John's Journal...

Ducks Made Easy

When I Enjoyed Bushwhacking At Its Best

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: My friends and I for years have used our woodsmanship, stalking skills and stealth to jump-shoot pothole quacks, stream ducks and creek ducks.  If you conduct a poll today to learn how many hunters jump-shot ducks as opposed to those who set-up decoys, build blinds and own retrievers, bushwhackers probably will make up 20 to 40 percent of all those who hunt waterfowl.

My wife and I existed on a subsistence living while in college and graduate school at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama, but we always had plenClick to enlargety to eat. Most of the meat we ate, we either caught or shot, and we grew most of our vegetables. If I had a bad week of hunting and fishing, we ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Only 15 minutes from our married students’ apartments, I hunted the Tombigbee River swamps in west-central Alabama. I learned those 8,000 acres better than I knew the chemical symbols and elements in my chemistry class. I became a proficient duck stalker. Although you don’t read very much today about stalking ducks, you’ll find this tactic as exciting and as deadly as any form of duck hunting known to man. 

The backwater sloughs, oxbow lakes and wet-weather ponds off the Tombigbee River loaded-up with floating acorns during the fall and winter months. Native wood ducks and migrating mallards ate these acorns for breakfast, lunch and dinner on these small waters just off the main river. Because this river-bottom flood plain homed an abundance of cypress and low-standing water, the ducks could see danger coming at great distances. I spent almost 2 years developing my stalking tactic of how I could get close enough to the ducks to get a shot without the ducks seeing me and flushing. My equipment consisted of:
* a backpack,
* lightweight, stocking-type waders,
* camo paint,
* a headnet and gloves,
* a hunting coat with a game pouch in the back,
* 15 to 20 shells (back then we only had 2-3/4-inch shells),
* a belly boat and
* a pair of old tennis shoes.

Click to enlargeWhen I went into the woods, I'd listen for the high-pitched whistles of the wood ducks as they sat on the water or the quacking of the mallards feeding on the acorns. Once I heard the ducks, I'd try to determine my distance from them and what course I'd have to take to get within gun range.  Next, I'd put on my waders and camouflage and slide into the water well away from where the ducks fed. I learned that to get close to ducks I first had to movClick to enlargee slowly to not leave ripples on the water as I moved. I never shifted my weight from my back foot to my front foot until my front foot had a firm and secure place on the bottom. I always tried to walk behind trees to remain out of sight of the ducks while I approached. I assumed that if I could see a duck, it might spot me. Therefore, I remained motionless anytime I spotted waterfowl on the water. When I stopped for a break and to determine the ducks’ location, I always leaned-up against a tree to resemble a part of the tree.

Often, if I spotted ducks close, but not within range, I'd try not to look at the ducks. Or, I’d close my eyes, so I barely could peek out of the slits, and the ducks couldn't see my eyes. As I stalked, I estimated the amount of time required for me to walk from one tree standing in the water to the next tree, without the ducks spotting me. I had to discipline myself to move slowly enough to not spook the ducks by timing my stalk with a wristwatch. If I didn't time myself, I'd move too fast and flush the birds I wanted to take.

I also would designate a shooting tree. I decided I wouldn’t take a shot until I reached a particular tree well within range of the ducks. Using this method, I knew if I spooked the ducks before I arrived at my designated shooting tree, I probably wouldn't spook them enough that they wouldn't return to the same area within 10 or 20 minutes. When I reached the site I planned to shoot from, I’d emerge from behind the tree. As the ducks came off the water, I would aim above them and usually get off three shots with my before the ducks climbed out of range.

Tomorrow: Why Not to Go Get Your Ducks Immediately

Check back each day this week for more about "Ducks Made Easy"

Day 1: What a Bushwhacker Needs to Know to Take Ducks
Day 2: When I Enjoyed Bushwhacking At Its Best
Day 3: Why Not to Go Get Your Ducks Immediately
Day 4: What Equipment You Need to Bushwhack Ducks
Day 5: Why Bang Banks


Entry 539, Day 2