It has been said that water is to ducks as bacon is to eggs--a great
companion, but not a dire necessity. The early segment of the split season
on waterfowl each year tends to prove the point, especially the gunning
for wood ducks.
Sure, the wood duck (Aix sponsa), for my money the most beautiful
and interesting--not to mention best eating--duck found in Indiana, will
be found on water most of the time. But it is those exceptions to this
unwritten rule that makes hunting for this bird the contest that it is.
For those who sit over decoys for their early-season duck hunting the
wood duck may be just another duck. But for those who stalk wood ducks
for jump shooting on streams and rivers the gunning requires at least a
working knowledge of the bird.
Waterfowlers of Indiana’s three zones will have their shots at ducks
in the early segments of the split seasons this month (October 12-14 in
the north, October 26-November 1 in the south, and October 26-27 in the
Ohio River Zone). And while many species of ducks are fair game, the early
season for all practical purposes translates into wood duck hunting.
Woodies make up a huge percentage of the ducks taken in Indiana during
this early season because most of the birds we harvest are hatched right
here in the Hoosier State. They don’t have to come from anywhere . . .
they are here . . . at least until the frost flies. Woodies like the nesting
cavities of Hoosierland’s tree-lined streams and rivers, but they do not
like to get their feet cold.
Sure, the seasons are short, but they are structured especially to give
Hoosiers a chance to hunt wood ducks before they head south for the winter.
There will be a few woodies around when second segments of the waterfowl
season open later in the fall and winter, but the best hunting for this
species--known to farm boys as the little black squealer--is nigh.
Perhaps it is best that this season designed for hunting our native
woodies--and some migrating birds--is short. If it were any longer some
of us fanciers of the little black squealer might die of ecstasy.
How a duck of such lack of bulk (probably half the size of the mallard,
the bread-and-butter duck of the total waterfowl bag in Indiana), can grab
a hunter I do not know. True, it’s beauty is beyond comparison, and it
is superb on the table because it feeds on field corn, soybeans and
other crops, not to mention acorns of the oaks, and seeds of various
other plants and trees.
But while the woody’s value may reach its zenith at the table--having
been stuffed with chunks of apple, onion, celery and bacon and baked (covered)
at 350 degrees until well browned--it does not start there. This hunting
also can be food for the state-of-mind (therapy for sundry ills), for those
who jump-shoot creeks, streams and rivers.
As noted earlier, wood ducks will most often be found on water--or very
close to it. But their feeding habits often send them to harvested grain
fields, or to high-and-dry spots where oak trees have dropped their acorns,
or beneath a variety of other seed-bearing trees. While disturbances on
the surface of the water usually is a prime indicator of the presence of
woodies, the hunter who stalks woodies on streams and rivers must always
be aware of their dry-land activities.
On numerous occasions I have spotted concentrations of wood ducks in
feeding frenzies under oak trees (pin oak acorns are a favorite because
they are small and easy to swallow). Woodies are not difficult to spot
when they are feeding on acorns because the birds move constantly.
Places where beavers have pulled corn stalks into the water to
feed also are strong attractions for woodies because corn stalks usually
offer ears of corn, a prime food source of the little squealer. However,
woodies will go into fields adjacent to streams and rivers to feed on spilled
grain such as corn and soybeans.
Still, when all has been said about the feeding habits of wood ducks,
the hunter must remember that this shy, elusive bird often lives up to
its name by hanging out around concentrations of driftwood. But don’t be
surprised if you see flocks of woodies taking noonday siestas (or roosting)
in trees or understory brush on the banks of streams and rivers.
A prime example of this phenomenon occurred many years ago as I hunted
a stretch of Salt Creek in Southern Indiana PMR (pre Monroe Reservoir)
days. I could see a disturbance on the water 100 yards or more ahead of
my position. The waves were coming from behind a log and a collection of
other driftwood, and I was certain that a good stalk would bring some shooting.
With my eyes glued to the water, I belly-crawled to a point which I
was well within scattergun range of the birds (behind the log) I had not
seen, but which I was certain were there.
While getting to a squatting position in the weeds (from which I could
stand for shooting), a flock of 25 or 30 woodies took flight from a little
ironwood tree another 20 yards away-- well out of range for my little 20-gauge.
There were three or four birds behind the log, too, but the explosion of
the birds in the tree shook me so badly that I couldn’t get a shot.
The birds in the tree obviously had been curiously watching every move
I made and had tolerated my presence until one of them sounded the alarm
and that left me wondering what I had done wrong.
Still on hands and knees in the weeds with the little scattergun now
resting on the ground, I remembered that I had forgotten that my dad had
told me many times that wood ducks nest--and often sit--in trees.
While marveling at my failure to remember that, I also failed to remember
he had also told me that wood ducks are curious critters and often will
buzz the thing that spooked them if they have not been scared by gunfire.
You guessed it. From nowhere the entire flock zipped past, well within
range, but again I was not prepared to shoot.
So goes it when you are bank-stalking woodies.
beholder will have no problem in finding beauty when the male wood duck