Outdoors: In duck hunting, that first piece of jewelry is special

Duck hunter

Hunter Johnson of Oxford plows his was though a frozen pond in search for wood ducks.

Around 1920 biologists began banding various types of waterfowl. The small metal bands have not changed much over the years. A unique number is engraved on each band. The numbers are entered into a database maintained by the Bird Banding Laboratory in Maryland.

Data obtained from banding projects help biologists and waterfowl managers connect breeding areas with migration routes and wintering areas.

Duck band

Bagging a banded duck is special for the hunter and the data recovered helps waterfowl biologists manage waterfowl populations.

On a rainy December morning, a local waterfowl hunter decided to visit a known duck pond on his grandfather’s farm below Munford. He had hunted this old sand pit and now beaver pond in the past for wood ducks. He surmised he could slip in before daylight and setup in a makeshift blind near the pond edge.

“I shot my first duck, wood duck on this same pond 10 years ago,” said Hunter Johnson of Oxford. “I was hoping to get a quick limit of woodies before the weather got worse.”

The limit for wood ducks is three per hunter per day. Woodies, as they are referred to by waterfowl hunters, are not as large as other ducks like mallards. Also, woodies are very fast and can reach flight speeds up around 40 mph.

Wood ducks are not known for their migration. Woodies in the Southeastern and Western states are considered resident birds.

The area where Johnson was hunting was near a large creek, Beavers often build dams and flood the duck pond. The creek and the pond are lined with trees. Perfect habitat for wood ducks. However, the trees make it tougher on the hunters to pick out an approaching bird in the dim light of dawn.

“About 10 minutes after legal shooting time, a pair of wood ducks approached the pond,” Johnson said. “I raised my shotgun and was able to shoot the first bird. I missed the second.”

At that moment, another pair of woodies were zipping into the pond. Johnson hurriedly reloaded his gun. Unfortunately, the chamber on the old Remington was empty as he didn’t rack in a shell. The pair of wood ducks circled out of range before Johnson could get a shell chambered.

The rain began falling harder, but as quickly as the other pair of ducks left the confines of the pond, another pair approached with landing gear down and wings cupped. A hen wood duck flared, and the drake took a sharp turn away. Johnson was able to down the hen.

“With the heavy rain, I decided to pick up my two birds,” Johnson said. "The first bird was a drake. As I approached the second bird, a hen woodie, there was a band on her left foot.”

Johnson rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, but after touching the band, he knew it was real. In 10 years of duck hunting, he had never bagged a banded duck until this moment. It was the first he had seen.

Before leaving the blind, Johnson was able to access the BBL website and enter the band number. The results came back immediately. From the data reported, Johnson’s wood duck was banded at Like Mills, Wisc., in August 2018. In about four months this wood duck had made a 700-mile plus trip to Alabama.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at charjohn@cableone.net.