Sneak along small creeks of the sort you find in piedmont and coastal plain country across the South, approaching each twist and turn of the stream’s meandering flow while you are on red alert. This is usually best done by wading, because the banks of the stream will help provide cover. However, if the creek is too deep (streams 15 to 20 feet wide, not rivers), you can take to the shoreline as necessary. With sufficient stealth and woodsman’s skills, it’s possible to get well within gun range before the ducks see you and take wing. Often they idle in eddies or quiet water where a stream makes a big turn, and that behavioral pattern lets you get close. This is strictly a one-man operation, and for those who revel in solitude the wade-watch-and-listen technique is a dandy.
Use a johnboat or a canoe to get to the ducks. This is the obvious route to take on small rivers that are too deep for wading, but also too small for larger boats to navigate. The “paddle ’em up” approach is also ideal for getting to woodies stationed way back at the end of narrow sloughs, and a canoe can come in handy when you want to enter a hardwood swamp (a favorite hideaway for woodies) that might stretch for miles. It’s basically a two-man operation, with a guy in the back doing the paddling and the gunner sitting in the front of the boat or canoe. Rotate on the paddle to keep everything fair.
When hunting hardwood swamps, especially extensive ones (and there are swamps meeting this general description all along the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains), be sure you have a compass or a GPS, or stay close to familiar runs. Otherwise you could find yourself lost in a wood duck wilderness or, as the wife of a friend who was once involved in such a hunt put it, a participant in “an idiot roundup.”
Hunting Wood Ducks on Small Ponds
If you have the good fortune to have access to a bunch of farm ponds (the one- to 10-acre size that wood ducks love), spend some time creeping or crawling up to them. Usually this is best done by using the dam as cover, although if you peek over the dam top only to find woodies are out of range somewhere on the pond, a strategic retreat and reassessment of your options is in order. In such situations there’s a real advantage to hunting with a buddy. If the ducks are out of range when you spot them, try to figure out which way they are likely to fly when one of you shows your face. If the other guy can sneak into that flight path, he can get some pass-shooting.