Mallards capture everyone’s attention, but other waterfowl captivate us, too. Here, high-level hunters divulge their runners-up in the blind
If you couldn’t hunt mallards, what would your go-to bird be? A couple of pros chose an obvious No. 2. Photo by Delmas Lehman
Duck hunters love to argue, but no one would dispute that mallards are the king of the waterfowling world. They’re the most common duck in North America and, with a few regional idiosyncrasies, the most sought-after waterfowl. And shoot, the entire world of duck calling is based around their vocabulary.
But let’s also agree that other waterfowl species deserve their due — birds that fly just as fast, sport plumage that’s equally pretty — or prettier — as that of a mallard, and that challenge hunters up and down the flyways. Of course, personal experience usually dictates a hunter’s idea of the best “other” birds. We asked six high-profile waterfowlers to name their second-favorite ducks or geese, and their answers might surprise you.
Martin, the general manager of Duck Commander, went with a fast, sporty duck as his No. 2.
“I love targeting green-winged teal,” he said. “They are the best eating, in my opinion.”
Greseth, owner of MaXXed Out Guides, runs fall and spring hunts in several states, including his home state of Minnesota. It’s no surprise that his runner-up choice was giant Canada geese.
“In my opinion, they are the most call-responsive waterfowl there is to hunt,” he said. “You can make big geese do things they didn’t wake up with the intention to do if you know how to work a call and read birds.”
TONY VANDEMORE, COOPER OLMSTEAD
Vandemore, owner of Habitat Flats, near Sumner, Missouri, runs a renowned spring light-goose operation, so his pick was obvious.
“I love hunting snow geese,” he said. “They are the tarpon of the waterfowl world. They require a ton of work, and they kick your butt way more than you kick theirs. That said, when the stars align and you’re shooting huge bunches of snow geese with their feet out, it’s pretty exhilarating and brings a lot of satisfaction.”
Olmstead, also of Habitat Flats, concurred.
“Just being able to trick and fool something so smart and old makes it that much better once you finally get to shoot them,” he said. “It also doesn’t hurt that you can get huge spins of them to decoy. Who doesn’t like that?”
Take what’s on your plate. In many areas of the North, that means wood ducks early. Photo by Jay Geo
Dersham, owner of Ridge and River Running Outfitters in southern Wisconsin, chose two species as his other favorites.
“When it comes to waterfowl species, I’m an equal opportunity hunter,” he said. “Lately, we’ve been spending a lot more time chasing wood ducks in the timber. My kids love watching them fly through trees and scream over little water. The calls they make and their colors and table fare are out of this world.”
Still, Dersham mentioned another duck: canvasbacks. That’s an obvious choice, considering that he guides on canvasback-rich Pool 9 of the Mississippi River.
“It’s the places they call home, the conditions you hunt them in, and the birds themselves,” he said. “You may go through a season struggling to consistently put birds through your spread but then put 5,000 through it on a given day. Their speed, mannerisms and table fare are something to experience.”
Belding, host of The Fowl Life, ran through a litany of runners-up, including wigeon, pintails, and Canada geese. But he chose another regional favorite as his No. 2: white-fronted geese in northern California.
“You’ll have eight to 12 dozen speck decoys out in front and 400 to 1,200 snow full-bodies,” he said. “With early-morning setups, you lie in Tyvek painting suits to keep out of the mud. You’re trying to get out to the edge where the mud comes up out of the field.
And you’ll have 10 to 150 specks decoying at a time. California is a gem for speck hunting, and they’re absolutely my favorite eating waterfowl species.”
OK, I couldn’t resist chiming in on this discussion. My second-favorite duck? Bluebills — specifically lesser scaup. At times during a typical year, they might even be my favorite. The way they fly, bank, and decoy makes them consistently challenging, and the environs they inhabit — huge expanses of open water — provide a waterfowling experience like no other.
Sure, mallards rule, but there’s obviously more to waterfowling than greenheads. So, what’s your second-favorite duck or goose?
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