Game know-how

The mallard


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The mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is the most common duck in Denmark. Its bionomial name refers to its broad beak, but we also know it as the wild duck. Where there’s water, there are mallards. Even the smallest patch of water attracts them. If there’s a flooded field, a lake in a park or a garden pond in a residential district, the mallard will find its way there.


Mallard ducks are often kept for commercial purposes on farms where they are bred for slaughter, and it is the ancestor of almost all breeds of domestic ducks. Many small and large syndicates of hunters release mallards for the autumn shoots, and it is estimated that up to half a million birds are released in Denmark each year.

The mallard belongs to the family of dabbling ducks. With a wingspan of about 90 cm and a length of 60 cm, the mallard is the largest in the group. The mallard can vary in weight from about 0.8 kg to 1.5 kg, so they are pretty plump birds which the hunters down during the autumn shoots.

The drake is quite grey, although most people probably think of its glossy, metal green head, and overlook its grey wings and belly.

The females are more subdued in colour, which ensures that they are well camouflaged when nesting. In fact, it is almost impossible to spot a female mallard duck which is sitting on its nest, as the brown-speckled plumage causes her to vanish into the surroundings. The mallard feeds primarily on aquatic plants and small insects, but it is not particularly fussy so it is also happy to eat cereals and bread, whether from a hunter’s feeding station or a child’s hand in the park.

The mallard is widely distributed, and is found in almost all the temperate zones in the northern hemisphere, and it is also widespread in subtropical and arctic regions. It has also been introduced to New Zealand and Australia, where it is now regarded as an invasive species, as it is mating with other local duck species. In Denmark, wild hybrids have been recorded where the mallard has mated with the widgeon, pintail and the northern shoveler.

dog with mallard

When can you shoot mallards?

In late summer around August, mallards start to form large flocks, or sords, around large lakes and fjords, where they often spend the day. When darkness falls, they fly to smaller bodies of water such as small ponds and lakes and wetlands, where they feed throughout the night. At dawn, they fly back to safety on the more open water. It is these flights in the morning and evening which hunters can take advantage of when hunting for duck. Of course, you can shoot mallards in lakes in the middle of the day, but these are usually ducks which have been released, and which have grown up and been fed at the location. And it is worth noting that it will only be possible to shoot these released ducks if there is an ample supply of feed – if there is any shortage, the ducks will head towards open water as soon as they start to feel hungry. If you are very familiar with the area, and you know where the mallards fly to during the day, it is possible to work out when the evening flights will arrive. Small flocks of mallards can appear before sunset, but they move about in much larger numbers once dusk falls.

Non-migratory bird

The mallard is considered a non-migratory bird. This means that by far the majority of the population remain in the country or region, moving around possibly to find food. The vast majority of the mallards seen in the winter in Denmark are thus part of the Scandinavian population. Young birds begin to move around in August, while the majority wait until October or November, but it depends a lot on the weather. If the winter is mild, many mallards migrate to Denmark from the other Scandinavian countries. It is estimated that the north-west European mallard population totals approximately 4.5 million birds.

Hunting – what do you need?

Mallards thrive in flocks. Therefore, decoys are often effective, as the sight of them attracts feeding mallards to the water. A duck call is also an effective way of catching the attention of ducks flying overhead. There are many different types of duck calls, and YouTube has countless videos showing how to use them.

A dog is vital when hunting for mallards. There is no substitute for retrieving downed duck from the surface of the water, or if the duck is only crippled by the shot and then tries to hide in the reeds.

Like most other ducks, the mallard is quite resilient to shot, so you need to use large pellets, at least size three, and remember to only shoot when the mallards are relatively close. It is far better to use a fast cartridge with fewer pellets than, for example, a slow 36-gram cartridge. A rucksack chair is extremely useful when duck hunting. It is nice to have something to sit on while waiting for the ducks to arrive, and it also provides space for extra kit and, in particular, a torch, which is handy for finding your way home in the dark. And last but not least, it is also a bit easier to take your bag back home when it’s safe and secure in your rucksack.

dog with mallard

The best time for shooting mallards?

It depends on what you are after. There is no doubt that you can experience large evening flights of teals and mallards as early as September. However, mallards sometimes do not have a lot of meat on them, so many people therefore wait until October/November, when the next large migrations from the Scandinavian populations arrive, and when the duck have more meat on their bodies. And at this time they are also easier to pluck, because you should remember that a mallard tastes best when it is cooked with the skin on.

Facts about the mallard

Hunting season: 1 September to 31 December, and 1 January to 31 January in the Danish fishing waters.
Size of kill: Approx. 450,000 a year (approx. 467,000 in 2016/2017).
High season: September/October.
Release: It is permitted to release one adult mallard per 300 square metres and one duckling per 150 square metres of open water. The ducks must be released no less than one month before the start of the hunting season, i.e. by 1 August.
For the cook: Allow at least half a mallard per person. There is not as much meat on mallards as on domestic ducks.

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