There are at least 28 species of ducks in North America. Some, like mallards, are wide spread and can be found just about anywhere, north to south — coast to coast. Some are more localized. Cinnamon Teal are very common in California and the Pacific Northwest, but I’ve never seen one here in Indiana or even on any of my hunts through prairie Canada or the Dakotas.
Some species are localized due to habitat. East of the Mississippi River wood ducks are common. Woodies nest in hollow trees or artificial nest boxes and much of Indiana and Illinois, especially around wetlands, lakes and rivers provide suitable habitat. Very few wood ducks are present through the Great Plains or farther west simply because of the lack of trees.
Still others are sea ducks and require “big” water to be happy. Scoters, eiders, old squaws and others are common along the sea coasts and perhaps in the Great Lakes, but nearly unheard of elsewhere.
So I was intrigued by the recent announcement that duck hunters in Nebraska could set a goal to complete the Nebraska Duck Slam. In Nebraska, a “slam” is accomplished when a hunter manages to harvest a teal (blue-winged or green-winged) of either sex, as well as drakes (males) of three other species: an American wigeon, a mallard and a northern pintail. One could argue about the choices, but the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Ducks Unlimited teamed up to set up the rules — their contest, their rules.
A hunter need only down one of each of these then submit a photo of each duck to the NGP website. For doing so, the “slammer” will receive a Nebraska Duck Slam pin and certificate as well as being entered in a drawing for a special edition Winchester shotgun. Besides the bragging rights for the accomplishment, the hunter will also get a few tasty meals for him or herself and family.
This comes on the heels of a successful venture from the last couple of hunting seasons, the Nebraska Upland Slam Challenge in which the NGP partnered with Pheasants Forever to encourage hunters to harvest at least one pheasant, one bobwhite quail, a sharp-tailed grouse and a prairie chicken. Dozens of Nebraska hunters and a few non-residents were successful.
Both of these programs are quite inexpensive to administer and are a part of Nebraska’s R3 program — an effort to Recruit new hunters, Retain existing hunters and Reacquire people who formerly hunted but have stopped hunting. R3 programs are important across the country since hunting license sales have generally been declining and the sale of hunting licenses are, by far, the most important funding source for all conservation work.
I don’t know of any similar sponsored programs here in Indiana or Illinois — for upland birds or waterfowl — but that doesn’t mean individuals, families or hunting groups can’t set up their own “slams.” For small game in these parts, a slam may consist of a pheasant, quail, cottontail rabbit and a squirrel. If you don’t like to hunt squirrels, substitute woodcock or dove. It’s your “contest,” set your own rules.
If you want to set an Indiana or Illinois Duck Slam, choose three or four species common to where you hunt and see if you can harvest one of each. If I were setting up rules for my own slam, I’d pick wood duck, mallard, blue-winged teal and ring-necked duck.
I threw in the ring neck just to up the challenge a bit. The other three species are called “dabbler” ducks because they often feed on land, on the surface of the water or by just dunking their head underwater a few inches. Ring-necked ducks are a “diver” duck, so called because they commonly dive completely under the water’s surface to feed on submerged vegetation, mollusks or even fish. Again, these are personal challenges so if you want to add additional species or include Canada geese — your contest, your rules.
And give yourself a prize if you accomplish your personal slam. Perhaps it’s time for a new shotgun or to plan an away hunting trip to somewhere else. How about Nebraska where you can try for a Nebraska slam?