Hunting Puddle Ducks: Broken Down by Species

Sunset over Fountain Grove Conservation Area in northern Missouri.

Puddle ducks offer some of the most exciting and rewarding opportunities for hunters. In many instances, a wide variety of puddle ducks can be harvested over the same decoy spread with the same style of calling, but that is not always the case. This article is informative and gives suggestions for harvesting the most common species of waterfowl in North America.

How to hunt mallards

Most hunters, including myself, would agree that shooting mallards on a sunny day with their feet down in the decoys is the most thrilling experience a waterfowler can have. That said, they are certainly not the easiest puddle duck to add to your strap. They can be challenging and frustrating to hunt, especially late in the season when pressure has built up on them. Naturally, they are skeptical and getting them in your decoys requires skill and patience. Although mallards are the most abundant duck in North America, I believe they are still the most prized and sought after species among hunters. See below for more on how to hunt mallards.

  • Use realistic decoys
  • Become an expert caller
  • Scout and observe which type of setting they prefer
  • Create natural motion in your decoy spread
  • Use goose decoys in your spread

Cut-down duck calls: What makes them different?


How to hunt gadwall

Hunting gadwall is exciting due to how they decoy and respond to a call. On a slow day, many hunters will admit that a pair of gadwall has saved them from being skunked (this has happened to me several times). Throughout the season, pressure builds on ducks and they get harder to hunt. However, I have noticed gadwall don’t seem to act as pressured as other puddle ducks. Instead, they will often surprise you with how well they work. No specific approach is required to hunt them, other than they are usually in the same area as mallards, pintail, and widgeon. More suggestions for hunting gadwall are below.

  • Call frequently
  • Use other puddle duck decoys
  • Spinning wing decoys can be very effective
  • Be patient, they will usually get closer than other ducks when decoying

How to hunt teal

Hunter holding a blue-winged teal in the Mississippi Flyway

Hunting teal is another thrilling experience a waterfowl hunter can have. Their tendency to fly fast and low separates them from other puddle ducks that circle your decoys many times before committing. Blue-winged teal are the first to migrate each fall which is why they are the most common species harvested during the designated teal season. As the season progresses throughout North America, green wings become the most prevalent species. Blue wings, green wings, and cinnamon teal all act similar when it comes to decoying and responding to a call. More tips for how to hunt teal are below.

  • Use spinning wing decoys
  • Hunt early in the morning and late afternoon
  • Don’t call, they are typically unresponsive
  • Pack lightly, they will decoy with less than 1 dozen decoys
  • Use shot size 3 or smaller

Teal Hunting Strategies Every Hunter Should Know


How to hunt pintail

After hunting the Mississippi Flyway for more than 10 years, I believe pintails are the second most challenging duck to hunt (second to black ducks). In very rare instances do hunters shoot this species of bird with their feet down in the spread. Instead, many of them are harvested on the edges of decoy spreads after they have circled several times. Hunters have the most success bagging pintails when they are well hidden and have a realistic setup. More suggestions for hunting pintails are below.

  • Learn to blow a pintail whistle
  • Use realistic pintail decoys
  • Make concealment a priority
  • Be patient while they circle several times

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How to hunt wood ducks

Black lab next to harvested wood ducks in the Mississippi Flyway

Whether you have sat in a duck blind or a deer blind on a cool fall morning, you have certainly heard wood ducks nearby. Although they give their presence away with their whistles, they can be difficult to decoy. Many times, I have set up in the middle of an old slough where my spread is visible and have had nothing to show for it. Eventually, I learned that setting up in their exact location is the key. See the list below for more ideas on how to hunt wood ducks.

  • Set a realistic decoy spread
  • Learn to blow a wood duck whistle
  • Set up in their exact location
  • Hunt early mornings and late afternoons
  • Get out and scout

How to hunt black ducks

Black duck harvested in the Mississippi Flyway

Black ducks are known among many hunters for how difficult they are to decoy. If you have ever worked a group of them, you know just how frustrating they can be. However, when you do get them in range, the reward is well earned. Black ducks are not abundant in all flyways, which makes them a true surprise when they are harvested in certain parts of North America. To increase your success, make sure you are well hidden, and do not get discourage when they don’t finish on the first pass. For more suggestions, see below.

  • Do not overcall
  • Use realistic black duck decoys
  • Use natural vegetation for concealment
  • Create natural motion in your decoy spread
  • Be patient

How to hunt widgeon

Widgeon are another puddle duck that is challenging to decoy. They tend to be more hesitant to come into a spread, similar to pintails. Additionally, they are a whistling duck and do not always respond to traditional duck calls. Widgeon are found in large abundances throughout the United States, but since they can be challenging to hunt, they are always a welcomed surprise to hunters. More tips for hunting widgeon are below.

  • Learn to blow a widgeon whistle
  • Use primarily widgeon decoys
  • Make concealment a priority

Find the Ducks!

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They're circling now…
Take 'em! Success