Duck hunters will mostly tell you that their gold standard is the mallard. This wily and elusive trophy is one of the most sought after prizes of waterfowl hunters all over the country. The male (drake) makes an impressive mount and is a worthy adversary especially as the season wears on and they have been hounded and shot at a few times. The mallard is typically 20-26 inches long with an average wingspan between 32-39 inches and a body weight between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds. The drake is easily identifiable by his bright green head and the female (hen) is mottled brown. The male has a nasal call and a high-pitched whistle, while the female has a deep quack typically associated with ducks of all kinds. Mallards are most common of all North American ducks and are most commonly known by hunters as greenheads (males) and susies (females).
The best places to hunt these trophies are flooded timber, beaver ponds, small farm ponds, marshes, agricultural fields and waterfowl impoundments. As far as the best conditions to hunt these ducks in are concerned the pros mostly agree that windy, rainy, and cold days (especially if there is a cold front passing through) are the top choices because the ducks will be on the move from areas that they are familiar with and toward places where they have not yet been. Overcast conditions and even fog can help hunters in their efforts to lure mallards into the kill zone.
In our area, duck hunters will usually have a mixed bag at the end of a successful day that nearly always includes wood ducks but a drake mallard is the prize many seek first and foremost.
The key ingredients to taking your trophy is topnotch camouflage, a good calling technique, a proper spread of decoys, and of course hunting in areas that are likely to attract ducks.
When it comes to camouflage you must make sure that the mallards can’t spot you from above. They have legendary vision and as noted before are extremely wary. If you are hunting from a lakeside blind you have to make it look as natural as possible and limit any kind of movement until the last moment before shooting commences. If you are in a boat on open water as with reservoirs or big waterfowl impoundments it becomes even more imperative to pay attention to the details of making your setup as realistic as possible. Often times those who hunt these open water areas anchor their boats close to an island to make it easier to camouflage.
Calling mallards is more of an art than a science and the most successful hunters just about all have differences in techniques. There are four major types of calls; the greeting, the chuckle, the comeback call and the mating call. There is general agreement that you can call too much and spook your prey and also that if you haven’t practiced enough to be able to make realistic calls you are better off without calling. But by and large in order to get the birds in close you have to be able to get their attention by calling. By the same token there are those who are good with making the calls sound life-like and can win contests with their skill but there are also those guys who are duck hunting veterans and know precisely when to call, which calls to use, and how much to use their calls in specific circumstances. The latter of these two are the ones who consistently bring home the biggest bag.
There are several different kinds of calls that are useful and a number of good products to use when calling. There are all kinds of instructional videos on You Tube if you just do a search for mallard duck call techniques.
Another of the important ingredients for getting mallards in close is decoys. Again there are several philosophies on what is best but a little research can help you see what each plan has in common. A couple of the most successful ideas are that on open water you need to use as many decoys as possible over a fairly large area and in tighter locations like ponds and swamps a smaller set of decoys should be used. Some even like to sprinkle in a few goose decoys to make it look as natural as possible. Another of the most prevalent ideas out there is to make sure there is an opening in the decoy spread within shotgun range to tempt the birds to land in an area close to the hunters. Many pros will also tell you that your decoys should be as realistic as possible. Decoys that are not life-like or poorly maintained will not work very well and may lead to birds that are unconvinced. Finally, the best way to determine where to set your decoys will be as a result of scouting. If you know the habits of the ducks you are hunting you have a better chance of placing the decoys in the right place.
The season re-opens Dec. 10 and runs through Jan. 29. Bag limit for mallards is four per day and eight in possession. Additionally, you need a federal duck stamp along with your hunting license and HIP. No lead shot may be used while duck hunting.
Articles and columns by Alvin Richardson about hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports appear weekly in the Statesboro Herald. Richardson can be reached at dar8589@bellsouth.