Challenging both a hunter's skill and wing shooting ability shooting a limit of wood ducks is not as quick as many may think. But with rising populations over recent years along with making excellent table fare many are up for the challenge. When compared to other ducks their habitat preferences and food sources are quite different making this bird both elusive and misunderstood. We've received many emails specifically asking for wood duck hunting tips and hope you will find this article useful.
While many hunters will think of flooded timber, wooded creeks, bayous, sloughs and small rivers will also offer some very good shooting. Many of these locations will also serve as flyways and are very well suited for pass shooting or jump shooting. We have also had some great wood duck hunts over decoys in marsh settings during the early season. Marsh settings are typically roosting areas and will usually provide the most action at sunset.
Here are some sample photos that will better visually describe good and poor habitat.
The above photo is a perfect example of a prime location. Notice the fallen trees along the edges of the water and branches overhead.
The above habitat is much better suited for mallards and teal. If this water had some fallen trees along the shore it would be much better.
Learning how to decoy wood ducks is much like hunting mallards, teal, or any other puddle for that matter over decoys. Location is critical along with having decoys that match the species, and setting out at least a dozen decoys. Having spent many years hunting the Mississippi river I can testify to the fact that wood ducks seek out their own species, especially early in the season. I have witnessed many a time woodies landing in my group of 8-12 decoys that were set out with 50-90 mallard and widgeon decoys. This is a situation once again where the hunter who spends his time pre-season scouting will most often enjoy the greatest success.
You might be thinking here, "Well any slob hunter can jump shoot.". I have spent many hours belly crawling up various ponds in the timber on the Mississippi river and disagree as they are very skittish and probably the most difficult to sneak up on. To make things even more difficult these ducks will also sit on limbs of fallen trees along the water giving them even a better view to sense approaching danger.
Using a canoe to float smaller creeks and rivers is another very effective hunting technique perfect for mid-day hunts once the morning flight is done. Smaller rivers and creeks that have a lot bends make for the closet shooting. With one person paddling, the hunter sitting in the bow (front) waits ready for action. Many times these birds will remain invisible until flushing from a fallen tree and give themselves up by whistling their warning call. Once the hunter up front has shot his birds, or has had a few chances it's time for the hunters to switch places. Remember it is illegal to shoot from a boat that is under power from a gas or electric motor in most states and why canoes work very well for this technique.
When pass shooting try to find creeks, bayous, sloughs and small rivers that serve as flyways. Because woodies fly the most at first light your best shooting will be the first half hour of legal shooting time with the amount of action decline rapidly with the rising sun. Next will be the last half hour of legal shooting time as they will traveling to their roosting areas.
Deciding which option best fits how to hunt wood ducks on any given day or time of day will put the odds of success in your favor. For example on opening morning when movement is excellent hunting over decoys can be very good. But if you can only get out mid-day during minimal movement jump shooting will be a better hunting tactic.
Being a medium sized target number 3 or 4 steel shot has always worked best for me over the years, but 2 shot will definitely work. When first experimenting with different sizes number 4 shot seemed to result in more cripples as I did find myself taking 30 to 40 yard shots, especially when jump shoot these spooky ducks. Because wood ducks are typically hunted in the timber and are fast fliers I use an improved cylinder or modified choke. Patterning your gun with various shot sizes is highly recommended when choosing the best choke for your gun. One thing is for certain, woodies are not an easy target.