The waterfowler’s ultimate prize comes in the form of a stamped piece of aluminum affixed to a duck’s leg.

In monetary value, the band itself may cost a few pennies but in the duck hunter’s world, it is invaluable. The number of bands showcased on a hunter’s call lanyard is a status symbol. Hunters tend to remember every detail about how each of their bands was acquired down to the when, the where and, of course, how magnificent the shot was.

In other words, those little straps of aluminum are a big deal.

Banded ducks have been known to fragment friendships after heated arguments as to who shot “that duck.”

There are even stories of guys renting scuba equipment to recover bands that fell into the water when their lanyards got hung up and broke. The anticipation of the retriever bringing back a duck with that little silver leg band shining in the sun makes even the most veteran duck hunter feel like a kid at Christmas.

Last January it truly was a kid, 9-year-old Carter Cochran, who enjoyed that experience.

The Stats

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service bands roughly 200,000 ducks per year, and recovered data from banded birds provides a wealth of information to biologists studying waterfowl migration patterns and lifespans.

Since 1960, 70,054 banded mallards have been recovered in Arkansas, which averages about 1,300 a season. For 2000-2010, on average, only .29 percent of mallards harvested in Arkansas were banded. That is about one out of every 400 mallards or so for those who like to keep track.

How It’s Done

Some guys go a lifetime without harvesting a banded duck. Some seem to have more luck than humanly possible in acquiring bands. There is no skill other than executing the shot presented. It’s more of a matter of being in the right place at the right time and being lucky enough to unknowingly pick out the right duck from a group working the decoys.

Cochran, of North Little Rock, was just that lucky … and then some.

Ending in Style

The Cochran clan had gotten on a pretty good roll last January in Bayou Meto WMA. Some folks may recognize the name George Cochran from professional bass fishing circles. George is the uncle to Clay Cochran, young Carter’s father, and all were enjoying the finest public ground, green timber shooting the world has to offer, along with pro angler Larry Nixon and cousin David Cochran.

During the final week of the season, the Cochran group had a high success rate in the Government Cypress area. But, as it goes with public land hunting, word got out and by the weekend hunters were literally behind every tree.

The final morning was a “slow” hunt with only nine mallards in the bag, and Carter had not been able to fire a shot, given how the ducks were working treetop high. Things had slowed down just enough that the group decided it was time to pick up its toys and call it a season.

Just as everyone emerged from his hiding spot, Clay spotted a small group of mallards locked up on the group’s hole. He barked at the other hunters to freeze as the ducks looked to break the treetops. Just before they could backpedal into the hole, the mallards flared up and out above the timber. Then one shot rang out and a mallard drake folded up and sailed about 100 yards out into the woods.

Carter’s one and only shot of the day made the connection and was by itself enough to celebrate. Clay took off in knee-deep water with a good mark on the downed duck and when he picked it up out of the water, he saw the drake was double-banded.

It meant a proud moment for Dad and an ear-to-ear smile for Carter, with whooping, hollering and high fives all around.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service double-bands ducks with a normal band on one leg and a reward band on the other as encouragement to hunters to report their banded duck encounters. It is hard to imagine how low is the percentage of ducks harvested per year that are double-banded.

The number is miniscule to say the least, and for Carter to accomplish the feat on the last duck of the season for his group on a tough shot for a 9-year-old in historic Bayou Meto WMA, it is hard to say it gets any better.

(For more on duck bands, check out Duck Banding A Precision Operation.)