Recounting a lifetime’s worth of hunts for teal, pintails, mallards and more
When duck hunters discuss certain species, the conversation inevitably turns to hunts for those ducks. It’s not enough to mention that you prefer mallards. Someone will say, “Remember when all those greenheads piled into the creek and we hit them just right?”
That sentiment struck me recently as I pored over old hunting journals, reviewing the various species I’ve taken. The figures — the number of birds killed on each hunt — meant little to me. But the recollections spurred by each entry played like a movie in my head.
So pardon the self-indulgence, but here’s a glimpse of my favorite memories of common puddle ducks. (Stay tuned for divers and sea ducks.)
I’ve shot (and missed) a pile of these little devils. But one opening-day adventure with my first retriever, Belle, stands out. I found a mother lode of bluewings at a small flowage near my old office, so Belle and I slipped in early on opening morning. Teal bombed us from every angle, and I shot well enough to kill four, plus a bonus wood duck and a mallard. Later, I took a photo of Belle with her pile of brown ducks. Her white maw and tired eyes blazed in the September sunshine. The image is a great portrait of a great dog in the autumn of her life.
During an especially wet year in South Dakota, a long scouting mission revealed sprawling sheet water holding about 250 greenwings. Two friends and I walked in the next afternoon and melted our barrels. The highlight? A legitimate triple on streaking greenwings — on video. I won’t pull that off again anytime soon.
Woodies always make me envision brilliant fall colors and long, slow walks or floats down farm-country streams. But a team jump-shoot 25 years ago provided my top wood duck moment. Three co-workers and I surrounded a willow-choked irrigation pond near our office during lunch hour. Immediately, woodies began boiling out both ends, and the shooting was frenzied. One buddy and I quickly filled our two-woodie daily limits. My other buds? They missed everything except one straggler bluewing. I never hunted that spot again, but I smile every time I drive past it.
Thirty years ago, a buddy and I poled into a local marsh during an extremely windy day. Never mind that we limited on mallards and killed a rare bonus snow goose. We shot a shoveler — our first — and celebrated the little spoonie like we’d won the lottery. (Did I mention that we weren’t very bright?)
I’ve written previously about the field hunt two friends and I enjoyed during a South Dakota blizzard. Mallards, geese and other ducks bombed our meager spread, but my lasting image of that day will always be the hordes of pintails that floated over within range. With six sprigs already on our straps, all we could do was sit back and enjoy the unforgettable show.
Gray ducks take me back to my early years in the Dakotas. We’d killed a few gaddies at home but weren’t prepared for the gadwall tsunami we encountered on the prairies. The most emblematic hunt probably occurred during our initial North Dakota foray. One knock on a farmer’s door gave us permission for several gaddie-laden sloughs, plus the offer to shoot pheasants. Those days are long gone, but I’ll always remember that simpler time whenever I see a gadwall.
My favorite picture of Belle shows her standing proudly in a bean field over four drake wigeon, a drake pintail and a ringneck. A South Dakota farmer had given us permission to shoot his sloughs, so a friend and I walked in at midmorning with a few decoys. Most of the birds flushed, and the ringneck circled back above us. I shot it because I had no idea what the rest of the morning would bring. Soon after, flock after flock of prime wigeon and some pinnies descended on the slough, and we picked out fat drakes until we had 12. That might be my favorite all-time Dakota hunt.
I love shooting black ducks, mostly because we don’t kill that many in the Mississippi Flyway. My favorite came decades ago on a favorite lake. Two buds and I were full on mallards, so we hoped to spy a teal, pintail or black duck among the huge groups of mallards that continued to parachute into our spread. The teal came early, and the pintail fell at about 10 a.m. An hour later, we spotted one black in a whirling tornado of 100 mallards and waited seemingly forever until it buzzed into range. My buddy dropped it with one shot, and we celebrated an improbable limit.
I double-checked my mapping app as I gazed at the duck-packed shoreline. Sure enough, it was public, though you wouldn’t guess it from the 150 mallards loafing on that sandy shore. Common sense told me not to hunt it, as a strong wind would be in our face the next day. Still, I couldn’t resist. My dad and I walked in before daylight, set up and hoped for the best. When 30 mallards landed at 15 yards five minutes before shooting hours, I figured we’d be all right. We walked out two hours later with full straps of greenheads and some bonus geese. That was Dad’s final year hunting the Dakotas, and I’ll never forget the smile on his face.
I live and hunt in the Midwest, and I’ve never shot a cinnamon teal. Any California guys have a lease they want to share?
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.