"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres
October 2007

The myriad of outdoor pleasures aren’t all first line relatives of hunting, but these activities certainly rear their heads through the month and one of the finest--though the rank-and-file are yet to discover it--is jump-shooting wood ducks while hunting squirrels on creeks, streams and rivers.

There are many ways to try this interesting and productive activity, depending chiefly on the size of the creek, stream or river you will go to. But no matter the size of the water you will try, a requisite is ample cornfields bordering the waters for wood ducks love corn--standing or harvested. Wood ducks and corn are next to flies in soup. And corn is a staple of squirrels.

Whether floating a larger river, or riding Shanks mare (walking), while bank stalking a smaller thread of water, one can reasonably expect to bag his limit of two woodies and as many squirrels on a good day. That turns into fine fare at the table.

Wood ducks are wary critters, though, so stealth whether floating or bank stalking is a prime ingredient for the day. Personally, I prefer secondary streams and bank stalking to floating a larger river because a hunter on foot can be quieter and hunt more slowly. Walking also puts one in closer touch with fall mushrooms and nuts encountered.

Incidentally, I usually pick the mushrooms I find and store them in my hunting coat in the bread or paper sacks I always keep in my pockets. The nuts usually are simply sampled for later harvest. They may range from black walnuts to beechnuts.

Most of my time in stalking a creek or stream will be spent on the high banks, hidden by brush or standing corn. Occasionally, though, I sneak very carefully into a spot that offers a good view of the water above and below my opposition to scan for ducks with the little binoculars (they are carried on a strong strap around my neck).

In that area, one must remember that the wood duck (Aix sponsa) lives up to it’s name. It is often found on wood, as opposed to water. It is often found on the banks of waters--especially when it is feeding. I often find them even perched in trees when they are resting and I believe they even roost in trees at water’s edge.

I got my first lesson in this behavior one day while jump shooting on Salt Creek’s Middle Fork. As I sneaked a big bend in the creek, I could see (with my binoculars) a disturbance in the water behind a floating log. The stalking was fairly easy, so I got on hands and knees to get a really good shot at close range with the little Browning Superpose cradled in my arms.

There were ducks on the water behind the log and that shielded my presence from their view. I could get quite close, like 15 or 20 feet.

At even closer range, I struggled a bit to get to a sitting position where I would “SHUSH” them to put them on the wing for shooting. It was going to be duck soup. 

However, the ducks behind the log delayed a bit--undoubtedly surprised at my presence. This tactic took me aback and shots from both barrels went awry. Not a feather fell. And simultaneously, 25 or 30 of their brethren exploded from the limbs of a little ironwood tree on the banks near the water.

With this bit of action now history, and the only thing coming out of the barrels being wisps of smoke, I rolled over on my back in the dry leaves (my unloaded gun at my side), and tried to reconstruct the most unsuccessful turn of events. Fleecy clouds dotted the blue sky, and as I reflected on the stalk, the flock of woodies wheeled past the spot again well below the treetops--their wings creating a swoosh-swoosh sound as they sliced the air amid squeals (almost of delight)--a rollicking crew.

It was there, flat on my back with unloaded scattergun at my side, that my dad’s words took real meaning: “little squealers like wood,” hence their name.

I have hunted them for well over half a century now, and I still can’t get enough of them--on the creek, on the dining room table, or someplace between.

Although I hunt woodies some on the two forks of White River, my choice of waters is one of the smaller creeks of the state. There are many of them in the Muscatatuck River class, or smaller, and they all host wood ducks in the late summer, when the families unite, or until the first hard freeze hits. But, as noted earlier, streams that are bordered by corn or soybeans are the best bet.

Such waters also are often frequented by beaver colonies and they characteristically drag entire stalks of corn into the water where they feed. This spells smorgasbord for the woodies, too. Such spots will be recognized by foot wide beaver slides on the banks, and stalks of corn on the water. If the woodies aren’t there, just hide well in shotgun range and wait a spell. They probably will come.

Woodies also spend a lot of time during the day just loafing in creek bends, under and around driftwood structure, or even on the banks at the edge of the water.

I hunt them on foot by sneaking the banks, but staying well away from the water. Another bit advice from my dad notes that if the hunter can see the water, woodies can see, or hear, the hunter. However, sound is not as critical as sight. Sounds may make woodies nervous and more wary, but usually it does not put them to flight. Movement is more critical than still sight. So if you are detected by woodies, freeze in your tracks. Don’t try to conceal yourself by movement behind natural cover. Just freeze. Try not to blink an eye.

I stay out of sight of water most of the time as I move along a stream; occasionally, I slip carefully toward the water until I can see it with binoculars. If there are disturbances on the water’s surface, or if there is some kind of cover on the water, I try to get closer. Of course, disturbances can be created by a variety of other animals, birds, or many other factors.

One will, of course, have favored places--like a number of bends on a number of waters, and these must be given special attention--even sit hunted for a spell. Woodies move for many reasons. 

If wood ducks see you, or otherwise detect your presence, and simply swim away in one direction or another, don’t try to catch them. Move in a wide circle away from the creek and slip back within shooting range of the water. The ducks may come to you if you are well hidden. Move cautiously, but as fast as possible. There may be other ducks around.

When bank stalking, keep your eyes on the banks as much as possible. There may be birds feeding on acorns and many other seeds. Generally, though the water is most important as wood duck haunts. But one must still be cognizant of the banks, driftwood collections, logs and other form of natural cover found in streams. It is well to remember to give such spots plenty of time to produce when you are in shooting distance because woodies--like some other birds and animals--at times take some time to flee, even though they have been aware of your presence. While you are waiting for the possible explosion be alert and ready to fire.

I use several scatterguns for jump shooting woodies and squirrels, but it is important to have a hard-shooting gun and strong ammunition. I often load with three-inch magnum shells in a full choke gun. Gauge is inconsequential, but the smaller the stream, the smaller the gauge is a good rule of thumb. Twenty gauge is lighter--you got to carry it--but 12 gauge will add to killing range. Either will handle squirrels.

At this point I must say, to stay within the law, non-toxic shot must be used. I must also say non-toxic shot are not the best load for squirrels, but they must be used if waterfowl are hunted because of stupid federal regulations. We bow to them. Lead shot fired on streams and rivers would not be a threat to waterfowl, and they are the very direct cause of much crippling of squirrels. This comes from one who has without doubt crippled and lost many squirrels, and it makes me sad to think I do it.

Hunting slowly will assure plenty of opportunities to bag both squirrels and wood ducks if the birds are using the waters hunted.

Hunting a small stream or river will necessitate moving from one bank to the other. On larger rivers this probably will be no problem for a boat. Moving from one bank to the other can be a problem on small streams, but nature helps solve the problem by felling trees across streams (even rivers . . . natural bridges). Boots and socks--even trousers--can be removed to cross at riffles and other shallow waters.

In addition to ducks and squirrels, I often find hickory jacks (pleurotus ostreatus), a wonderful fall mushroom, on driftwood collections and other woods. For harvesting these my hunting coat always carries a bread sack or two.

There are, of course many other natural wonders to encounter for just viewing or harvesting and many of them will be found on streams and rivers . . . on a duck . . . er-r-r . . . squirrel hunt.

For example, a few years back I was on the middle fork of Salt Creek near the town of Kurtz in Jackson County. It was a very warm, bright day and I had gone to a cornfield to hot foot it back to my car for lunch . . . with no ducks or squirrels for the pot.

While walking swiftly down the first row of corn, I noticed what appeared to be a fog bank 10 or 15 feet above the earth far ahead.

But I asked myself, “What would a fog bank be doing out there on the hot, bright day.”

Arriving close hand at the scene, I discovered a vine and fluffy seedpods I never before had seen or heard of . . . anywhere or from anybody. It turned out to be virgin’s bower, a rare member of the buttercup family (Clematis virginiana) climbing in ash saplings. It made my lack of ducks and squirrels totally inconsequential.

My peanut butter-jelly sandwich never tasted so good, and I appear to be the lone Hoosier who has viewed the plant. 

It’s that time of year . . . almost!

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

virgseed.jpg (17867 bytes)
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This is the seedpod of virgin’s-bower. A cluster of seedpods on a vine in small ash trees left the appearance of ground fog on a hot, sunny day. The wood duck is one of our most beautiful, as well as best eating, ducks. This shot tells the story of a wood duck-squirrel outing. My model 1100 supports ducks and squirrels.

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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

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