Waterfowl Season: Hunt the “Scrap Ducks”
Some waterfowlers lump every non-mallard species into the scrap-duck category. Call them what you will, but they’re a gas to hunt and there’s no better time to do so than now.
Photo by Donald M. Jones
I never heard the term scrap ducks until I went to Arkansas for the first time and shot a mixed bag. To my hosts, ducks were divided into ducks (mallards) and scrap ducks (non-mallards). Scrap ducks cover almost all the other puddle ducks: teal, gadwall, wigeon, shovelers, and whatever divers stray into the mallard holes. Pintails and black ducks get honorary duck status because they’re wary and hang out with mallards, and wood ducks occupy their own special niche. The rest of the scrap ducks are, in the opinion of many greenhead fanatics, not prestigious enough to shoot at. I disagree.
Scrap ducks have a lot of good qualities—the best of which is that they are punctual. So punctual that some call them calendar ducks, because they migrate reliably at the same time every year. There’s a big push of non-mallards to my latitude in late October, and they bring with them a welcome close to the dead time between opening day and the greenhead-bearing cold fronts of the late season. Calendar ducks don’t make mallard purists happy, of course, but so little makes a mallard purist happy that you can’t worry about them. The calendar ducks’ arrival is an important event in my duck season.
Last season, on a cold, sunny day during the week of Halloween, I set up on a point at our local reservoir. It stuck out a long way into shallow water where a variety of plants lay flooded. Scrap ducks love the seeds, grasses, and invertebrates on that point, but it’s tough to hunt because the cover is short. I brought a low canoe seat that let me get right down in the shallow water, as well as a Mojo Teal spinner and a mix of about 10 decoys. I also brought my secret weapon—a gillie jacket, which made me look like a harmless bush sticking up out of the short cover. I threw out the decoys, set the chair in about 3 inches of water, and sat down.
Ducks swirled all around me. Flocks of teal and lots of shovelers and gadwall in singles, pairs, and bunches had no idea I was anything but vegetation. Teal almost always decoy, but gadwall have a split personality. Some days they circle and circle out of range, leave, then come back and start circling all over again half an hour later. Other days, they are stupid. This was a stupid gadwall day. Moments after I sat down, four passed overhead and were low enough that I could hear their soft, nasal dink call.
In general, scrap ducks aren’t much on quacking. The best some of them can manage is a high-pitched, strangled approximation. Wigeon, pintails, and greenwing teal whistle. Various manufacturers make pintail calls with which you can make the calls of all the whistling ducks, and greenwing teal respond especially well to a peep on the whistle. And there are special gadwall calls. Sometimes a mallard call works magic on scrap ducks. One slow day, a friend blew a screaming hail call at a tiny dot high overhead out of boredom, and we watched in disbelief as the duck, a drake gadwall, instantly dropped from the heavens into our decoys as if it had fallen through a hole in the sky.
I had brought calls, but my plan was to use them very little and hold still, letting the location and the decoys do the work while the gillie suit kept me hidden. I let the four gadwall pass even though they were in range. I wanted to shoot birds trying to land in my spread.
Photo by Lee Thomas Kjos
Limit Your Expectations
A few minutes later, a single gadwall locked up on the decoys. I then discovered the one weak link in my otherwise perfect plan: my shotgun. The Beretta, which never fails to cycle, had picked that day to arbitrarily go off anywhere from zero to three times whenever I pointed it at a duck. I should have had an easy limit. As it was, when the flight ended my bag consisted of a gadwall, a teal, and the wing of my spinner, which caught some pellets when 30 greenwings dropped out of nowhere and batted around it for an instant like a swarm of moths coming to a light.
Obviously, a working gun is essential gear, but besides that you don’t need a lot for hunting calendar ducks. Two or three dozen mallard decoys will lure any puddle duck. Teal especially like spinning-wing decoys, but all the other ducks respond to them as well. A 5-gallon bucket overturned in the weeds is usually all the blind you need.
These birds may not require as much finesse to fool as a bunch of late-season greenheads might, but they still have the power to take your breath away as they come into the decoys on cupped wings. Call them scrap ducks, or worse, if you want. I call them ducks. And my calendar is marked for their return.