By: Justin Hunold
A bit ago we talked about What You Need to Start Duck Hunting. We took you from baseline non hunter to a minimally outfitted duck hunter, now we want to look beyond this. You may have bagged your first bird, a few different species of ducks and geese ,or even have a band hanging from your lanyard. With that, what do you need to “Step Up Your Game” when it comes to stacking ducks up? Let’s take a look at some gear and ideas that are just beyond the beginner phase.
Decoys- So, you hunted over a minimal spread of a dozen hot buy mallards. You’ve had some ducks light into them and you were thinking about that image as you plucked them later, but how many ignored the spread? We all like to say you can kill ducks without decoys, lot’s of ducks die over a dozen decoys, and things like that.
There are times when bigger truly is better and you would have killed those same birds over three dozen decoys, and maybe gotten a crack at the ones that zoomed past you, not given your lonely dozen a second look. A good secondary investment in the realm of decoys is a second and even third dozen. I prefer to set up around two dozen given the time, space and my own capacity. Having thirty plus decoys will happen at some point, it’s not a bad place to start “Buying In”.
Spinning wing decoys are very commonplace at this point, but there was a time when they were so deadly that game agencies debated banning them. I would make an argument that as opposed to that third dozen decoys this might be a better investment for your hunting funds. Lot’s of ducks still come in cupped to land next to that spinner every year and adding a bit of motion to the spread might be a better tactic visually than just adding more still decoys. I also would argue to get a Hen Spinner. It can be used anywhere, at any time of year. Moreover some companies make smaller, less expensive versions of their flagship model decoys. Normally you can have two of the smaller versions for the price of one of the big dogs. That’s a smart buy.
Speaking of motion, let’s talk about a jerk rig. Simply put, a jerk rig is a decoy or decoys attached to a string that is anchored on one end, has some elasticity, and is pulled on by the hunter at the other end. There are factory models, and a bunch of ways to DIY this rig, at the end of the day jerk rigs probably fool more birds than spinners and in some situations calling. This is a great way to add motion to the ocean and keep pennies in the piggy bank.
Calls- Hopefully at this point you’ve been practicing and have graduated past a drake whistle, you’re confident that you sound reasonably like a duck. Now, before you go and buy a competition grade call, or even a high grade, high rent acrylic call, maybe look into a few different models of poly and wood calls first.
With different call styles come different sounds, nasally, raspy, high pitched, low, whiny and everyone has their own flavor they like. Are you sure the one you bought is the best call for you to marry? I would advise doing some dating first. You can do that by buying a few different styles of calls in the less expensive materials.
I would look at getting both a reasonable double reed and single reed call. You will likely find the double easier to blow with a bit sweeter a sound. The single has some legs and can carry a long distance. You might decide to use one or the other exclusively. There are a lot of folks who love the ducky sound of a double and hunt tight, never needing the volume of a single reed. Then there are people who hunt bigger water and want to reach out and touch those birds, and make a compromise to call softer when the birds get in close, a single might be their only call. I advise having both and using the right tool for the job. Once you find a style of each you may decide to purchase the high rent model in both, or neither. Calls do not have to be expensive to work. Experiment a bit with that same money and you will likely find a few you like rather than one you thought you might like.
Comfort- While in your first few hunts you probably didn’t realize that there are only a few conditions a hunter lives in you’ve figured it out by now. You’re either boiling hot or freezing cold and apparently always wet. Comfort is a huge factor in hunting. The longer you can tough out a situation the more chances you get. Here are a few things I use to help me not just tough out conditions but thrive in them.
Merino Wool base layers, taken from old school hunters and modernized by the western big game crew these base layers are now an across the board staple. As soft as cotton, merino wool retains its ability to insulate when wet. Plus wool repels stink, which can be a blessing when stuffed in under waders. I use wool when waterfowl hunting, big game hunting and general everyday outdoor use like camping and tailgating.
A Battery Powered Heated Vest is the perfect thing to take that mid morning chill off. I have been using one for a few years now and you won’t find me without it if it’s below 45 degrees. Secondarily, the batteries can be used to charge phones, cameras, flashlights and a pile of other electronics in the field. I don’t start out the day with mine turned on but after that chill sets in from the sweat I worked up putting decoys out I crank that vest up full blast. It’s a game changer.
Calling in gloves sucks, shooting gloves also sucks, having wet soggy gloves sucks the worst. A good quality hand muff is the solution to all of those problems. I have gone to fingerless gloves and a muff for most outdoor adventures and this holds true for waterfowl hunting as well. These aren’t the ones you see an NFL skill player wearing, today’s muffs come rigged with Sherpa fleece inners, waterproof outers, hand warmer pockets and even loops for extra shotshells. This is a comfort item that you didn’t think about when first acquiring gear but as soon as you have one you’ll never hunt without it. I love mine and actually have multiples. Plus, they are great for throwing your phone and headlamp in for safekeeping and easy access during the hunting day.
The Final Flight- Will any of these things change your luck, make you a better hunter or get you a limit of birds? Actually, Yeah. A hunter who is able to draw more birds because of some better visibility, motion and sound, who is then able to be present and attentive because they are warm and comfortable is more likely to put some birds on the stringer. You still have to do the work. You still have to be in the spot, constantly learning, scouting, showing up. You have to put the decoys out with care, hide yourself well and shoot straight, but add these items to that and guess what, you’ll probably be able to do all of those things to a bigger audience of ducks, and be ready and willing when the time comes to say “Drill Em” .