Monday, August 26, 2013

10 Things A Beginning Duck Hunter Must Have

Sunrise in the duck blind - that's why you are doing this
I didn't have a whole lot of guidance when I got into waterfowling 20 years ago, and so in my first few seasons, I wasted money buying things I didn't really need.  In most cases, I bought things that were helpful, but simply weren't necessary.  In other cases, I bought things that were literally useless and a waste of money - and I didn't have much money to spread around.

It's true that some of the most successful hunters I know shoot 30-year old guns and wear blue jeans and frayed brown sweaters in the duck blind.  Getting into the "intangibles" of their success (like hours scouting vs. hours hunting) has been the subject of many, many great books about waterfowling, so I won't belabor the point here.  It'll be part of your learning curve, as it was mine.

Waterfowl hunting is an expensive pursuit, and as the average age (and roughly age-associated disposable income) of American hunters increases, the pursuit is only getting more expensive.  Purchasing "the right gear" can be a new hunter's budget killer if you let the advertising (or pursuit of perfection) lure you in.  Don't do it - but don't do nothing.   To be successful, you're going to need some stuff.  Not all of the stuff.  Just some.  In addition to the intangibles, I've left off notable "things" like "your hunting license" and "permission from the property owner."  This is strictly a gear list, so here you go:

10. Your own shotgun.  This could have been #1 on the list, but I wanted to get it out of the way immediately. Do not borrow a gun as a routine.  You need to know your gun, how it shoots, and very importantly, where the safety is and how to know (by feel and by sight) whether the safety is on or off.   Sounds stupid, right?  Well, I once found my face at the wrong end of a borrowed, loaded 12 gauge as the handler struggled to find the safety in the darkness of the duck blind.   If you don't have religion, you'll find it that day. Let me pause for a deep breath.
The venerable Remington 870 Express - I still shoot mine (purchased in 1996) a few times per year

You need to understand how your gun fits you (even if it fits poorly, take that into consideration when you are preparing to shoulder it and take a wing shot, and after the season's over, take it to the gunsmith to be fitted to you - small money well spent).   Another tip you should know - not all guns shoot all types of ammo the same way.  Seems ridiculous, but it's true.  You'll want to find out which loads (what we call duck ammunition) work with which choke in which gun.  It takes time...and it can't start without you buying your own gun.

Many thousands of ducks have been shot with $250 Mossberg and Remington pump action guns.  Buy one. Budget recommended:  Remington 870 or Mossberg 835 12 gauge, with chokes included, both about $325.

9.  Gun oil. And not WD-40.  If you don't own gun oil, you don't take your gun, or your hunting, seriously.  Buy some.  Even the expensive oil costs just $19.00.  Clean that damn gun.  Especially if it's a cheap gun. WD-40 is not gun oil.  Real gun oil either says "Gun Oil" or contains the word "gun/firearm" PLUS the acronym "CLP" (clean, lubricate, protect).    Budget recommended:  Your gun manufacturer's gun oil, usually $5.00.  Currently under evaluation by 'me' : Frog Lube CLP ($20).

8.  A good folding knife.  This does not mean a $300 knife.  Your knife will need to serve many purposes - dressing birds, working as a screwdriver, use for gun repair, cutting brush, and cutting decoy line.   Some will get dull, others will break, others will chip.  I don't have 3000 hours to spend researching the perfect blend of steel alloys for a hunting knife, and you probably don't either.  Spend $35-60 on a decent knife.  If it lasts and it feels right in your hand, buy a back-up.  Budget recommended:   CRKT Tanto ($40), Buck Parallax ($25), Kershaw Kuro ($40).  All are solid knives, and you won't cry when you break them or they rust shut after being left in your waders.  Oh, you laugh now....but you'll see.

7. A serviceable duck or goose call.  A $20 duck and/or goose call will get you farther than you think, although like all bird calls, they can cause a lot of problems too.   You will be humbled on the day that your well-practiced call sequence causes decoying birds to literally stop and fly in the opposite direction....away from you.  Ahh, memories.  You're not going to call in a flock of 60 birds with a $20 Primos call, but on a foggy morning, you absolutely might earn a return visit from a single, lost bird who just flew past your spread and only needs to get five yards closer to be within range.  Budget recommended:  Primos Timber Wench, $18-22.

6.  Camo, brown or black PFD.   If you hunt in a boat in more than three feet of water, you need to leave your PFD on at all times.    And if you buy a colorful PFD, you are going to convince yourself not to wear it because ducks will see it.   If you can afford it, purchase a black, low profile inflatable PFD ($100-200). Budget recommended: MTI PFDs, $55-90.

5. 6-10 decoys.  Know your area.  Know what ducks or geese are really there.  And - for now -  buy only as many decoys as you can reasonably, quietly carry to your hunting spot.   Budget recommended:  4 pack BPS Redhead Canada Goose floaters, $79 ; 6 pack weighted keel Avery Greenhead Gear duck decoys (pick your species or a mixed pack), about $40-50. Note: Yes I know that better decoys exist. They all cost more money, too. 

4. Smart phone / emergency radio / 2-way radio.  Choice is up to you on this one, but having been out on the water in a sudden white-out in late January, it's more than just "helpful" to have access to weather and marine forecasts or to be able to broadcast your location to "someone" on the other end of the airwaves.  How wrong you can afford to be (and how much you should spend) depends on whether you're hunting on a farm pond 1000' from a hard road, or on an island 4 miles from fast land.   Cost:  Up to you.

3.  Flashlight / headlamp.  Hunters have a wide range of opinions on what's best for the job, and the range is almost comical.  Some hunters prefer $5 clip-on LED lamps that fit on a ball cap brim (a great place to start), while others want a 65 million candlepower hand-held light to make sure the boat doesn't hit a stump at 15mph.   I've owned many headlamps and many flashlights and I'm not yet sure I've found the "one size fits all" solution.  I'm currently using the Black Diamond ReVolt (100 lumens, $70).

2. Bird and wing identification book or pamphlet.  Can't overemphasize this one.  If you haven't been around ducks on the wing, the learning curve can be difficult, and a hunter using strong ethics will avoid taking shots on birds that he or she has not identified prior to shooting.   This is especially tough outside of the best hunting areas, because the majority of shots will be in low light conditions.  Hold your fire, let them land, and figure out what they are.  Hopefully the first flock will help decoy in a few more.  Budget recommended:  the gold standard for 30 years was the free USFWS guide "Ducks at a Distance," but it is out of print.  You can still download the pdf sections here and store them on your smart phone, if you're so inclined.

1. Waterproof waders or boots.  It would take a phenomenal idiot to attempt waterfowl hunting, even in a winter corn field, without waterproof boots.  Yet, it happens every year.  No matter what boots or waders I wear to a hunt, I usually end up pushing them to their maximum depth or other tolerance either due to standing in water to repair boats, setting and retrieving decoys, and retrieving downed birds when the dogs refuse to do it.  A lot of times, cheap is good.  But being cold, or possibly losing a toe to frostbite, doesn't pay well either.  Suck it up and buy at least two of the following three:  a good ($100-150) pair of insulated rubber knee boots, a good ($80-150) pair of thigh waders or wading pants, and/or a good ($150-300) pair of insulated chest waders.   Personally, I wear (and am quite happy with) Cabela's LightMag Waders ($169) and LaCrosse AlphaLite Mud Boots (reviewed by me here) ($80-130, depending on your size).

I hope you, the new hunter, has found this list to be helpful.  At least as of the time of writing this, I'm on the payroll of none of the companies or products I've described above, and as a beginner, you'll do fine with all of them.  The important things are twofold: to have your bases covered, and to remind yourself, on that frosty January morning when the alarm goes off at 3:15am, you "can't kill 'em from the couch."  Get out there and try it!

Killed over five decoys while I was hiding behind a stump on the shoreline, last week of goose season 2012-2013


Main Line Sportsman said...

A fine list!!

The Reverend Fowl ™ said...

Thanks for not splitting your list into 10 different pages, like the others do (magazine, TV, conservation club websites), hate that and never read these. Yours is sane.

Rabid Outdoorsman said...

Great List BUT you forgot the can of Grizzly WintoGreen! LOL!

Kirk Mantay said...

It was hard to leave out bacon, caffeine, and tobacco. Trust me!

Unknown said...

so i guess you don't need a duck call.....good list

Kirk Mantay said...

It's on there...#7. Although the old saying goes "duck calls have saved more ducks than they've killed" is particularly true for beginners.

Kirk Mantay said...

It's on there...#7. Although the old saying goes "duck calls have saved more ducks than they've killed" is particularly true for beginners.

No Video Content For You

Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...