This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
In its wild state no objection can be taken to the mallard and nest of the duck family, inasmuch as throughout the year good service is rendered on both water and land by the destruction of pests, it being only in harvest-time that the ducks trouble the farmer, and then only on laid corn and stubbles. The only advantage the farmer derives from ducks is the destruction of such pests as slugs, for in most cases the resorts of the creatures that roam over his fields and crops and derive no small share of their subsistence therefrom are not his to do as he may desire. This is where the evil comes in in respect of all wild animals fostered in places over which cultivators have no right of entry, and even on their land no practical control during the breeding season and the growth of crops through legislative restrictions. It is the same all through the chapter, even wild ducks that breed away from the "brood" or duck-pond return to their quarters augmented by August I and there may remain until the following March I, when again the ducks, not having been bagged, make for places where they may breed in safety.
Wild duck is not game, but a gun licence is needed by a person shooting it. This applies to all persons carrying a gun or other firearm; and a game-licence is required by every person who hunts, shoots, or takes game, except persons (in Great Britain) taking woodcock or snipe with nets or springs, rabbit-warren proprietors, or others, on enclosed land, killing rabbits, persons hunting deer, or hares, with hounds, owners or occupiers, or their servants, killing deer on their own land, beaters and others not holding guns, attending holders of game-licences. Occupiers of enclosed land, or owners, having the right to kill game, may themselves kill hares, or authorize others to do so, without a licence; but such authority must be limited to one person at a time in any one parish, and must be registered with the Clerk of the Justices of the Petty Sessional Division in which the land is situate. Even when the quarry is not what is legally known as "game," a gun-licence is necessary. A game licence, however, covers a gun-licence, and soldiers, sailors, volunteers, or constables on duty, or at practice, or occupiers of land scaring birds or killing vermin on such land, or persons so acting under the orders of occupiers holding a licence, need not take out a gun-licence. Unless, however, the occupier is himself licensed he cannot authorize any unlicensed person to carry a gun. "Scaring" birds is not to be regarded as including killing of any birds, and vermin does not include rabbits.
Wild ducks are sometimes reared for stocking lakes and ponds, and being comparatively easy birds to rear, the stock occasionally becomes so great as to prove injurious to crops. The eggs are placed under a hen in the ordinary way, and they hatch in twenty-eight days, the nest, not eggs, being frequently moistened. When hatched, the young birds and hens are placed in a coop on a grass run, and fed regularly, with duck-meal scalded and given in a sloppy state. They are supplied with water in a small vessel, but in the spring and cold weather, not allowed on the pond or lake, as many would get cramp. In due course the weather and water gets warmer, and the ducks, grown and eager for a swim, are placed on the water. Of course they are led from soft to hard food, maize being usually strewn in the water for safety against grain-feeding birds, but within easy reach of the long-necked ducks. Unfortunately, feeding does not keep the ducks to the lake any more than "feeds" keep pheasants to coverts; but they roam over the fields betimes, returning to their safety place, and there afford sport and profit.
Thus reared ducks, like reared partridges and pheasants, differ in nothing from domesticated members of their families but in being given liberty as adults to become wild and unassailable other than in season, and then only by duly licensed and authorized persons, with the advantage all on the side of the rearers on account of resort being always to the refuges.
Fig. 132. - Capturing Wild Ducks in Nooses.
Wild duck proper is very little seen in the close season-March 1 to August 1 - after which it is eagerly sought after by the waterside sportsman both legitimate and otherwise. The latter scruples not to use glade-nets where narrow glades or ridings admit of their being stretched, and wild ducks are known to fly and perchance a woodcock. Horsehair nooses attached to a string are sometimes placed across a dyke or stream, and so close to the water that the ducks are compelled when swimming under the string to stretch out their necks, when they are easily caught in the hanging nooses. The decoy net is a more open method of procedure, and still more sportsmanlike; the use of decoy ducks both for mallard and teal enticement, and then relying on the gun and dog. Fishhooks, baited with boiled maize and affixed to whipcord lines, are sometimes used by degraded sportsmen for capturing wild duck, regardless of the torture inflicted.