Icy Mallards on the Pudding River
By Gary Lewis
When the temperature drops and the first thin film of ice forms on the lakes, ducks have to go somewhere to find open water. That's when mallards make for the river. If you don't have a dog or a truckload of decoys but still want to hunt waterfowl this winter, go after them in a boat.
The Pudding River is a slow-moving stream that winds through private farmland in the heart of some of the Willamette Valley's most productive waterfowl habitat. Easily floatable from put-in points (bridges) near Woodburn and Aurora, its sloughs and eddies can be loaded with ducks. A drift boat can be employed when the water is high, but a canoe or a rowboat is a better choice.
Local waterfowlers have based hunts out of the Pudding for decades. It is not uncommon to drift around a bend and into a small spread of decoys. If they stay in one place, they're probably plastic. Smile and keep drifting. The jump-shooter and the decoy hunter have a symbiotic relationship. In a few minutes, you'll be flushing ducks that will drop into their dekes.
The nearby Molalla River, of which the Pudding is a tributary, is a completely different stream. Flowing down out of the high country from the Table Rock Wilderness, it is fast running and shallow. Floating the Molalla, you'll want a drift boat or a raft. Again, this is a stream that runs through large holdings of private land. When the nearby lakes and ponds are iced-over, the Molalla can produce some good shooting.
Things to Remember
If you would take a boat to the ducks rather than wait for them to come to you there are some things to keep in mind. Safety first. There is room for only one loaded gun on a boat or canoe. The person in the rear seat is responsible for steering and keeping balance while the hunter shoots. Also, there could be hikers or other hunters on the bank. Be mindful of the direction the birds are taking before you shoot.
Wear a lifejacket and bring waterproof matches or a lighter to start a fire. Watch for underwater snags and be careful climbing in and out of the boat. The water is cold in November and December. After an unplanned swim, a person's body temperature can plummet and bring on hypothermia.
There is something about the solitude that a canoe, a rowboat or a drift boat affords a hunter. Push off and paddle hard. Now the world becomes the river and its banks. And a sudden rush of wings against a winter sky.