"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
About Bayou Bill
Recent Rambles
DNR Doings
Wild Recipes
Wood Duck Haunts and Behavior
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

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. 

The beholder will have no problem in finding beauty when the male wood duck is about.


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

 Return to beginning of document
Return to Bayou Bill's Home Page