John’s Note: Early Americans saw the sport of duck hunting quite differently from how we view it today. In the days of the Pilgrims, an estimated 1/2-billion ducks inhabited America. Duck hunting involved no sport. The meat provided vittles, and you bagged them any way you could. Many of the early outdoorsmen stalk-hunted ducks.
I stumbled onto the productivity of stalking ducks quite by accident some years back. At that time, I hunted a swamp full of water. For 3 days, the rains had soaked the land. The woods looked more like a creek than a hardwood bottom. As I slipped down a logging road, stalking squirrels with my 12 gauge, I heard the whistling and splashing of wood ducks as they came in to the bottom to feed.
I had worn my lightweight waders that morning, knowing that when I shot a squirrel, it probably would land in the water. Sure enough, I already had several wet retrieves. After thinking about waterfowl for supper and having taken three more squirrels for a limit, I decided to try and stalk ducks.
Stalking Flooded Timber Ducks:
As I entered the water, I noticed the waves leaving my knees and forming ringlets out in front of me. “Uh-oh, a duck will be able to see that,” I told myself. “Those waves may spook the flock.” I slowed my pace and carefully kept the disturbance on the water to a minimum. I first saw the ducks at about 150 yards through the flooded timber. At that distance, I couldn’t tell how many held there. But I could pinpoint their exact locations. As I crept through the water, I kept trees between me and my quarry. I also checked my watch to time my progress. I kept telling myself, “You have all day to get to the ducks. If you hurry, or if you make a mistake, you’ll blow the entire stalk.”
One hour and 15 minutes later, I stood within 50 yards of the woodies. I carefully selected which tree to move to next, as I worked my way closer to the ducks. I could hear the quacks clearly now. From time to time, I stole a hidden glance from behind bushes to check the location of the feathered prey. Unfortunately the mental games started with me that happen to every hunter. I began thinking – “Can I get any closer?” “Should I try for a shot now?” “If I try to move in closer, will I spook the ducks and not get a shot?” I convinced myself that my goal was a giant water oak 20 yards from the ducks. “If I can get to the water oak, I can get ready, move from behind the tree and take the ducks when they jump.”
My mind presented the biggest obstacle in my path. I constantly had to keep reminding myself to go slowly, take my time, decide when and where to take every step and very carefully choose each tree I hid behind. By now the quacking, whistling and splashing of the ducks deafened me. I only had 10 yards to go to the big water oak. Finally, after one hour and 45 minutes of snaking my way through the flooded timber, I arrived at my destination, the big water oak. In the meantime, the ducks had flown toward my hiding tree – 15 to 20 yards in front of me. I took a minute to check my safety and prepare for my shot.
About 15 woodies rafted on the water. If everything went well, I should get a good shot when they jumped. When I moved from behind the tree, the ducks jumped. The air immediately filled with feathers and the smoke from my gun. “Shoot over the woodies,” my brain relayed to me after my first shot missed. My next two shots brought two colorful males tumbling from the sky. As the ducks vanished into the deep woods, I sighed in relief and unknotted my muscles. The long and tedious stalk had paid off. For a moment I enjoyed the peacefulness of the scene. Then I heard the wings of a woodie. Looking skyward, I saw another duck side-stepping trees and fluttering down right in front of me. While I mounted my gun, the woodie had all gears in reverse. He tried to climb out of his ill-fated landing too late. My gun proved its value once again as I downed the duck. Stalk hunting flooded timber yielded a limit of ducks for me.
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