5 Puddle Ducks You Love to Hate

By author of The Duck Blog

From spastic wood ducks to wary gadwalls, these are the dabblers apt to give you fits

Will those pintails ever land? Sure ... probably 100 yards away after circling for 15 minutes. Photo © Images on the Wildside

In a blog this past month, I whined about aggravating diving ducks. But why save all the vitriol for big water when puddle ducks can also incite fits of rage? Consider these, some or all of which will likely visit a slough or flooded woods near you this fall.

1. Here-to-There Wood Ducks

I laugh at my collection of wood duck decoys. Why? Wood ducks rarely decoy. They fly from Point A to Point B before the sun is up and right before it sets. Unless you’re where they want to be at first light or somewhere along their flight path, you’ll watch and curse them from a distance. Sure, you can exact some revenge by jumping woodies midday at hidden sloughs or winding streams. But classic decoy hunts for the speedy devils can prove downright frustrating.

2. Circling Pintails and Gadwalls

Many ducks have a habit of making endless circles while suspiciously eyeing dekes, but pintails and gadwalls seem to be the worst culprits. I’ve lost count of how many swings prairie pintails have made around my pothole spreads only to land 100 yards away. And after watching Southern gaddies during several hunts, I’ve wondered if they simply fly all day and only land at night. If nothing else, these circumspect ducks are doing you a favor by letting you know your spread and hide aren’t quite perfect. Take the hint and tweak your rig until those circlers finally commit.

3. The Surprise Spoonie

A basic tenet of duck hunting holds that you should not shoot at any duck until you’ve identified its species and sex. So why do northern shovelers still find their way into our bags every season?

Maybe it’s because they take us by surprise when they suddenly appear over the decoys. Or perhaps they fly out of the sun, looking like another puddler. Spoonies are pretty cool little birds, and taking a few here and there is no sin. Still, those hen shovelers look a bit out of place when placed next to four greenheads or a mixed bag of bull pintails and drake wigeon.

4. Shooting-Lesson Greenwings

I love greenwings because they’re beautiful, great-tasting ducks that provide challenging wing-shooting. But some days, hunters aren’t up to the challenge. Greenwings twist and dart, seemingly sensing and evading shot patterns. They’ll fly headlong at you only to flare hard right or left at the last second. And don’t forget the classic springing-teal, vertical-rocket maneuver. Some days, three shells and colorful language are the best you can muster. Hopefully those hunts just make the full-strap days more satisfying.

Mallards might be the most beloved yet frustrating duck on the planet. Photo © Zach LaBorde

5. Mallards

Every duck hunter loves and appreciates mallards. Yet every duck hunter curses and sometimes loathes mallards. They’re wary. They’re skittish. If birds can be “smart,” they’re smart. And they’re extremely adept at thwarting the best efforts of even very skilled hunters. When mallards beat you — and they will — tip your hat and move on. You’ll make hay after the next front or during freeze-up. And when you finally line those greenheads up on a log, breathe a sigh of relief and appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Then get up and after 'em again in the morning.

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