By; Justin Hunold
When we are introduced to hunting at a young age we generally grow up with a solid idea of what we need as far as gear goes. For those of us lucky enough to get to see the sunrise over the water and through the reeds from a childhood, waiting for the whistles of the wings and the calls of overhead ducks and geese, we have a great idea of what we need to have to go duck hunting. We likely started with hand me down wares, and by adulthood have worked into our dream gear.
Unlike most of the past, there is an up and coming population of hunters diving into the field that are past the hand me down stage. These hunter’s have taken on the moniker of “Adult Onset Hunters” and they can often afford to go right into their dream gear and do. But how would they know what’s for show and what’s for go. This leads people to duck duck go things, and at the end of the day one question rings true: What do I need to start waterfowl hunting?
This could end up being a series because of the depth and quantity of answers possible, but we are looking at someone who has decided to pick up waterfowling for the first time and needs to start a gear drive from scratch. There are levels to every game, but we will be trying to run at about a mid to higher end level for quality, and more than likely price. Also focusing on one hunter and assuming they can walk in or have a boat, canoe or kayak. So, what does an individual NEED to try and shoot a duck or goose in their first season or so of concerted effort.
- Shotgun- Obviously, a shotgun and ammo are the meat and potatoes of what makes hunting different than hiking, wading, paddling or boating. I would suggest a 12 gauge repeating shotgun to start. If the shooter is uncomfortable with recoil or a larger gun a 20 gauge would be a great option, but a bit more limited. If I had to choose one choke to run for most waterfowl situations it would be modified. I like a fiber optic bead and generally a 3 inch semi auto. Black or Camo synthetic stocks fit the bill. Your gun will also need a sling of some sort. That about does it for the “Needs”.
- Ammunition- When hunting waterfowl you need to shoot non toxic ammunition. This has been the case since 1991 and will probably never change, rightfully so. The lead ammunition gets ingested by waterfowl and other wildlife like Eagles and kills en masse. I would suggest steel shot in sizes #2-4 for ducks and #2 and larger like B or BB for Geese. 3” shells will be plenty as long as your gun will handle them. Almost every new or semi new shotgun will. There are also more recent to the market non toxic loads made from Bismuth or Tungsten alloys. These are closer to the mass of lead and will certainly deliver more kinetic energy and penetration. These shells cost more per individual shell, but maybe cost beneficial when having to shoot birds multiple times with steel comes into play. If I can make a suggestion here it would be to grab a few boxes of target loads and some clay pigeons, or better yet go to skeet or sporting clays course and break that gun in, along with yourself. Get to know your gun and what chokes are good for what ranges. This will change with steel shot but in general more practice is better.
- Waders– Waders are important. You can shoot ducks without them but you’re really limiting yourself. A person with a pair of waders, shotgun and ammo can feasibly hunt ducks in a lot of places and situations and not need anything more than those things. Waders are what gets you in the game, duck hunting is all just a level of how wet you are and waders keep half of you dry. The half that would definitely be wet in most hunting circumstances. You will wear them hunting, putting out decoys and picking up birds. I like boot foot, breathable waders if budget allows, but for most a good pair of neoprene waders fit the ticket. Boot foot keeps your boots attached when stuck in deep mud. Plus, boot foot is generally less expensive than stocking foot waders with the added expense of a wading boot. I would get a good set of brown or camo waders. When in doubt brown is a good color to go with in the world of duck hunting. It just blends everywhere.
- Decoys- We can pass shoot or jump shoot ducks and skip decoys all together, but that’s not what you had in mind when you pictured yourself duck hunting. You picture your camo covered face looking up at ducks cupping up coming into land in a well placed decoy spread. Decoys are arguably more effective as a duck magnet than calling, and fake friends can bring birds that were passing by closer into your effective shotgun range. I would start with a dozen mallard decoys. You will need decoy line, weights and a bag to carry them in. The line and weights attach to the decoys to keep them from floating away and the bag is there for transporting and organization sake. Decoys can range from a few bucks all the way into the hundreds. The more realistic the decoys the better off you will be, but there have been a lot of birds killed over “economy” decoys and this is where I would start. A spinning wing decoy is another great addition but not a necessity. There are wind operated models and mini models that cost a little less than the professional grade decoys. Either of which would be a fine addition to the spread, but aren’t absolutely needed.
- Clothing- A good waterproof and windproof jacket is a start. Camo is great but a simple brown will work as well. All hunting is a game of layering. When you have a camo or brown outer layer you can layer whatever color you need under it for temperature regulation. This means that red fleece you love to wear can go under your camo jacket for extra warmth, just make sure the red isn’t showing. I would say a hood isn’t necessary but is a good option too. I like a camo or drab baseball hat when I can get away with it. The Brim is nice since I will be looking up most of the time. When temps dip I leave the hat on and put a winter hat over it. Two sets of gloves. I like a good set of wool gloves for most of my hunting. Wool insulates when wet. The other pair are elbow high decoy gloves. These are worn when setting and picking up decoys. They can also be a lifesaver when it’s truly cold and you forgot to bring any other gloves. A facemask is optional if you choose not to wear face paint. But one way or another camo your face. Your face is one of the most unnatural sights a bird can see coming into a decoy spread. Plus human skin shines, so keep that to a minimum.
- Calls- If I were to choose one call to hand a first time duck hunter it would be a drake whistle. These are often a horn shaped whistle that can imitate a Mallard Drake, Widgeon, Green Wing Teal and Pintail. They are easy to learn, and don’t freeze up. Understatement in calling is often better than over calling. And drake whistles fit the new hunter, understated, if it ain’t broken don’t fix it mold. They are also generally not expensive. From there I would go with a double reed duck call. They tend to be easier to learn with and have a bit of rasp to them that sounds good to you and the ducks. I generally blow a single reed call, they have a wider range of volume and tones available. They are a bit tougher to learn on, but once you get them you can blow any duck call well. There is a very valid argument to learn a single reed call first, because you will be a better double reed caller once you do. In any case, please watch videos and listen to professional callers and live ducks to learn how to call. Practice at home, in the car, but never while hunting. Until you have calling down, and you sound like a reasonable version of a hen mallard, don’t take your call to the woods and water. Stick with that drake whistle and you’ll be surprised how many ducks you can call in.
- Blind Bag- You will need a blind bag of some sort to keep your gear organized and have a centralized location for your stuff. There are backpack style blind bags and duffel bag style. I prefer a duffel style most times although each has their place. If I were hunting standing timber, pass shooting or jump shooting I would always use a backpack style. I like the duffel style because much like a pack mule load distribution matters when walking into spots. I can sling a gun on one shoulder, blind bag on the other, and a decoy bag over both. I couldn’t do that with a backpack style. What goes in the bag? We have a list of things for your blind bag listed here.
- Licenses, Stamps, Tags- As far as I can tell most content outlets virtue signal and say this first, but I think my readers are smart enough to understand that these things are first and foremost. Plus, each state has different requirements so check your local regulations and verify that just like after using the can, your paperwork is in order. If possible try to keep your Federal Duck Stamp every year. They have a culture all their own.
That’s it, with these eightish things you’re on your way to duck hunting. I would suggest taking a peek at my mindset into detailed duck hunting. There are other things that you will certainly need, like a headlamp, reasonable binoculars, water and snacks but again I believe that you are smart enough to piece that together. Take your time to learn your different duck identifications, this is super important as bag limits are different between different sub species. Black Ducks and Mallard Hens can look a lot alike for instance, and too many in your possession of either one is illegal. Also watch some videos on duck behavior or go see it live and in person in your hunting area. The more you watch waterfowl and take in what’s happening and what they sound like the less your gear will matter.
At the end of the day, you will buy some things you don’t need but maybe you want. You will dive into jerk rigs, and confidence decoys, acrylic calls, different duck species for decoys, swamp stools, the list goes on. I say this in full confidence, because if done right there are few styles and types of hunting that are as fun and as rewarding as waterfowl hunting.
I am a solo hunter most of the time, but waterfowling is always best with friends and family. I would make a concerted effort to align with some local friends to hunt with, or even someone far away if you’re willing to take that adventure on. Will I hunt ducks by myself, yes. Do I prefer it, no. So in my opinion the very best investments you can make into your waterfowling career are first in yourself, to learn as much as you can, and second into a hunting partner because ducks or not, my hunting partners have become lifelong that rank among my closest family and friends.