It was mostly out of desperation that I ever got into duck hunting in the first place. As a small-town transplant living in the suburbs with a retriever, I needed to find something to hunt. While upland birds were my first choice, they just weren’t much of an option given the reality of having nearly four million people in my backyard. I was too far south for good grouse, too close to too many people for any pheasants, and not overly interested in woodcock.
That left me with one option—ducks. While scouting for whitetails on various tracts of public land, I kept running across ponds, streams, and rivers. Most of them had some woodies or teal on them, or occasionally, mallards and geese. A reluctant duck hunter was born then.
The first thing I did was go shopping.
I went straight for the decoys, and the calls. After all, you can’t be a duck hunter without some faux mallards and a way to talk to them. It took exactly one hunt on the most high-traffic pond I had scouted to realize that I prioritized the wrong stuff.
Since I was targeting puddle ducks like woodies and teal, I didn’t really need mallard and goose calls. I also happened to figure out through scouting where the birds wanted to loaf away the morning, so attracting them with decoys was sort of like announcing a sudden BOGO sale after the store had filled up with customers willing to pay full price for the goods.
I went straight to the sexy gear, without focusing on the basics. A lot of aspiring anglers can probably relate.
An undeniable part of all waterfowl excursions is not getting spotted. Finding unpressured ducks on the flyway these days isn’t easy, so you’d better expect them to be looking for you. If you’re not camoed up to the conditions, whether that’s a timber hunt or something in the cattails, you’re in trouble.
I also realized that my hikes into some of the better water were long and sweaty affairs. Layering, just like in the world of whitetails or western big game hunts, was important. Instead of buying decoys, I needed to buy the right clothing to handle a wide variety of conditions. Duck hunting is mostly an exercise in patience, and comfort goes a long way toward waiting out the next flock. If you’re too cold, too hot, too wet, or too whatever, good luck.
If you plan to start duck hunting, consider your base layers and outer layers before you prioritize any other gear. This goes for waders too, because if you cheap out or buy the wrong waders, you’ll suffer unnecessarily. Waterfowl clothing is a big investment, but it’s worth it if you want to enjoy your time.
Shotshells, on the other hand, are a worthy consideration. Nontox loads, which are required for duck hunting, vary a lot. You have your ol’ timey steel options, which are cheap, but performance-wise, you tend to get what you pay for. Bismuth and tungsten options are available, and they are worth the expense.
Since you’re just starting out, you probably aren’t going to get tons of shooting opportunities. Make the ones you do get, count. Hit them hard with the right load, and give yourself and your dog, a chance to recover every hit bird.
Ducks and geese are generally tough. They can take a swatting and keep going. If they can’t keep going, they often find a way to hide really well. Your best bet is to hit them with something dense and powerful, from whatever shotgun fits you best.
The fun part about getting into duck hunting is that there are so many ways you can take it. You can stay a small-water hunter who never calls and only shoots puddle ducks, or you can graduate to higher levels. Flat-bottom boats, elaborate blinds, and field hunts are all in the realm of possibility.
If you get to that point, it’ll be time to earn some serious reward points on your credit card by buying the right decoys, calls, dog accessories, and assorted gear for the hunt at hand. Until then, buy what you need to stay comfortable and hit the birds with enough wallop to fill the crock pot.