Falling acorns, a creek bend, and a brisk November morning mean prime opportunities for hunting the wonderful wood duck. Hunting for wood ducks created the desire for many hunters to become waterfowlers, even before the hunters started buying decoys, duck calls, and waders. The once nearly extinct woodie is now one of the most prevalent duck species. Wood ducks inhabit most of the wooded wetlands and hardwood bottoms from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast. Hunters can find wood ducks almost anywhere in the U.S. Some of the greatest aspects of hunting wood ducks are the minimal gear requirements and abundant hunting locations.
Although wood ducks are puddle ducks, they are definitely not the same as other puddlers, like mallards, teal, gadwall, or pintails. Unlike most puddle ducks, wood ducks squeal or whistle, instead of quack. They do not build nests in marsh grass either. They prefer to nest in the hollow cavities of trees. Woodies do not migrate, fly, decoy, or flock together like most waterfowl. These characteristics create the need for specialized hunting tactics for bagging these squealers.
Scouting is crucial to consistently locate and harvest wood ducks. Look for these birds around sloughs or feeder creeks off of a river. Beaver ponds and forested swamps are favored locations of wood ducks. They also frequently fly along the timberline of river channels, sloughs, lakes, and swamps. Many national wildlife refuges and wildlife management areas can offer excellent wood duck habitats as well.
These ducks are typically found in small flocks or in pairs. The layout of your decoy spread should mimic this habit. While most puddlers respond well to mallard decoys, woodies are more responsive to wood duck decoys. In most cases, a dozen woodie decoys in small groups of up to four decoys scattered around the edges of a pond or marsh work best. Make sure to leave plenty of openings for the wood ducks to land. Motion decoys are also very effective for wood ducks.
Woodies fly fast and low. They will often buzz the decoys and disappear before most hunters can even react. Despite their speed and stealth, wood ducks are known for their calling. Their trademark squeals have given them the nickname “squealer.” The wood duck hen makes a variety of squeals to distinguish her attitude. While sitting on the water, the hen produces a confidence call that sounds like Ooo-EEEK Ooo-EEEK! The hen also squeals while flying, and it sounds like ooeeeek ooeeeek. Wood duck drakes produce a zeep or zip sound along with distinctive chatter. Calling to wood ducks creates the feeling of safety and confidence. In some cases, calling will draw in these ducks that are already sitting on the water.
For me, one of the best ways to experience wood duck hunting is standing in waist-deep water in a flooded oak flat. A half- dozen decoys and a little confidence calling will put the birds at ease as they come roaring through the trees at dawn. In flooded timber, wood ducks are in gun range before you even see them coming. When they appear, fast instinctive shooting will help close the deal. Give these wonderful waterfowl a try and you will not be disappointed.