By Wade Bourne

Years ago, when I was in the Air Force, I had a crackerjack hunting spot in north Texas that was a veritable garden of aquatic vegetation in shin-deep water, and the gadwalls loved it. Like many duck hunters, my friends and I called them "gray ducks" because of their mottled gray appearance, and they afforded us some great hunting during the years I lived in the Lone Star State

Today, the gadwall population is flourishing. The 2009 spring waterfowl survey estimated these birds at more than 3 milliona whopping 73 percent higher than the long-term average. As a result, gadwalls provide excellent hunting opportunities in many parts of the country.

To hunters, these ducks can be both a blessing and a curse. Some days gadwalls bomb the decoys and provide fast shooting. Other days they circle maddeningly, looking as if they're going to come in on each pass and then juking for altitude at the last second. Indeed, they are finicky and often frustrating to hunters. So how can hunters increase their success on these popular birds?

To learn more about hunting gadwalls, I asked three experts: Lamar Boyd, who with his father runs Beaver Dam Hunting Service on Beaver Dam Lake in Tunica, Mississippi; Jeremy Seals, a guide on Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee; and Brett Lofton from Lafayette, Louisiana, who hunts every day of the season in the coastal marsh near Pecan Island. All three of these locations are well known for attracting large numbers of gadwalls.

"Gadwalls are our main ducks on Beaver Dam Lake," Lamar Boyd says. "We use a lot of gadwall decoys, and we call gadwalls like we call mallards. But each day we gauge how much to call by the response of the birds. The first couple of groups in the morning tell the tale. Many days they're spooky; they'll circle and circle. On these days we cut the calling way back and use a lot of contentment calls and not much hail calling.

"When you're calling gadwalls, don't be afraid to try things you've been told not to do," Boyd adds. "For instance, when gadwalls don't want to finish and they get to that spot where they've been breaking and going around, hit them with some loud, fast calling. Sometimes this will get them to pitch right into the decoys. Just try anything different if what you've been trying hasn't been working."

Reelfoot Lake is zoned for a special two-day season in November to take advantage of the big migration of gadwalls that passes through northwest Tennessee at this time of year. During this early season, Jeremy Seals puts out only 75 decoys around his timber hole, and he bunches them tighter than he sets decoys for mallards later in the season. He likes to use gadwall and wigeon decoys in this early-season set.

"I don't call gray ducks very much," Seals says. "If they're high, I may blow a highball to get their attention, but I call a lot lessor none at allif they start working. Sometimes when they're sailing, I won't call again until I shoot or they start flying off. With gadwalls, you just don't know what they're going to do. I think they're a lot tougher to work than mallards."

Brett Lofton has three words of advice for hunting gadwalls in the marsh: location, location, location. "You have to be where the birds want to go," he emphasizes. "It's all about finding where they're feeding and then setting up there and hiding well. If you watch where the ducks are working and go there, you'll get plenty of shooting. We often hide in natural vegetation, sit on marsh seats, and hunt over just a few decoys. I like to use gadwall, wigeon, and pintail decoys. I think the birds can see the white on the pintails, and they're drawn to it."

When calling gadwalls, Lofton uses a mallard call and a wigeon whistle sparingly. "The gadwall may be a plain-Jane duck, but it has a lot of character," he adds.