Woody ducks

Duck hunters are dedicated. 

Woody's Woods & Waters -

A friend who’s a devout duck hunter – a quack addict – told me about a terrific trip I missed with him and some pals last season in Camden Bottoms.

Every morning they were on the water before dawn, puttering out to an ice-glazed blind, setting out decoys in the freezing slush, then shivering through stinging sleet as they waited for a mallard to fly by – and when one did, hoping their lips didn’t freeze to the duck call.

I said I was sorry I missed it, but I had a hot date with a fireplace.

I’ve never waterfowl hunted in the traditional manner: blind, decoys, retrievers, hypothermia. But as a kid growing up in the mountains, I bagged lots of migrating ducks that stopped off on farm ponds.

It was hard hunting: scope out a pond from afar to see if there were any ducks on it. If so, stalk closer, sometimes on hands and knees, for the final approach.

The puddle ducks were skittish, and one flicker of movement would send them skying.

Once you crept within range, you jumped up, ready to fire when the ducks flushed. It was more like shooting quail than ducks.

But it was effective. One memorable morning I bagged five greenheads. Another time I dropped a male wood duck, the most beautiful of all waterfowl. Over a half-century later it hangs on my wall, plumage as dazzling as the morning it flushed off a pond rimmed by ice that glistened like frozen diamonds. I feel a tad of remorse.

I never cared for duck dinners. The reddish meat has a strong, gamey flavor. Smoked goose is delicious, but I’ll pass on duck. I suppose eating them, like hunting them, is an acquired taste.

Although I never got hooked on duck hunting, thousands of Tennesseans are. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says waterfowl hunting rates near the top in popularity, alongside deer and turkey hunting.

Those who like it REALLY like it. They’re daffy over ducks: building private blinds or drawing for public ones, training retrievers, keeping duckboats in shape, stocking up on decoys along with cold-weather camo, calls, guns and ammo, and purchasing licenses and permits.

More time and money are invested in duck hunting than any other outdoors pursuit.

Longtime pal Steve McCadams, who guides waterfowl hunters on Kentucky Lake in the winter when the crappie aren’t biting, is a typical duck devotee. He lives for frozen sunrises, hunkered in an icy blind, scanning the pink horizon for distant dots while his faithful old black Lab quivers with excitement.

Steve invites me to join him, but every winter something always comes up – like sitting home by the hearth.

For duck hunters, the worse the weather, the better. Give them a gunmetal-gray sky with sleet stinging their faces like No. 7 birdshot, and frigid Artic winds howling down their parkas.

Throw in some snow flurries, and they’re in waterfowl heaven.

As for me, I’ll take bluebirds.