The GADWALL- The Day Saver

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How many times have you gone out duck hunting wanting to fill your strap full of big ol fat Mallards, only to find mostly Gadwalls filling your stringer and save the day?  According to Ducks Unlimited, the Gadwall is the 3rd most harvested duck in North America.  In my part of Texas, that is a very accurate estimate.  I would hate to know how many times the Gadwall has transformed a hunt that would’ve been a few birds to a full limit.  You will see in the picture a 5 man limit of mostly Gadwalls and a few Wood Ducks. Some people say they are “off ducks” and not fun to shoot.  I will have to whole heartedly disagree!!

The Gadwall is commonly referred to as “Gray Duck, or Gray Mallard”.  This is due to the fact that they are not a sexy bird with bright and vibrant colors like a Wood Duck or Pintail.  They typically weigh about 2 lbs.  When I was growing up my dad called them Sulpher River Mallards, because that is what we killed for the most part in the river bottoms.

If you have never hunted Gadwalls, let me tell you they can decoy and fall great distances, twisting and turning while cutting air like a jet airplane to decoy into your spread!! Other times, they will circle 15 times and simply fly off.  The birds didn’t flare or spook off, they just kind of say ehh….let’s head to the next slough.

Targeting Gadwalls is a little bit different than targeting Mallards.  First, my spread will be comprised of over half Gadwalls, Wood Ducks and Mallards least.  I like the Avian X Gadwalls due to the fact that you get 4 drakes and 2 hens, instead of 3 and 3.  Several motion decoy companies make Gadwall decoys, such as Mojo and Wonder Duck.  If you have the money, these are a wise investment if you are going after Gadwalls for the majority of your days limit.   These birds love motion, so if you don’t own any motion decoys, deploy the trusty shaker string and make some ripples.

Typically Gadwalls prefer to feed on submerged vegetation and grassy areas such as duckweed, hydrilla and coontail.  The Gadwall is a great tasting duck and cleans easily unlike a Wood Duck.

Gadwalls typically prefer sloughs, buck brush holes, cypress brakes and back water areas.  You will seldom see them in flooded timber, rice fields or dry feeding.  Not to say you won’t see them there, but they aren’t known for that.  The Gray Duck is known to decoy early in the breaking dawn light and fall into your spread without hesitation.  Make sure you take advantage of these early flights and kill them when you can, as the day rocks on, they may not decoy as easily.

Calling Gadwall is a little bit different than calling Mallards.  I will use a traditional hen Mallard call, but will shorten the notes and the cadence to try and match the Gadwall hen.  Gadwall drakes make a Mink…Mink kind of sound that can be emulated to a degree with your Mallard call.  I know Duck Commander and Haydels make Gadwall calls you can try.  I don’t own either one, but I know guys who swear by them.

Let’s talk Gadwall bands.  I have personally killed 1 banded Gadwall in my entire life.  According to USGS, from 1960-2016 there have only been 1,056 banded Gadwalls harvested in the state of Texas.  To put that in perspective, there have been 17,239 banded Mallards harvested in the same time frame.  Killing a banded Gadwall would be a very rare band indeed and a great conversation piece.

So, the next time you go out scouting for birds and run across a big flock or two of these “Gray Ducks”, change up your tactics a little bit and get ready to have a blast…..Literally!!

Story by Shane Smith

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