Duck Hunting: Beginner’s Guide & Gear

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Duck hunting has always been a gear-intensive undertaking. As autumn’s finest pastime, successfully shooting ducks requires that you seriously outfit yourself. 

You can spot a dedicated waterfowler apart from the casual duck hunter, by the gear they bring to the field. 

To better function on the hunt, duck shooters achieve glory by taking along hunting essentials. Aside from apparent duck hunting skills, hunters carry duck calls, shotguns, boats, duck decoys, and waders.

However, the best hunters don’t usually take the whole shebang of equipment. Depending on where you are hunting ducks, there’s a grade of gear that must be maintained.

Essentials for Duck Hunting

As a duck hunter, you are going to be mobile, hunting your way through open fields, thick brush, small sloughs, potholes, creeks, and some cold weather streams. Ducks that you will be hunting include;

  • Wood ducks
  • Teal
  • Mallards
  • Wigeons
  • Gadwalls
  • Spoonbills
  • Pintails
  • Diving ducks

Puddle ducks are the variety of ducks that prefer foraging in shallow water such as swamps, marshes, river backwaters, lake shorelines, and temporary wetlands. Mallards, black ducks, and pintails love to loaf in creeks, rivers, and harvested fields.

From the top, this is what you will need;

A Shotgun

A pump-action or semi-automatic shotgun is a prominent duck hunting or water-fowling accompaniment. Although a double-barrel would also operate efficiently, the third shot allowable by federal law comes in handy with a 12-gauge in hand.

Wood ducks and teal hunting at close ranges can be done with a 20 gauge, but more important than the gun is its choke. A great hunter’s tip is to sling your shotgun, which frees up your hands for better balance and other duck hunting tasks. If you’re feeling really exotic you might want to try out a triple barrel shotgun as we present in this article.

Shotgun Shells

Nontoxic shot is that which has no lead, and this is the only ammo allowable by federal law for hunting ducks. Avoid costly heavy load shots of composite metals, bismuth, or tungsten, as you only need steel shot to kill ducks.

Early season wood ducks, teal, and other close-range shooting is aptly done with numbers four to six steel shot, and you can move on to numbers two and three when mallards show up. An open choke tube will scatter steel shot just fine, mitigating tight patterns and doing so affordably.

Duck and Goose Decoys

A few ducks can be shot without using a decoy, but fun hunting involves about a dozen wooden replicas of ducks or geese. A couple of mallard decoys will do the trick, like most birds, including majestic divers, colored wood ducks, and larger puddle ducks usually trust the presence of jumpy, wary mallards.

The rest of your decoy spread can consist of half drab hens while the other half is of green-headed drakes. If new decoys seem steep, buy old ones and refurbish them as a fun pre-season activity. Carry your decoys in a mesh bag preferred by potholers, and rig them with 10 feet of cord and lead strip weights.

We have tried many different duck decoys and the once that work best for us are the AvianX Top Flight decoys.

Duck Calls

There is no limit to how many ducks can be hung around your neck, but all you need are a whistle call and a mallard call on your lanyard. Mallards have a loud call audible to other birds and are trusted by all species of ducks, and wood ducks respond to whistle calls. I always use the Duck Commander, which works amazingly well but I’m sure other duck calls work just as well.

Duck Hunting Waders

Puddle-duck and other waterfowl hunting require that you kit yourself out with the best waders unless you want to shoot ducks from land exclusively. Waders are worn to protect you when wading through water or swamp muck, and nothing can make your hunt more miserable than when waders are leaking.

A boot foot wader will provide excellent grip and stability due to its deep tread, whether you are setting out decoys, or picking up birds. 

Waders made of neoprene have reinforced knees, are puncture-resistant, have better insulation for when the autumn duck season gets chilly.

The ones I’m using right now are called HISEA Chest Waders and are actually quite awesome, although my older ones worked just as well but just wasn’t as comfy.

Camouflage Jacket

A good camouflage jacket will cover what waders leave out and is an essential part of your hiding set up for a successful duck hunt. When lurking under or behind a duck blind, your duck hunting equation will rely on the amount of cover that your clothing can provide. 

If you are hunting ducks in grass or cattails, concealed in timber or pucker-brush, camouflage and caution are paramount. As long as the general color patterns of your jacket match your surroundings, any camouflage jacket will do.

Also worth mentions are gloves and a hat that may or may not match your camouflage jacket but conceal any bright spots of skin or hair.

Duck Blind

Some of the most effective duck blinds are the ones huddled in the brush, leaning gaits trees and sprawled in mud or snow. You don’t have to spend a fortune constructing state of the art amenities since comfort comes secondary to a determined duck hunter. 

You can merge in with the background, disappearing from a duck’s prying eye using a few cut poles, plastic zip ties, natural vegetation, and some camouflage netting. When it comes to avoiding detection from above flying ducks, natural leaves and branches provide the best concealment. 

Drive corner posts into flooded fields to construct your shooting rail blind, stacking bushy branches against its sides tepee-style. Circling flocks will never have an idea that you’re huddled within, lying in wait. 

If you are looking for more durable, mobile, and active concealment, a layout blind justifies its cost as an excellent option. In mudflats, open fields, sandbars, and near water roosts, use these binds when the landscape makes it difficult to hide.

Nobody guarantees that you will shoot more ducks using a blind, as you can use the natural cover for concealment and still be useful. Lower your profile with a marsh stool to give your back respite from hunkering in a duck blind or using natural vegetation as cover. We have an extensive guide written on the best hunting blinds that I highly recommend that you read if you’re out hunting for blinds.

Duck Hunting Boat

With the market saturated with options for serious potholers alongside casual duck hunters, finding a boat shouldn’t present a challenger. It’s all dependent on how you want to use your boat, either as a part-time fishing boat or fully-fledged heavy-duty duck hunter.

There is something to suit your budget as well, and it just has to be rugged, durable, and have a shallow water draft to get you where the ducks are. When hunting your woods or backwaters, a welded boat with outboards motor is sufficient, but larger water bodies will require something that can take on windy waves.  Refer to our article on the best duck hunting boats.

Whether or not you will use a boat blind, or how much space you need on your boat will determine the size and engine horsepower of the duck boat you’ll settle with. 

The most substantial load you have come in is yourself, partner(s), duck dog, decoys, and a layout blind if you plan to use one. An open plan Jon boat allows you to stow as much gear while leaving you with options for concealment and added security. The best duck hunting boat will offer creature comforts such as padded seats, gun box and plug outlets for lights or other electronics. 

Your duck boat should feature a thicker hull since you will follow the ducks to places where typical boats can navigate. Duck hunting boats take on tree roots, stumps, and downed logs, and for this, a thick hull is imperative.

A Good Duck Hunting Dog

One of the most exciting, entertaining, and affective aspects of hunting ducks is having a retrievers companion alongside as a duck gun. Your duck hunting dog can function as a graceful, efficient team member, leaping out of the blind to swim back with a bird in mouth. See our article on the best duck hunting dogs.

With training, persistence, and patience, your champion retriever dog is considered efficient if it’s proficient in;

Retrieving Marked or Seen Bird Falls

The basic tenet of duck dog efficiency is when a duck smacks the ground, or water and rushes to retrieve it. Experienced retrievers can mark several falls and retrieve them consecutively.

Hunting Dead

One of the constitutions of an adequate duck dog is the ability to take your commands even if unseen from a blind, including hand and line signals. A command to ‘hunt dead’ will lead a trained dog to where a bird has fallen and subsequently retrieves it.

Retrieving to Hand

A functional hunting dog should be able to retrieve birds into your hand, or at least obey commands to release the duck on the ground or boat. Dogs that drop birds or let crippled birds escape will defeat the whole essence of having a retriever, and retrieving to hand defeats inevitable refusal. 

Ignoring Decoys

Training should have taken your duck dog past confusing decoys with real birds, as this can be embarrassing and time-wasting.  

Exhibit Steadiness

Your duck dog should be able to sit steadily while you take the shot before it can retrieve fallen birds. A dog that will break steadiness can scare off sucks and pose as a hazard during a hunt. 

Other Essential Duck Hunting Accessories

There are a couple of small duck hunting accessories that make your expedition effective, convenient, and comfortable.  In no particular order of importance, these include;

Headlamp

Hunting ducks can be prolific during the night, and a headlamp will let you see where to set decoys and rig out your gear just before it can get light enough for a shooting.

Headnet

A head-net camouflage lets you pick your head up and glass to see what the ducks are doing, completing your concealment for added effect.

Neoprene Gloves

A pair of neoprene gloves will keep you comfortable when doing decoy work, as the weather gets colder.

Game Strap

A strap gives you the ease of hauling back the ducks that you shoot out there. 

Marsh Pole

Balance can be precarious when traversing the iffy spots which potholers must navigate, and any type of marsh-pole will maintain stability.

How to Locate Ducks for Hunting

Water Bodies

Diver ducks prefer large water bodies and will congregate on rivers, large sloughs and lakes or impoundments. The great lakes shorelines and coastal estuaries that diving ducks prefer to give them the names lake ducks or bay duck. These areas are rich in foods preferred by ducks, and other birds prefer mollusks, fish, herbs, and invertebrates.

Areas along the Mississippi river see almost 70 % of the world population of canvasbacks, passing through to pick on the wild celery that these areas feature. 

The Patterns of Migration

Migratory patterns of ducks, determine not only the hunting season, but also which duck varieties you can find in your preferred hunting habitat. The availability of mallards hatched in Canada’s prairies will flock to rice and cut timber fields in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas en route south.

Also known as the Atlantic Flyway, ducks take the route from northern Quebec in Canada to Florida every autumn and fly back in spring. Some of the most extensive duck hunting and the grandest waterfowling clubs in North America are located along this flight path.

Observation

Finding ducks to hunt when the season is on shouldn’t be difficult either, with a little observation or listening to web chatter you can tell areas that attract hunters in droves. If you prefer to break away from the crowds and find your birds, it’s relatively easy.

Use a pair of glasses to scan spans of water from a good vantage point, and you may see flying or resting duck flocks. From a distance, you will note dark spots resting on the water and moving ever so slightly. Once you identify where the birds are, you can fire up a boat and leave shoreline scouting to the novices.

Feeding Habits

When the flock is nearer, maintain a distance as hazing or strong wind will have them relocating. Puddle ducks are the easiest to locate, and you will find them feeding on corn, oats, barley, beans, or wheat fields with large water bodies. Early morning and late afternoon are the favorite times when ducks like to hit fields.

If you spot geese or other fowl, even flying overhead a water roost or field, oftentimes ducks are hankering nearby among the rows for grain stubble.

Paddle, boot leather, or push poles onto backwaters or swamps, as you can’t glass these areas due to vegetation. Identify potential spots where you can set up a blind, near a creek, floored timber fields, or large bays, noting where ducks are landing or flushing from.

‘Ducks are wherever you find them’ is a much-paraphrased cliché, and with an open mind, you will know which places attract the most birds. Depending on the time of year, weather conditions, and a variety of other factors, ducks will always reveal themselves.

Conclusion

Nothing should hold you back from undertaking duck hunting ventures, at least not anything to do with hunting kits and gear. Finding the fowls, and navigating big or small water is affordably accessible, only let your passion be your guide. 

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