I have had my share of surprises, successes, and missteps over the years. Most of my favorites feature myself in the direct presence of hard sought game whereupon I fail "to kill or capture" said game. My (mis)fortunes with Aix sponsa, the wood duck, are becoming (all too) routine and humorous. Too many times now I have located, shot at, and missed these paranoid puddle rockets. An incident comes to mind. Years ago I had scouted out a group of these ducks that were frequenting a particular bend on a local river. My birds (see, already cocky) would be well below me as the only approach for a shot was from a high bank. A slow belly crawl and a quick peek revealed at least a half dozen, and almost all drakes. This was going to be great, almost too easy. However, if you know wood ducks, you know that this peek, as careful and as fast as it was, was enough to begin the inevitable chain of events that would begin to unfold. You simply do not approach wood ducks, in the woods, and expect them not to notice or not to become acutely aware that something is amiss. Where many ducks will at least wait to see, a wood duck flees at the mere suggestion, hell maybe even the thought alone. I waited a good minute or so to let the vibe dissipate, then jumped. Apparently, I was expected, they were all staring right at me, waiting. They exploded off the water with tremendous haste and immediate purpose. I picked a lone drake launching left to right, then took two pokes at another straight away drake. Giddy, excited, thinking about my beautiful trophies in hand. I knew the result immediately, but it took a good twenty seconds for full acceptance to sink in. Queue disbelief, add bitterness, blend with anguished embarrassment. Not a single feather was cut. A lone wad bobbed mockingly in the water.
Wood ducks. I find them everywhere, mostly in places where they cant be shot, or where the odds are so stacked in their favor it begs ponder. Sometimes they just defy common sense. Some time ago I killed a bird almost overhead and watched it cartwheel some 40 yards away into a bend in the marsh stream. I approached my prize from the water. A seemingly dead bird with wings out, head in the water, surely good and dead. Just before my hand would have made contact, it disappeared. That was it. Gone, leaving ripples like a stone dropped in water, never to be seen again. This past season put me on a fantastic hole in flooded timber holding a fair number of woodies. After three days of scheming, repositioning, struggling to see in the early dawn, and one single miss, the birds moved on - probably more annoyed than pressured or scared. My on again off again shotgunning when faced with this particular target is not helping. It’s all mental, baggage built up over the years. Sure we have taken our share now, but the overall percentage is not pretty. It helps if I don't see them for very long, surprises work best. Indeed.
ASO pro staffer B.K. likes to shoot things that fly. He and his Black Lab, Ruby, have been know to chase feathers throughout Western Mass, NH, and upstate NY, where the grouse, woodcock, and greenheads haven't been anywhere near as lucky as the wood ducks. He's a damned good cook, too. Look for more contributions from B.K. in the future.