky.”

That’s what someone will exclaim after they’ve shot a duck and killed it cleanly. You see, when you shoot a duck they often land on their backs and even though they’re quite dead, their feet will kick as if they’re trying to swim. But the appearance is that they’re “wavin’ at the sky.” This must be said with a certain amount of glee.

If a duck is not killed cleanly, it will often start “snakin’” This is not something a duck really gets to practice since I suspect that most ducks only get shot once in their life. But they instinctively drop their heads low and their bodies can actually sink in the water, giving them the appearance of a snake. They are amazingly well adapted for escape. Incredibly they will even dive underwater and can stay down for an amazing length of time. Said hunter had best be quick-steppin’ after that duck or it will get away. Hence the need for a good a retriever.

When you see ducks high in the sky, with absolutely no indication that they can even see your decoys, much less care... they are called “tourists.”

Chances are somebody in the blind who fancies himself a good duck caller will “highball” at them at least once. This has nothing to do with drinking. I have no idea why but a loud call imitating a seductive hen mallard is called a “highball.” Maybe it’s because she’s wanting some good-lookin’ drake to buy her a highball??

Anyway, with tourists, the highball is usually wasted breath.

One of my all-time favorite duck hunting phrases is “hit in the mouth.” That’s when you screw up really bad. Most commonly, almost without fail, a duck hunter can sit in the blind all day long and never see a bird. But step out into the decoys, either to re-position, or to quit for the day... and I guarantee you, ducks will appear. Most likely they’ll be on set wings, locked up, on a rope, only to see you and flare 100 yards out. Sometimes it would feel better to really get “hit in the mouth.”

And finally, on a good day, ask a duck hunter how he did and he’ll humbly murmur, “aah, did alright. Killed a limit.” What he’s really saying is “because I’m such a hell of a hunter, I could have killed a whole lot more, but the law wouldn’t let me.”

Okay... kinds of ducks:

  • Greenhead.... a drake mallard
  • Susie............. a hen mallard
  • Gads, or Gray ducks..... gadwalls
  • Woodies........ wood ducks
  • Baldpate........ American widgeon
  • Sprig.............. drake pintail
  • Spoony......... spoonbills
  • Greenwing.... greenwinged teal
  • Bluewing....... bluewinged teal
  • Snowcone..... bufflehead
  • Cans............. canvasbacks
  • Blacks........... black duck

There you go ladies. A short duck hunting glossary to get you involved in the next session of duck chat with your hubby. Try not to overwhelm him with your knowledge. And if you decide you actually want to go hunting with him, please don’t tell him it was my idea.


Scenic City Fishing Charters, Inc.