6 Reasons Why Bluebills Rock

By author of The Duck Blog

These Sporty Divers Enthrall Hunters from Coast to Coast

They Herald the True Migration

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1 | They Herald the True Migration

When I see small oil slicks or tiny black-and-white dots on my favorite lake, I know the autumn migration has begun in earnest. No, not the first little pushes, when bluewings head south and geese begin staging for their journey. Neither is it the “little flight,” when many calendar ducks such as greenwings, wigeon, redheads, ringbills and pintails begin to drift south, spurred by photoperiodism.

This represents the start of the real stuff. Often, scaup arrive in the Upper Midwest after the first good October cold front. Other years, they just appear from nowhere, probably in response to decreasing daylight. But either way, it’s on, and the subsequent few weeks mark the heart of the Northern duck season.

Photo © Rock Ptarmigan/Shutterstock

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Visual Spectacle

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2 | Visual Spectacle

I’ll agree that you haven’t lived until you’ve seen tens of thousands of canvasbacks flying about or loafing on the Mississippi River. It’s probably equally as impressive to watch 1,000 honkers descend on a Manitoba grain field or see a tornado of Dakota mallards whip around a cut cornfield. But I’m equally in awe when watching wave after wave of ’bills rise from open-water loafing spots and zip low over the water to roosting areas. And as the sun falls and those little squadrons and 100-duck waves merge into one massive skein of scaup, I just feel better about the world — and the next morning’s hunt.

Photo © Rock Ptarmigan/Shutterstock

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They Decoy

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3 | They Decoy

Now we’re getting to the meat. Most diver nuts love bluebills because they act like a real duck. That is, they decoy like champs. Often, a small group of scaup will see your blocks at a distance, rise up for a better view, bank on a dime, start a slow downwind approach, zip low across the tail or first part of your spread and then put down the landing gear over your kill hole. The spectacle never gets old, whether you’re watching from a windswept shoreline point, a churning Dakota pothole or, especially, from the cold, heaving confines of an open-water layout boat.

That, friends, is how a duck should behave. No flaring at 100 yards when a cattail stalk looks out of place. No anti-social wood ducks zooming past and ignoring your blocks. Bluebills typically act like gentlemen.

Photo © Brian E. Kushner/Shutterstock

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They Can Move

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4 | They Can Move

Other birds get more credit for speed and acrobatics. A red-breasted merganser, we’re told, holds the record for the fastest flight speed ever recorded for a duck. Cans, legend has it, hit a full-throttle speed of up to 70 mph. Ringbills seem like miniature F-22s — even leaving a jet-like hiss in their wake. And greenwings? Throw your gun up and hope.

But those burners don’t have much on bluebills. In fact, no matter what anyone says, I’d put my money on a lesser scaup over a can or mergie in a straight-line sprint. Moreover, scaup fool you, often floating into the decoys like a 10-pound goose bucking a 20-mph crosswind. Get on them quickly, though, because after they realize they’re in danger, bluebills throw down the throttle and seemingly hit Mach 2 in an instant. Year after year, bluebills are among the fastest ducks I see and shoot at.

Photo © Brian E. Kushner/Shutterstock

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Eye Candy

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5 | Eye Candy

Likewise, many folks extol the appearance of cans, redheads, buffies and many puddle ducks. A drake ’bill, after all, simply looks black and white at a distance.

Maybe scaup won’t win the duck beauty contest, but they’re exceptionally pretty birds. A drake lesser’s head often shimmers with iridescent purple tones, and a greater’s shows hidden shades of green. And actually, as writers have pointed out, many of each clan exhibit both colors. The vermiculation on the bird’s back feathers is equally impressive. Throw in their yellow eyes, stark white flanks and the bluish bills of drakes, and you have one handsome duck.

Photo © Bildagentur_Zoonar_GMBH/Shutterstock

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They

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6 | They're Good to Eat

Don’t laugh. I’m serious. I won’t argue that scaup rival most puddle ducks, a canvasback or even a rice-fed ringbill or redhead. However, when cleaned and prepared with care, they’re pretty good.

The key is to eat them fresh. The longer scaup meat sits in a freezer, the less desirable it becomes. Clean the birds however you like, but try to cut every bit of fat away from the meat. That fat often contributes much of the gamey taste people attribute to bluebills. Further, clean or cut away bloodshot areas, and brine the meat in salted water for a few days, changing the water and salt frequently. Then, cook the meat to no more than medium rare, or use it in stews, fajitas, kabobs or other recipes. You’ll never mistake a bluebill for a late-season black duck, but you won’t want to drown one in ketchup, either.

Photo © Michael Pendley

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In previous blogs, I’ve praised many ducks, including mallards, woodies, canvasbacks and other high-profile birds. Shoot, I’ve even written about shovelers, mergansers and ruddy ducks.

But anyone who knows me realized long ago that bluebills are my favorite ducks. Heck, they can be greater scaup (called broadbills by some) or the more common lessers. I don’t care. They’ve been tops in my book for more than 30 years. I've wrecked props, broken guns, angered bosses and almost died in pursuit of these birds, and I'm not about to let up.

You might question that choice. And admittedly, it might seem odd for a guy with loads of full-body honker decoys and some pretty good mallard spots to obsess about a big-water diving duck. But I have my motivations. In fact, I recently thought of six reasons why bluebills rock.

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