Duck hunters use off-season for conservation

HALIFAX, Pa. (WHTM) — The month of February can be a lonely one for a Pennsylvania duck hunter. With the season over, a group of friends in northern Dauphin County is using the winter months to give their favorite game species a boost.

“Wood ducks aren’t even here right now,” said John Kelly of Halifax.”They’re south in Georgia and other places, so this is the perfect time for us to get together here.”

Kelly is a member of the Powell’s Valley Wood Duck Alliance, the unofficial name of the group which gets the majority of its members from the Halifax and Elizabethville areas but also draws from pockets of Harrisburg and northern Lancaster County. For the past three years, Kelly and others have gathered at Stan Miller’s wood shop near Halifax to construct wood duck boxes.

“A lot of people bring the kids,” Kelly said. “That’s who it’s for. Everybody gets to take a wood duck box home, put it up on their local creek and increase the numbers of ducks come fall. There are those of us who like to take cameras out and get more pictures of ducks. Those of us who like to hunt get more of them to shoot at.”

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Kelly, Miller and John Laskowski of Elizabethville typically get together on Super Bowl weekend and cut the pieces of wood they’ll need for the boxes. When the larger group of adults and children arrive the following Sunday, Laskowski will lead the group in assembling the boxes.

“These are all the pieces you’re going to need,” Laskowski directed as others walked up and down the makeshift assembly line with their stack of lumber. “This is going to be the hole for the ducks to go in and out.”

One by one, the members carry their front piece of wood to Laskowski, where he assists them in stapling a piece of wire mesh to the inside of the box below the hole.

“This is so the baby ducks can crawl out of the box,” said Ava Matter, 11, of Elizabethville.

Matter, who came to the build along with her father and brother, uses a power drill to drive several screws into the front of the box. She says it’s a tough job, but she wouldn’t consider it work.

“I like it,” she laughed, “because I don’t get to work with a drill that much and I also like baby ducks.”

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The boxes are finished when they are filled with several handfuls of wood chips, which will later be topped with leaves found near where they’re hung in the forest. Kelly says the dozen or so boxes the group was able to build on Sunday will be hung within the next two weeks, prior to the wood ducks’ return to the northeast. The boxes provide a perfect habitat for the species, which nests naturally in the cavities of trees where they breed and raise young.

“They’re easy to manage,” Kelly added. “If you put boxes out there, the next year the numbers are up. Over the last 10 years, they’ve increased the bag limit on wood ducks from two to three, so it just shows you that there’s a lot more of a population of wood ducks than there was even 10 years ago.”

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