Certainly there are the mallard purists: ’fowlers for whom the thought of hanging anything other than a greenhead on their duck strap would never even enter their minds. Who could blame them?
Maybe your area of expertise tends toward high-profile divers, like canvasbacks and redheads. Or woodies or full-plumage blue-wing teal. Well, the truth is, there’s an awfully good chance that you’re not only familiar with mallards, but spend a goodly portion of your time in pursuit of these members of the webfooted tribe.
We’ve got some tips to make your season more successful. And there’s plenty of new gear and gadgets designed to make this Mallard Quest easier — well, maybe not so much easier, but much more enjoyable. And besides, what waterfowler doesn’t need another call? Or more decoys? Or another shotgun?
LATE-SEASON DRAKES AND HENS
In the fairy tales, a single drake mallard finds a hen, falls in love, nests, and raises a family of cute little yellow ducklings. Well, the truth of the tale is … that’s not how it works. Greenheads are notorious playboys, chasing and mating with as many hens as they can find during the course of the late-winter courtship and breeding season.
The mallard rut, for lack of a better phrase, often coincides with the final four to six weeks of the hunting season.
During the latter days of the season, I’ve found it quite effective to use a higher percentage of hen-mallard decoys in my spread, like a 3:1 ratio of hens to drakes. The goal here, as you already might have guessed, is to create the illusion of female availability to any passing drakes.
Does it work all the time, this more-girls- than-boys strategy? No, but it does present a natural and quite inviting scenario. Combine it with a few quiet quacks.
Keep in mind that this is not the time for aggressive calling. These boys have heard it all since mid-October. This low-impact, hen-heavy decoy spread often proves the ticket for suckering the late-season greenheads.
SCOUT WITH THE INTERNET
It’s a controversial topic, to be sure. There are some duck hunters who troll the web to get info on where to hunt by checking out people’s photos or reports to friends about where they had a successful hunt. Then the scoundrels move in on that particular hotspot. That’s sneaky and cheesy. But that’s not what I’m speaking of in this instance. No, I’m talking about using the tools the Internet provides to find and research potential waterfowling areas.
Recently, my brother-in-law and I arrived at a local public wetland to find it teeming with ducks and geese. Only the birds weren’t on the public ground; they were, instead, across the river on another parcel. We hunted, and managed a small mixed bag of mallards and pintails, but the swarms of birds just out of reach haunted me throughout the morning. Before leaving the area, we took a quick drive across the river to the gated property, still covered with ’fowl of all sorts. We headed home, but not before jotting down the address.
At home, I checked out Google Maps — the satellite format — and got an overall aerial view of the property in question, including possible boundaries, access, adjacent homes and river frontage. Armed with the address, I then went to the county assessor’s website. I found the owner, which was a conservation organization. Logging onto their web site, I tracked down the public relations individual’s name and email. One quick note of introduction and explanation and BAM, permission granted (with some minor restrictions as to a reservation program that, in truth, makes hunting the property quite fair).
A little electronic digging can lead to some incredible hunting experiences. All it takes is a little time. And Al Gore’s Internet.
Don’t get me wrong. Big-water mallards are an exciting proposition. Watching a flock of greenheads and susies work through the timber is, for many, the ultimate waterfowling experience. Myself, I grew up hunting mallards, along with plenty of wood ducks and the occasional blue-wing teal, in beaver swamps. Today, though, my preference when it comes to hunting mallards is late season and small water.
An example would be a place shown me last season by a good and trusting friend. The water itself is a narrow, shallow slough, perhaps 200 yards long by 25 feet wide, running east-and-west as an offshoot from a much larger flow, and that from a major river system. The mallards absolutely love this little drainage, and at no time more so than in bad weather.
Small-water ducks are best finessed. When I hunt small places, I use minimalist tactics: No more than a dozen decoys, a jerk string, and subtle calling.
I leave the spinning-wing at home. Chances are, these birds have seen more than their share of electronics. Instead, I go to great lengths to hide to the point of invisibility, present the most natural illusion possible, and — when given the chance — connect when I shoot.
There are as many ways to hunt mallards as there are hunters who chase them. Scout, think and get out there as often as you can to get any advantage you can.
Keep the spread small, aka a micro-spread of two Canadas, four mallard floaters, and four full-body mallards on points of dry land or sand sticking into the creek. Ducks key on goose decoys because of the size, visibility and security, and will light between geese and four duck floaters.
DID YOU KNOW?
Mallards are found from coast to coast in North America as well as in Asia and Europe.
Mallards are the ancestors of nearly all domestic duck species, with the exception of the muscovy, considered a subspecies of the common mallard.
BEST ADVICE EVER
An old duck hunter summed it up with four rules a good mallard hunter must follow to be successful in all aspects of the hunt.
“First, son, don’t scream at the birds, TALK to them. It isn’t enough that they’re listening, you want them to converse. Second, cover your face. It’s not that pretty anyway, and the birds don’t want to see it. Third, enjoy the dance. Watching the birds work while you’re talking to them is the real reward. And, fourth, shoot ’em in the lips. It’s your responsibility to make a clean shot.” I’m always thankful for the opportunity.
—H. Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director
This year is going to be an exciting one for waterfowling fanatics. You’ll see many innovations in shotguns, cutting-edge ammo, true-to-life decoys, the latest in concealment technology and calls designed to put the quack back in your highball.
BLACK CLOUD CLOSE RANGE
When it comes to non-toxic shotshells, distance and velocity seem to be the buzz words. But when the stars align and the mallards drop their legs at 20 yards, you need something that works up close and personal. Federal Black Cloud Close Range is designed to provide optimum patterns at distances of 20-30 yards, thanks to a combination of Federal’s Flightstopper steel and popular Flightcontrol wad. Close Range comes in both 20 and 12 gauge, and No. 2-4. MSRP, $21 for 25. Federalpremium.com.
Bigger isn’t always better. Just ask any teal hunter. Fortunately, the folks at Hevi-Shot took teal hunters to heart, and introduced a fantastic little duck load in 2015 sporting 1 1/8 ounce of No. 6 steel shot in a 2 3/4-inch hull and called it, appropriately, Hevi-Teal, or HT. This season, HT will come in No. 5 steel, making it the perfect load not only for blue-wings, but for all early season ducks over decoys.MSRP, $15 for 12. Hevishot.com.
Browning is back in the ammunition game, and waterfowlers will be glad to know they haven’t been forgotten. The Utah-based company introduced BXD, aka Browning Extra Distance. It’s available in 3- and 3 1/2-inch, and in Nos. 4, 2 and BBs. BXD incorporates an aerodynamically stabilized wad, nickel-plated steel shot, and a 1,450 fps quickness into one eye-catching package designed specifically to deal with greenheads from coast to coast. $20 for 25. Browning ammo.com.
REMINGTON V3 CAMO AND SYNTHETIC
The V3 was introduced to the shooting public in 2015 but didn’t become widely available until February of 2016. It features Remington’s innovative Versa Port gas metering system. This 3-inch 12-bore tips the scales at just a little over 7 pounds. The camo version comes in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades and is definitely a waterfowler’s gun. The synthetic version can pull double duty in the uplands. MSRP, $995 for Camo; $850 for synthetic. Remington.com.
FARBARMS XLR5 WATERFOWLER
This is a fast semi. It’s advertised to shoot five rounds in .31 seconds. The XLR5’s Pulse Piston reliably cycles 2 3/4- and 3-inch shotshells. Features include an oversized trigger guard and magazine cut-off. Even the camouflage pattern — Kryptek Banshee — is, like the XLR5, quite different. MSRP, $1,650. Fabarmusa.com.
MISSBERG PRO-SERIES WATERFOWLER
Now that Mossberg has worked the cycling bugs out of their M930 and M935 autoloaders, they definitely deserve the title of The Waterfowler’s Workhorse. The M930 is 3-inch, and M935 is 3 1/2-inch chambered. They now come in Mossy Oak’s Blades.MSRP, $800. Mossberg.com.
ELITE SERIES MAGNUMS HARD CORE
The newest from Hard Core Brands are the Elite Series Magnum Mallards. All drakes have flocked heads. Each decoy has Hard Core’s popular Armor-Coated paint. DuraMold bodies resist abuse, while the WhaleTail keel ensures a natural ride. Each set includes three drakes and three hens. MSRP, $99 for six. Hardcore-brands.com.
EXODUS MALLARDS SOAR NO MORE
This Idaho-based company built their rep with exceptional full-bodied pigeon decoys. Now, they’ve expanded into the waterfowl arena with their Exodus Mallards. These magnum decoys feature a revolutionary new keel design that makes it impossible for them not to turn upright when thrown. True-to-life color schemes, and rugged paint and plastic combinations make these a must-have for any greenhead guru. MSRP, $70 for six. Soarnomore.com.
FATAL FRONT MOJO OUTDOORS
The Fatal Front stands apart from other modern decoys due to its unique Folding Keel. Snap the keel down in wind and waves and you have a stabilized unit. Calm conditions? Retract the keel for realistic movement, motion and appearance. MSRP, $90 for six. Mojooutdoors.com.
HARVESTER PACK AVERY OUTDOORS
Avery has taken three-dimensional deception one step further with their fully-flocked, full-bodied mallards. Greenhead Gear’s Harvester Pack contains both feeder and active body styles, complete with the company’s one-of-a-kind motion system. MSRP, $160 for six. Averyoutdoors.com.
MALLARD VARIETY PACK CABELA’S
These decoys are built of rugged EVA-plastic. The ultra-realistic greenheads and susies use an excellent paint adhesion process that means they’ll stay good-looking for seasons to come. The sound-dampening ring base allows full movement, but virtually eliminates any metal-on-plastic noise in high-wind conditions. Four drakes and two hens in both upright and active poses. MSRP, $100 for six. Cabelas.com.
OUTFITTER BLIND AVERY OUTDOORS
Looking to save a little folding money, but not willing to skimp on concealment or quality? The Outfitter Layout Blind from Avery Outdoors resembles Avery’s legendary Finisher blind, but the all-aluminum, full-frame Outfitter features quick-and-easy assembly, as well as plenty of room for all the stuff we waterfowlers pack. 80 inches long by 36 wide and 18 inches high.MSRP, $200. Averyoutdoors.com.
ZERO-GRAVITY ALPS OUTDOORZ
At the heart of this innovative new hide is a zero-gravity chair that keeps gunners off the ground, while allowing for a full range of movement. Flared side panels eliminate bird-frightening shadows, and a huge 24- by 56-inch cockpit puts you into the action quickly. Weighs 23 pounds. Comes in tan and Realtree’s MAX-5.MSRP, $200 for tan. Deltawaterfowlgear.com.
DELUXE MAN CAVE HARD CORE
Hard Core’s Deluxe Man Cave layout blind allows ’fowlers to securely attach decoys directly to the top of the blind and eliminate the “dead zone” atop the hide. Put a goose decoy on top and a spinning wing behind the headrest, and Hard Core has got it covered up. MSRP, $350. Hardcore-brands.com.
FLIGHT SERIES LAYOUT TANGLEFREE
Tanglefree’s Flight Series Layout Blind feature the unique Optifade cam pattern. A microfiber outer material actually enhances the visual appearance of the camouflage, while at the same time eliminating the shine typical of many layouts. Powder-coated frame, metal buckles, two interior pockets, backpack straps, and a heavy-duty drag handle round out the features. MSRP, $449. Tanglefree.com.
Missouri’s Ira McCauley might best be known as the mind behind MoMarsh Boats. However, this year McCauley introduces the InvisiMAN, a hybrid layout blind-chair, complete with flip-style lids and extendable legs that allow the blind to be set, high and dry, in up to 30 inches of water. Just sit down, shut the doors, and start knocking ’em silly. See Momarsh.com for pricing.
MALLARD DRAKE WHISTLE ZINK CALLS
A goose calling legend, Zink’s name is synonymous with the outdoors. This year, he brings another great call to the table — a uniquely shaped drake-mallard whistle. Designed to reproduce the low-pitched dweek of the greenhead, it can also be used to mimic the whistling notes of other species, such as green-wing teal, widgeon and pintails.MSRP, $13. Zinkcalls.com.
H2 WATERFOWL SERIES HAYDEL’S
This new line includes such “modern” classics as Haydel’s DR-85 double reed, now in clear acrylic and pearl, as well as brand new units like the Cajun Cutter and Full House, both J-frame style calls any ’fowler would be proud to put on his lanyard.MSRP, $120-$150. Haydels.com.
CLASSIC TRIPLE REED SURE SHOT GAME CALLS
First introduced in 1968, Sure Shot’s classic triple-reed duck call has been reinvented. This model is cut from a single blank of black walnut using the same process master carvers employ to create one-of-a-kind gunstocks. From the Sure-Quack Triple Reed System to the time-honored curves and lines, the “new” Model 700 triple reed won’t disappoint.MSRP, $65. Sureshotgamecalls.com.
EXODUS DOUBLE REED SOAR NO MORE
Soar No More makes sure today’s waterfowler has everything he needs thanks to their new Exodus double-reed mallard. Each Exodus is hand-tuned before it leaves the gates. This latest from SNM will have you talking mallard in no time.MSRP, $99. Soarnomore.com.