Most duck hunters are all about bagging their daily limits, but the real bonus comes when one is fortunate enough to harvest a duck wearing jewelry, a metal band used to track migratory habits.

When a banded bird is taken, the hunter can go online and report the date and location of the harvest and then receive a suitable-for-framing certificate from the U.S. Wildlife Federation with the date and location of its banding, as well as approximate age.

Every year, thousands of young ducklings and goslings are “tagged” in Canada, as many hunters know.

(For more on a lucky young hunter, read 9-Year-Old Carter Cochran Nabs Two Bands On One Shot.)

A fair number of mallards, wood ducks and Canada geese are also banded right here in the state by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission authorities. Geese are typically banded during their molting process (when older feathers are replaced by newer ones) and they cannot fly. But the banding work for ducks is more strategic than that, involving a large net, black gunpowder, charged rockets and a food plot of crushed corn.

Once a roosting spot is located, the snare is set and the area is baited for a couple of weeks. Then early one morning, the professional trappers and biologists set up a camouflage tent about 25 yards from the trap zone. Shortly after daybreak ducks fly into the nearby water and begin waddling up the bank, march right to the food and begin grazing.

Once about 25 or so ducks are in range, an electronic charge ignites rockets that have been attached to the front of the net. They immediately launch the net skyward over the ducks.

The waterfowl are then carefully removed from beneath the net and numbered bands are attached to their legs with needle-nosed pliers. After the short process is completed, the birds are released back into the wild to live another day.

Banded By the Numbers

  • 16% of recovered banded ducks that are reported, compared to 24 percent of geese.
  • 54,000 mallards banded in Arkansas from 1980-89.
  • 1,208 mallards banded in Arkansas from 2000-09.
  • 1988 best year to kill a banded mallard in Arkansas (.67 percent of ducks harvested).
  • 1975 worst year to kill a banded mallard in Arkansas (.13 percent of ducks harvested).
  • 27 years, plus seven months, the oldest recorded banded mallard was killed in Arkansas. The duck, banded in Louisiana, was shot by an Arkansas hunter in 2008.

(Thanks to Kevin Lynch, Kiah Gardner, and Colby Wells of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for allowing Greenhead to tag along on a recent wood duck banding effort near Lake Nimrod in Yell County.)