by NRA Staff - Friday, October 28, 2011
The remote habitats, difficulty of hunting and ornate plumage of many ducks haunt some waterfowlers to the point of obsession and world travel. But which species are the most coveted jewels in the waterfowler’s crown?
Like the Harlequin, the King Eider possesses both beauty and difficulty of hunt. Their multicolored head featuring pale blue, green and yellow contrasts the cream, black and white body, making them a remarkable mount.
This large sea duck flocks up in great numbers during winter, with tens of thousands of birds congregating and flying together, but that doesn’t mean a limit is easy if hunters encounter them. Being large sea ducks, they’re hard, fast flyers that require sufficient lead and accurate shooting to bring down. If you wing one, you can kiss your trophy goodbye—like many sea ducks, when wounded they dive deep never to be seen again.
While beauty makes the King Eider a coveted mount, remote arctic ranges make even getting to huntable populations problematic…and expensive.
“King Eiders are maybe the rarest of birds due to the extremely limited areas in which they may be hunted, and also command the greatest degree of commitment to attain,” says Ramsey Russell. “Getting there is neither easy nor inexpensive, and braving minus 40-degree weather is not for everyone.”
“The king of North American diver species, Canvasbacks are an extremely handsome bird, stately even. They fly swiftly, decoy readily and are superb table fare,” says Ramsey Russell.
The largest of North America’s diving ducks, the Canvasback has a striking red head and eye with black, gray and white body colors, as well as a black bill. This quintessential diver makes a beautiful mount and memorable hunt.
Our first common North American species, the Northern Pintail is also found throughout areas of Europe and Asia and possesses a large migration range. A beautiful chocolate-brown head caps the gray, white and black body and wings. The long, pointed black tail feathers, called sprigs, give the large duck their distinctive look and add to trophy quality.
“There’s no more elegant-looking bird in flight, swimming or in hand than a mature, late-season drake pintail with long sprigs,” says Ramsey Russell. “Present in all North American flyways, and common to my favorite U.S. venues in Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, pintails are great on the table.”
Beauty and difficulty of hunt land this North and South American duck on our list. Limited to western portions of the continents, the dabbling duck migrates early in the season and is rarely taken in full plumage in the U.S. Hunters desiring a mature, plumed-out drake will most likely have to cross our southern border where most of the species winter.
“They’re simply beautiful and easily rank among client favorites, too,” says Ramsey Russell. “I most commonly hunt them in along Mexico’s Pacific coast and in Argentina, which are easily two of my favorite destinations.”
Pat “The Waterfowler” Pitt agrees with Russell. “From my experience, this bird is at the top of most waterfowl collectors’ lists,” he said.
A South American diving duck, the Rosy-Billed Pochard makes this list because it is a joy to hunt.
“They’re not necessarily the most beautiful bird, but perhaps they are one of the most striking of South American duck species. I’ll never forget seeing my first flock more than a decade ago; from several hundred yards away I was mesmerized by the ember-red glow of the bill set on the onyx-black head,” says Ramsey Russell. “Similar to our canvasbacks, they fly in large, tight flock formations, respond eagerly to calls and decoys and are possibly the very best-tasting duck I’ve ever eaten. To me, they are synonymous with high-quality South America wingshooting.”
A freshwater dabbler, once thought to be a perching duck, the Brazilian Duck is found throughout northern South America.
“It’s the wood duck equivalent of South America; they have a plain, sienna-colored body plumage, a red bill and feet, and their entire wing is bright iridescent blue like a butterfly,” says Ramsey Russell. “Seldom do they decoy in numbers greater than two or three, but when they turn on, it’s one pair after the next. Northern Argentines prefer them to all other species for the table.”
Along with the more common wood duck, the Harlequin is perhaps the most beautiful of any waterfowl found in North America—mature drakes are “slate blue with chestnut sides and white markings including a white crescent at the base of the bill.”
Along with their beauty, their short migration patterns limit huntable populations to the extreme northwestern areas of the continent. The small sea ducks also make for difficult shooting.
“These are the most exotic looking of North American species. I’ve heard holding your first one most accurately likened to the feel of holding new money, or maybe freshly-minted bouillon,” says Ramsey Russell. “Maritime habitats just add to the romance of the hunt.”
A dabbler found in the Caribbean, South America and the Galapagos Islands, the White-Cheeked Pintail features various shades of brown with a white cheek and neck patch and red-based gray bill. The Caribbean subspecies is sometimes found as far north as south Florida. These pintails prefer saline waters, brackish mangrove swamps, lakes and estuaries.
“For many of the same reasons I like Northern pintails, I am enamored with white-cheeked pintails,” says Ramsey Russell. “While they lack the extremely long sprig of the Northern, they decoy and behave similarly to pintails the world over. It was the last of the most commonly hunted South American species I brought to bag.”
Another South American duck, the Silver Teal, or Versicolor Teal, is a freshwater dabbler with a black and white mottled body and black-capped head, green speculum bordered by white and a distinct bluish bill marked with yellow. It’s not just their beauty that makes them a jewel, but also how difficult they are to hunt.
“As tiny as a green-winged teal and as subtly ornate as a diamond, Silver Teal can be indifferent to decoys, and when they do it’s usually only in singles and pairs, and are incredibly fast and nimble,” says Ramsey Russell of GetDucks.com, a travel agency specializing in worldwide waterfowling hunting hot spots.
A striking South American resident, the Torrent Duck lives along fast-flowing mountain rivers. Males feature a black and white head and neck pattern, red bill and in flight they exhibit a green speculum. Females have orange under parts and neck topped with gray head and back plumage.
“While the Bronze-Winged Duck of Argentina is my personal favorite of South American waterfowl, in the northern parts of South America the Torrent Duck of the Peruvian Andes is the number one bird on everyone’s wish list,” says Pat Pitt, founder of L'Anguille Lounge Duck Club in Arkansas, world-traveling waterfowler and taxidermist who has a private collection of more than 800 species of waterfowl.
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