© 2014 Aaron Atkinson

Wood Ducks

It’s been ten years since my first duck hunt when Tim brought Dad and I to the little prairie pothole in north central Iowa. Crouched in the cattails as the orange eastern sun burned it’s way up, a brace of dark ducks screamed our way crossing left to right in front of us. Tim and I shot almost simultaneously, and at the crack of our shotguns the duo splashed dead on the water.

Both were drake wood ducks. With their rusty chests, white throats, iridescent purple and blue cheeks, vibrant green mullets and beaks that match the colors of the sunrise, I’ve always considered wood ducks to be a most beautiful and favored waterfowl.

The next decade led me away from the marshes and into the uplands, chasing pheasants and quail behind Indie. This autumn was the first time I ventured back into an early-season, pre-dawn, oak-lined slough since that first wood duck fell. And as the sun crested the horizon, the wood ducks obliged and swarmed in and around our decoys by the dozens. This drake fell to the first volley of the morning. As I plucked him from the waters edge, I paused for a moment to smooth his bright feathers and admire is stunning beauty before adding another pair to the bag.

Thanks to a fall diet that consists mainly of acorns, wood ducks take on a sweeter, lighter, less gamy flavor than their weed and fish eating cousins like teal, mallards and bluebills. I brought the handsome trio home, excited to transform the beautiful birds into a beautiful platter of sweet, tangy, mild, wood duck a la orange.

As I was part way through plucking, eviscerating and dismembering the first plump, little bird, Laura came outside and admired the plumage of the handsome drake.

Laura: Those ducks are too pretty to eat!

Me: They are pretty, aren’t they? I love these little ducks. But just give me a minute to finish plucking them, they won’t be pretty for long.


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