So you’ve decided to dip your toe into the wide world of waterfowling? Congratulations! Now may God have mercy on your soul. All kidding aside, waterfowl hunting is one of the most rewarding outdoor experiences to enjoy in your life. Seeing the raw beauty of God’s creation at the wake of a frosty winter morning while sharing laughs and excitement with your closest friends leaves an indelible mark on your soul. Choosing the right gear to start duck hunting will help you enjoy this experience even more.
Getting started duck hunting can seem a little intimidating, especially when you think about all the specialized gear you see other hunters toting around and talking about. We’ve put together this easy-to-follow list of the Top 5 pieces of waterfowl hunting gear you will need to start duck hunting and become more independent as a duck or goose hunter.
Background and Assumptions
For the purpose of this article, we make a few assumptions about you that help inform how this list is developed and how each item is ordered in precedence. First, you are probably a younger person that is high in motivation but low in financial resources. There is no more important step than the first one you take, so don’t worry about having the perfect set-up before you decide to start. Second, we assume that you have somewhat of an established background in hunting or fishing and therefore have a network of friends or family that you can tap in to. If not, social media is a great place to start meeting people in the waterfowl hunting community. Finally, you live in an area where waterfowl hunting is allowed, and you have access to huntable ducks or geese. Yes, even if you live in the high desert, waterfowl hunting opportunities can be found if you know where the water is. Now that we have the rules of engagement established, lets get together the gear you need to start duck hunting.
1. Find a mentor
Wait. Isn’t this supposed to be a gear list? Yes, but gear are resources and the greatest resource you will ever have is a mentor. It is important to find your “Obi-Wan” that will show you the ways of the Force.
Laws and etiquette
Waterfowl hunting is highly regulated. With a seemingly endless web of rules, both written and unwritten, it helps to have a navigator to guide you through this symbiotic network of laws and etiquette that will keep you out of trouble and allow you to enjoy more of the experience. Have you ever heard the idiom, “What’s legal isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always legal”? When hunting in sometimes crowded public game lands, it is the rules of etiquette that allow everyone to get along, and when things go awry its often because of poor etiquette, not illegal activity.
Boring! Well, not really if you value your life or limbs. Waterfowl hunting can be a very dangerous activity. Every year the news and social media channels are filled with stories of young, and old, hunters over-extending themselves and their gear resulting in serious injury or death. A mentor will show you where to walk and when it’s not safe to take your 10 foot jon boat out in the middle of a large body of water during a nor’easter
So you know how to act, but now you need to know how to hunt. A mentor will explain the varying habits of different species so you can be more effective when you hunt. How do you pattern waterfowl to make sure you are set up where they want to be? What calls do you use for different ducks and geese? What decoys do you use and how do you deploy them? We’ll do our best to answer these questions on our blog but a mentor will always be your best resource.
There are two essential activities to waterfowl hunting. The first is to locate the birds. The second is to shoot them. If you can do those two things you are waterfowl hunting. Every piece of gear after a shotgun only makes you more independent and increases your hunting options. If you know where some local mallards rest in the bend of a creek, you can stalk and jump-shoot them. Et Voila! You are hunting. Beg, borrow, or buy yourself a shotgun and some shells.
There are countless blogs, videos, and podcasts dedicated to discussing shotguns and ammunition so we won’t cover that here. For now, DO NOT worry about semi-auto versus pump versus double gun, and please do not start asking what choke tube works the best. Grab your Pappy’s old smooth-bore and get out there!
Waterfowl typically frequent areas with, you guessed it, water. It may seem that waders are a minimum requirement to even attempt waterfowl hunting, but some good hunting can be found in shallow marshes or swamps where calf-high boots will suffice. Waders simply give you access to more hunting area options.
Getting started duck hunting is as much about learning what not to do as it is learning what to do. Just because you have a gun and found some ducks, doesn’t mean you should shoot them if you have no means to retrieve them. Waders will allow you to access areas with deeper water which may be essential if that’s where the ducks want to be. After you’ve made a successful shot, your waders will allow you to walk in to the water to retrieve your bird, and if the water is too deep you’ll get creative with long branches and ropes. Trust me, it happens to the best of us!
High N' Dry waders are designed by and made for commercial watermen. They are an ultra-tough and well-priced wader that are built to handle the abuse of commercial aquaculture.
You found the perfect spot and you’ve seen birds flying and on the water near there. So how do you get them to you? Nothing will replace being where the ducks want to be, but for 10’s of thousands of years hunters have used decoys to mimic the presence of a flock of ducks. Waterfowl are social creatures so they seek to be with others for feeding, safety, and finding mates. Deploying decoys draws birds’ attention to your spot so they will come in for a look at their new “friends,” thus providing you with a shooting opportunity.
We put together an entire article on what to consider when buying decoys, but if you are looking for decoys to get started duck hunting, anything that somewhat resembles a duck is better than nothing. Folks have been known to use 1 liter soda bottles painted black with great success. Chances are your mentor will be able to help you out with a few fakes to get you started.
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Nothing will end the enjoyment of a hunt more quickly than getting wet or cold. A hoodie and a light windbreaker will do the trick for a while. That is until you experience a cold rain and get soaked to the bone. Waterfowl hunters endure some of the harshest conditions in all the outdoor pursuits. Our gear is so specialized because it has been designed to help hunters survive and thrive in these conditions.
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Once you are set up with your basic hunting gear to start hunting and have a great spot to hunt its time to focus on yourself and your comfort. There is nothing “hard” or “tough” about going out in freezing temperatures not equipped to deal with the cold when something changes or goes wrong. If you have any doubt about that, take a second to read about the 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard that killed 50 duck hunters. Being comfortable isn’t weak. It’s smart and it makes you a more effective hunter if you can stay longer and concentrate on hunting and not how cold you are.
What’s not covered here
There are endless options for all of the gear suggested here, and enough new duck hunting widgets and gizmos coming out every year to make your head spin. You will learn what works and what doesn't. As I said in the shotgun section, acquiring more gear simply gives you more options and makes you more independent as a hunter. Boats, dogs, specialty decoys, and advanced apparel are all out there to be had, but these 5 essentials will get you well on your way to a successful and enjoyable hunting experience.