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How to Find & Hunt Waterfowl on Small Ponds

Get off the beaten path to find unpressured birds.

How to Find & Hunt Waterfowl on Small Ponds

Native mottled ducks, dabblers, gravitate to marshes and tiny ponds.

From Stormtroopers to Die Hard thugs, recall the most incompetent gun play shown on a movie screen and that was still superior to how I performed when flocks of green-winged teal came wheeling over a Sarasota County flag lily pond last December.

Of course, I had my excuses. In ideal situations, these diminutive speedsters are tough to splash, habitually arriving in the poor visibility of first light. Foggy that morning, this particular pond was encircled by ancient live oaks; a picturesque setting, for sure, but wildly firing at ghostly teal teleporting from one slight porthole of light that peeked through the dark, low-hanging canopy to the next was certainly ugly.

Also, in the back of my mind, was one bird that was struck and swallowed by a mudfish or other swamp denizen like a snook inhaling a crippled whitebait. What other monsters were lingering in this calf-deep muck with us?

Blessed by ample waterways, Florida duck hunting opportunities are vast. Not all of these adventures belong on big waters, however. Little ponds of plenty are pockmarked throughout the state and worth investigating on public and private lands.

Hunting these gems relies on consistent scouting and striking while the iron is hot. Understanding the species you’re chasing is also critical to success.

So, let’s talk teal for a second. Away from the lakes, teal favor shallow depression marshes and flooded pastures. Nervous and alert, jump-shooting them is a fool’s errand unless you’re favored with the necessary cover; better to arrive before dawn, pitch a handful of decoys, and settle into a blind fashioned from the natural vegetation.

Then there are the black-bellied whistling ducks, which, God love them, are inviting for jump-shooting. Even in the wild, their comfort level when approached by noisy humans rivals a Central Park pigeon. There’s also no reason for an early alarm if you’ve located a daytime feeding area in advance.

pond-waterfowling-pose
Mottled and whistling ducks taken from depression marsh.

Mottled ducks fall somewhere between teal and whistlers in sensibilities, though they easily condition to hunting pressure. The beauty of mottled ducks is they decoy well and are fun to call into a spread. The downside is you are permitted one per day.

Wood ducks are their own beasts. I've shot them over subdivision retention ponds and weedy ditches, but their favored locations are flooded cypress heads or creeks winding through oak hammocks where the acorns are falling. These beautiful birds generally ignore dekes and calling, but, like whistlers, once you find where they're feeding, they’ll reliably return.




Of these four species, teal are the most unpredictable. Scouting from afar with a trusty set of binoculars is recommended as it won’t take much pressure to push them to the next pond. Whistlers and woodies are easy to find by listening for them. The former chatter among themselves, while the latter call as they wing their way to their intended destination.

None will hang out forever, though, so act fast. Weather, water levels, food, and hunting pressure will all influence how long these birds will inhabit a smaller area.

When hunting mottleds or teal with decoys, I tote gear in a Beavertail sled. The spread isn’t more than a dozen or so fakes with a spinning wing decoy. A marsh stool and breathable waders add welcome comfort. These are typically in-your-face affairs, so a fast-swinging shotgun threaded with an improved choke is wise. Number 6 shot is appropriate for the smaller teal and will easily splash a decoying mottled duck.

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With jumpshooting, the extra gear stays home, but I’ll swap in a modified choke and Number 2s for more range. Whistlers are easy to knock down but extraordinarily resilient if only wounded and on the ground. Also, their wide wingspan is deceptive, and shots appear closer than they are. Don’t hesitate to ramp up the firepower on these.

If you believe Florida’s only waterfowling occurs courtesy of boats, start checking out the state’s smaller water bodies. A day’s bag limit could be waiting—well, if you shoot better than me.FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine December/January 2023

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