Gadwall: The Gray Duck Dilemma

By author of The Duck Blog

Gaddies seem to be everywhere, but hunting them requires special considerations

Gray ducks aren't mallards. Tweak your approach to put gaddies in your boat. Photo © Guido Bissattini/Shutterstock

The ubiquitous gray duck, once interloper turned mainstay, has become the filler of many limits during the past decade. Where greenheads once dominated, the gadwall now reigns with its incessant circling, flaring and teasing ways.

More than once, I’ve heard, “Dang it, those are gray ducks,” hissing from frosty mouths hunkered beside me in a blind. Although I can understand the animosity of some folks toward the “lowly” gray duck — especially when they reminisce about the old days and limits of mallards — I also appreciate the gadwall for what it is: a cagy duck that, although lacking the visual allure of a brightly plumed mallard, will work to a call almost as well and, despite what some have said, make fine table fare.

Most of the frustration with Mr. Gray comes from the belief they won’t decoy, will not respond to calling and are ridiculously wary to the point of hair-pulling frustration. Well, I’m here to tell you that none of this is true — usually.

Decoying Gadwalls

I’ve heard people say decoys do not matter, and gadwalls will light into a spread of mallards, pintails or whatever else you have out just as quickly as they’ll drop into a spread of their own kind. From what I’ve observed, this is true if you have decoys in your spread that look like the species in the area you’re hunting. That said, a few places I hunt have about a 100-to-1 coot-to-duck ratio, with gadwalls being the primary duck most of the season. Needless to say, two-dozen mallard drake decoys will stand out like a sore thumb, but two dozen coots with three or four gray ducks mixed in looks far more natural. The general rule when setting a spread for gadwalls tends to be less is more.

Another myth holds that you need special gadwall decoys to fool ultra-wary gray ducks. My answer is maybe. I usually hunt with gadwall decoys, but I’ve fooled just as many using hen decoys from several other species. Ultimately, it’s more about making your spread look as natural to the area you’re hunting than the make, model and serial number of your decoy. Also, leave the spinning-wing decoys at home. I’m not going to say gadwalls hate them, but I’m not gonna tell you the like ’em, either.

Calling Gadwall

The best advice I can give anybody trying to call gadwalls to the gun is to take the amount of calling you normally do, cut it in half and then divide that by a quarter. Although I’ve watched gadwalls bend into a hail call and “work,” I’ve seen far more flare or simply ignore the call.

Calling gadwalls typically involves a few subtle quacks and low, guttural drake grunts. If you need to get their attention, a quick gadwall hen greeting call — think of a mallard hen that isn’t quite as refined — will usually get them to look. After you get that first turn, lay off the calling. Put the call in your pocket, and watch them. Listen to how they respond. If they’re quiet, take that as a cue to lay off the call. Learning to read gadwalls — or any duck, for that matter — is more than half the calling game. Some light grunting when they’re a bit more talkative will usually get gadwalls to eventually commit, whereas blowing a call until you’re purple will send them into the next county.

How to Stop Them from Circling

You can’t. They’re gray ducks. It’s what they do.

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