This section is from the book "The Dogs Of Great Britain, America, And Other Countries. Their Breeding, Training, and Management in Health and Disease", by John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge). Also available from Amazon: The Dogs Of Great Britain, America And Other Countries.
The Canvas-Back Duck - This species is the finest flavored of all wild fowl. Its food in those localities where it is taken in perfection, consists of the roots of the wild celery, which give to its flesh the peculiar flavor for which it is so attractive. Its habits of frequenting open water entail much labor and sometimes exposure and risk to the sportsman; and the uninitiated gunner is foiled in his attempts, time after time, to secure the gamy and highly prized bird, disappointment however only whetting desire and adding to his eagerness. To approach these wary fowl, or to induce them to approach the hunter is the secret of the sportsman's art and by the help of various stratagems the game is generally brought to bag by the experienced. The system pursued on the Chesapeake Bay and the North Carolina Sounds, and known as "toling," is the most successful. It is as follows: A small dog, an ordinary poodle, or one very much similar to that, white or brown in color, and called the toler breed, is kept for the purpose. It is trained to run up and down on the shore in the sight of the ducks, directed by the motion of his owner's hand. The curiosity of the ducks is excited, and they approach the shore to discover the nature of the object which has attracted their attention.
They raise their heads, look intently, and then start in a body for the shore. When within 40 yards or less, they stop and swim back and forth for a moment before they return. The dog lies low when the ducks are approaching, and at the time when they present their sides is the opportunity to rake the flock. Many ducks then often fall before one gun. To prevent the dogs from disturbing the ducks while they are toling, they are not allowed to go in for the game, but the retrievers known as the Chesapeake Bay dogs are used for this purpose. .
When the ducks become bedded, that is, gather in large bodies in one place in open water, for feeding or resting, boats covered with brush and weeds, and propelled silently by paddles, are used by hunters to approach within shooting distance. The sportsman rests upon his knees, in the boat, bending forward to conceal himself, when ducks are approaching. The arrangement of decoys, and taking up the dead ducks, are matters of experience about which no suggestions are needed. Canvas-backs do not drop as mallards do, when alighting on the water, but sweep over the decoys, and circle round again; to alight, if their suspicions are not aroused. The novice may lose his game by haste in firing as they first approach, when by reserving his fire until they come the second time, his chances are greatly improved. The moment of bunching or crossing of the flock as it prepares to alight is the time for the hunter to rise slowly and deliberately so as to create no alarm. A second shot may often be made by taking things coolly, as the ducks, seeing the decoys quiet, are reassured, and often do not leave at the first shot. The big bags are made on rainy days when the ducks are restless and are easily decoyed.
Wounded ducks must be shot again at once before the shooter is discovered, other wise a long and weary chase may be needed before they are secur ed, as they are expert divers and can swin under water for very long distances. Retrievers cannot be used for picking up crippled canvas-backs, as catching one in this way is out of the question. Canvas backs are found in the spring along the back waters of the Mississippi, in great numbers, when the winter has been severe in the East, as they then make their way up from Galveston Bay and from the mouths and bayous of the river.
The Bed-headed Duck is distinguished by the color of its head, which, with more than half the neck, is of a brown-red, glossed with bright red above. Its weight is about 2 1/2 pounds. Its habits are similar to those of the canvas-back, and it subsists upon the same kind of food, chiefly roots of grasses and other aquatic plants. They are found in large flocks, always fly together, but feed along with canvas-backs, and some kinds of shoal-water fowl. They cluster well together and decoy easily. Sometimes they are taken plentifully, foolishly returning to the decoys after a shot, and rising so close together that several are dropped at one discharge, as they rise against the wind, or huddle up before rising. This duck is second only to the canvas-back, as a delicate article of food.
The Scaup-Duck or Blue-Bill, furnishes more sport than many of the more valuable ducks. They settle down to decoys so readily, return so quickly, and pack so closely together, the hunter can hardly fail of being satisfied either with his sport or his bag. They approach shore so carelessly, that with decoys well placed, they may be shot from a blind, built in the bushes, if care is taken to avoid sudden or needless movements.
Bing-netked and Buffle-headed Ducks, are small, and although furnishing some good sport, are not often hunted. They are found in nearly every part of the country, in both fresh and salt water. The former is a vegetable feeder and its flesh is well flavored; the latter subsists on fish, snails, and other animal foods, and the flesh is ill flavored although it is always fat. It is neglected by the pot hunter as too insignificant for his professional attention.