Fill Your Bucket List: 5 Puddle Ducks You Must Shoot

By author of The Duck Blog

These dabblers top the beauty contest

Everyone’s into bucket lists nowadays. Duck hunters are no different.

We dream and scheme about dazzling full-color drakes to make taxidermy dreams come true. But every duck is beautiful in its own way, so setting a short list can be difficult.

In this article and the next three Tuesday “Duck Blog” editions, I’ll make my subjective picks for the top waterfowl for the wall. You might disagree with my choices or think I’m daft, and that’s cool. Get on Facebook to let me know your A-listers. Nothing fires up pre-season anticipation like a good duck hunting debate.

But for now, here are my choices for the top five bucket-list puddle duck drakes you need to have.

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Cinnamon TealBreeding-Plumage Blue-Winged TealBlack DuckFull-Sprig PintailMature Drake Wood Duck

1 | Cinnamon Teal

With their brilliant red plumage, drake cinnamons are simply stunning. Moreover, I’m a Mississippi and Central Flyway guy, and I’ve never — to my knowledge — even seen a cinnamon teal. That’s likely why they make my list.

You’ll probably have to head west to the Pacific Flyway in December or January (or later in Mexico) to have a chance at a taxidermy-worthy drake cinnamon. With colors like that, though, the journey might be worthwhile.

Photo credit: © Wildphoto3/Shutterstock

2 | Breeding-Plumage Blue-Winged Teal

Bluewings are as common as mosquitoes during August and September in my home state of Wisconsin and my second duck hunting home, the Dakotas. Still, I’ve never shot a drake that was close to being colored out. That’s why they make the list.

You’ll have to head south to Florida or Louisiana in January to notch this bucket-lister. But with its slate-blue head and distinctive white crescent by the bill, a breeding-plumage drake bluewing would make a fine, albeit small, addition to any trophy wall.

Photo credit: © Norman Bateman/Shutterstock

3 | Black Duck

Here’s that Mississippi Flyway bias again. I can’t help myself. Sure, we have black ducks, and I see some every year. We even shoot a fair number toward the end of the season if it’s cold. However, blacks are increasingly rare, as they’ve hybridized considerably with mallards. Shooting a true drake black duck with taxidermy-worthy plumage remains on the bucket list of hunters in many parts of the country.

Perhaps a trip to the relatively black-duck-rich Atlantic Flyway might be in order.

Photo credit: © Images on the Wildside/Fred Greenslade

4 | Full-Sprig Pintail

Northern hunters simply don’t get many chances at drake pintails with long sprigs. In fact, I’ve shot one in my life — during early October, amazingly. Most pinnies really don’t grow their long, distinctive tail feathers until later in the season, when they’re nestled in Texas, Mexico and other points south.

Yeah, I’ve shot my share of nicely colored drake sprigs, but my wall still has a hole saved for the first bull with long tail feathers. Lagunda Madre, anyone?

Photo credit: © Images on the Wildside/Peter Eades

5 | Mature Drake Wood Duck

What, you’re surprised? Come on, the drake woodie might be the world’s prettiest duck. And although Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway hunters shoot scores of wood ducks every year, a truly mature bull woodrow — with bright ribbon feathers and a long, full crest — is a taxidermist’s dream.

I’ve shot many prime examples but never got them mounted, probably figuring I’d do so every season. Many hunters do likewise. That’s why a mature drake woodie remains on the list.

Photo: © Images on the Wildside

6 | Epilogue

I can’t write this without apologizing to drake American wigeon (note the picture). They’re my favorite puddle duck, and colored-out drakes are spectacular. Yet they might pale just a bit compared to woodies and pintails in full breeding plumage, and they’re more common — at least to me — than black ducks, cinnamon teal or colored-out drake bluewings. Regrettably, I can only give them an honorable mention.

By now, you’re also screaming that I did not mention the drake mallard. Full-color, multi-tail-curl greenheads are museum specimens, after all. Still, because they’re so common, I can only give them a second honorable mention.

Don’t even get me started on drake gadwalls, greenwings and shovelers. Shoot, they’re all pretty. You know what? Don’t pick and choose. Buy a bigger house with a mammoth den, and collect prime drakes to your heart’s content. Maybe I’ll do the same. Of course, I’d probably have to come live in your den after my wife saw the taxidermy bill.

Photo credit: © Shutterstock