In his book, “Life Among the Apaches,” John C. Cremony describes an interesting method used by Apache hunters to take ducks found in water holes across the Southwest. These native hunters would find where ducks were coming to water and throw gourds into the water. After a bit of an adjustment period, the ducks became used to the gourds and eventually ignored them altogether. Once this happened, the Apaches would get into the water with gourds on their heads and would swim close enough to the ducks to snatch them off the water.
While attempting to hunt crowded reservoirs with wary ducks, at times I probably would have been more successful trying the Apache gourd method than what I was doing.
However, over the years, I have found a way to hunt ducks that works for me, and the credit goes to wood ducks.
It’s no secret that small farm ponds, sloughs and wet bottomland areas, particularly those fed by or near a creek, can often be productive spots to find a few wood ducks. Hunting these areas generally only requires a pair of waders or hip boots. Last year, I counted 87 ducks in a spot like this that was around only 2 acres in size. I called a few friends, and the next day we all nearly killed our limits of three woodies.
Spots like these are often created or enhanced by the presence of beaver. These animals are routinely cursed as nuisances, and rightly so in many cases. Beavers can cause a lot of damage in a short amount of time. Beaver dams are known to cause erosion and flooding. The beavers themselves also damage local trees. However, these animals also create wonderful habitat for ducks. If not for the beavers, many of these areas would not retain any water, and there would be far fewer wood duck holes in Georgia.
James Raider, a biologist with Ducks Unlimited, said wood ducks are largely reliant on natural foods. Beaver ponds and sloughs dry out in the summer before flooding again in the late fall and winter.
“This creates tubers, which brings in a lot of invertebrates. Hens are looking for more protein, and these are provided by those invertebrates,” Raider said.
Wood ducks also feed heavily on acorns and other plants and bugs found in swamps.
Hunting these wood duck holes is not difficult. I like to scout several days before hunting to determine which direction the ducks are coming in from and which way they may prefer to leave the area. While doing this, I also determine how I’m going to enter the area so that I am not bumbling around in the dark on the day of the hunt. Once hunting, I try to have enough people spread out to cover the area. It is important not to have people sitting across from each other for obvious safety reasons. Sometimes I may bring a kayak or small boat, but mostly I just hunt from the bank or in the shallows. I do not use decoys or calls, nor do I think brushing in a blind is nearly as important in these areas as it is on big bodies of water. Being still and having some type of backdrop like a tree or brush is important. I do wear camouflage and have some sort of facemask.
I like to save these areas until as late in the season as possible, and I typically shoot a wood duck hole once. I believe that by late in the season ducks have been hunted in other places and more are coming to my spot. Yes, they are wary, but I would rather have a lot of wary ducks than just a few dumb ones early in the season.
One thing to keep in mind about hunting a wood duck hole is that woodies will roost in some swamps and feed in others. If the place you have found is a roost for wood ducks, then your best option is generally to find another hole that’s a feeding area. Hunting them in the morning as they leave a roost is a possibility in some cases, but evening hunts are out since they generally don’t return to their roost until past legal shooting hours—sunset at the location where you’re hunting. One possibility for hunting a roost is on a very cloudy or rainy day when ducks might fly earlier. But don’t push the legal shooting hours—game wardens are always listening for a wood duck roost shoot.
The hardest part of hunting wood duck holes is finding them and then gaining access. Most landowners with a good duck hole are either duck hunters themselves or have a friend who is protective of that spot. Gaining access is difficult, but it’s still possible. Rejection will come—a lot—but so might an awesome opportunity.
The duck season this year in Georgia ought to be a good one, according to Greg Balkcom, Georgia’s waterfowl biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division.
“The majority of Georgia’s migratory birds are coming from the Great Lakes region and eastward. The surveys in Eastern Canada and the northeast U.S. are looking really good,” he said.
Along with the migratory wood ducks, Georgia has its own local population of wood ducks that remain here year-round. Balkcom said this resident population makes up around 17 to 18 percent of the total wood ducks in Georgia, and this year the reproduction rate was good.
While duck populations are looking healthy, the drought this year has dried up some wetlands that would normally hold woodies. This may force ducks to bunch up, and those smaller areas still holding water could be even more productive.
One of the reasons Georgia’s wood duck population has been stable to increasing may be the emphasis on duck boxes. Duck boxes provide artificial nesting places for hens and have proven to be a good management tool.
“We’ve put out several hundred new boxes the last few years to try and increase production,” Balkcom said.
Most of these boxes have been put out in Wildlife Management Areas across the state, but Balkcom said that this is something private landowners can do, as well. He recommends that predator guards be added to deter raccoons and snakes. Directions on how to build duck boxes along with a predator guard can be found at www.georgiawildlife.com.
People don’t need to hunt like the Apache anymore, nor do they have to fight the crowds on the big waters to score during duck season. Ducks are adaptable and resourceful, and they can be found in small out-of-the-way areas across the state. That’s particularly true for our wood ducks.
Georgia’s not Arkansas. But thanks to nature’s engineer the beaver, and the work of WRD and sportsmen, and with a lot of legwork by hopeful hunters, good duck hunting can be found here in Georgia.