Maryland’s history and tradition of waterfowl hunting is as rich as any in the world. Presidents and kings have been drawn to hunting ducks on the Chesapeake Bay for centuries. When English Captain John Smith first discovered the Chesapeake Bay, he remarked that “heaven and earth have never framed a better habitat for mankind.” These immortal words will resonate with any sportsman who sees the Chesapeake Bay for the first time.
No article on the early days of waterfowling is complete without mention of the Chesapeake Bay and places such as the Susquehanna Flats, where the Decoy Capital of the World calls Havre de Grace home in Harford County. Maryland has some of the best duck hunting opportunities on the East Coast: From body booting on the Susquehanna Flats; hunting canvasbacks off shore on the Potomac River and wood ducks in flooded timberlands; to hunting sea ducks on the vast Chesapeake Bay.
Puddle ducks are typically birds of fresh, shallow marshes and rivers rather than large lakes and bays. They are good divers, but usually feed by dabbling or tipping rather than submerging. The speculum, or colored wing patch, is generally iridescent and bright, and often a telltale field mark. Any duck feeding in croplands will likely be a puddle duck, as most of this group is sure-footed and can walk and run well on land. Their diet is mostly vegetable, and grain-fed mallards or pintails or acorn-fattened wood ducks are highly regarded as food.
Diving ducks frequent the larger, deeper lakes and rivers, and coastal bays and inlets. The colored wing patches of these birds lack the brilliance of the speculums of puddle ducks. Since many of them have short tails, their huge, paddle feet may be used as rudders in flight, and are often visible on flying birds. When launching into flight, most of this group patters along the water before becoming airborne. They feed by diving, often to considerable depths. To escape danger, they can travel great distances underwater, emerging only enough to show their head before submerging again. Their diets of fish, shellfish, mollusks, and aquatic plants make them second choice, as a group, for sportsmen. Canvasbacks and redheads fattened on eel grass or wild celery are notable exceptions.