Friday, December 11, 2015

Wet Weather Wood Duck Hunting in Bottomlands

Wood duck decoy in a flooded hardwood bottomland
Waterfowl season comes every calendar year, but wood duck hunting in bottomlands can often be adversely affected by droughty conditions. With copious amounts of rainfall in the Lowcountry, and more on the way thanks to El Nino, we are starting out with woodland conditions that favor woodland duck hunters. The ways that a woodland duck hunt differs from hunting for other species of waterfowl are myriad, and that is precisely what makes it a special type of hunt.
Wood ducks are the first ducks to take flight in the mornings, always right around dawn, so the first challenging logistic is that this hunt is always a daily race against the clock. The woodland wood duck hunter must calculate how much time it takes to exit the bed, dress in full camo for maximum concealment, drive to the hunting area, adorn chest waders and then walk into the cold water. Keeping in mind that the legal shooting time for ducks is thirty minutes prior to sunrise, all of these pre-hunt activities take place under cover of darkness.
Prior to the hunt taking place, the hardwood bottomland hunting grounds will be scouted for the presence of wood ducks or duck sign such as feathers and down from preening. But that pre-dawn foray into the woodlands is completely different since the hunter experiences the forest in its nocturnal state. Woodland birds such as owls, nightjars and whippoorwills are still active and may be spotted, sometimes by the headlight of the truck going down a two-rut road on the property. White-tailed deer may make a dash across the road, and one such simple sighting can help to piece together previously confusing deer sign and clues.

Once you find the wood ducks and execute your hunt, they will become wary of that spot, and the wise wood duck hunter will then stay away for a while. Letting waterfowl rest is universal, whether in the grand historic rice fields along the coast, or down in the flooded hardwood bottomlands. Continued scouting can reveal where acorn crops offer the highest yield, offering sustenance to any wood ducks seeking food.

Other thoughts to consider during my homage to the wood duck is that there is no early season in September for wood ducks like there is other waterfowl, so a long off season makes the wood duck hunt one to hanker for. And it’s not unheard of to pick up a wood duck with a federal leg band on it, since many of these ducks are highly migratory. Finally, a wood duck breast offers an appealing pink color, which easily transforms into a memorable meal to savor with friends.

To read the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Charleston Mercury.

To view past blog entries about hunting wood ducks click 2015 - 20142013 - 2012 - 20112010 - 2009

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