Okay, it isn’t necessarily a who, but what you will you be hunting. Obviously, it is the ducks! There are nearly 30 different types of ducks in the world. Before heading out to your local duck watering hole, you will need to know what type of ducks you will be hunting. After identifying which species of ducks frequent your area, you will need to know all the regulations your state has in regards to duck hunting. Hunting regulations vary by state and each has set dates, bag limits and restrictions on types of ducks legal to hunt. For example, for the 2013-2014 season in Texas, the state restricted shooting dusky ducks for the first five days of duck season.
The pro-hunting and conservation organization, Ducks Unlimited, has an extensive database on duck identification, including the sounds each species makes. Once you have scouted the area you plan to hunt, know the types of ducks you will hunt, taken a hunter safety course, and obtained a local hunting permit, you must also get a Federal Duck Stamp. Passed in 1934, the Duck Stamp Act requires every hunter 16 years and older wishing to hunt migratory waterfowl to have a federal license. You can purchase your stamp at the post office or any location that sells hunting and fishing licenses. Furthermore, a pilot program in Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, Texas, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, and Wisconsin allows you to purchase your duck stamp online. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar from the sale of Duck Stamps goes towards wetlands conservation.
Duck hunting is one of the more gear-intensive shooting sports. From guns, ammunition, decoys, calls, camo gear, boat, blind, and dogs, it may take a while to acquire everything necessary for a successful hunt. However, for first timers, you can get away with just getting the essentials.
First off and most importantly, you will need a shotgun and ammunition. Though, your rugged pump-action will work, many duck hunters prefer a 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun with a 3-inch chamber. Almost every shotgun manufacturer makes a shotgun designed for waterfowl. You can find them from $350 to upwards of $1500! A 20 gauge works almost as well, especially if that is what you already own.
Some shotguns come factory covered in camo. Ducks see color better than we do, so complete concealment is key. (More on this later.) If you choose a shotgun with a wood stock, silver barrel or black matte, then wrap your gun in either Mossy Oak Shadow Grass or Realtree Max-4—camo patterns designed specifically for duck hunting— camo tape.
Removable and interchangeable chokes help pattern your shot for specific tasks. Finding which chokes work best with which type of ammo in your shotgun is a whole different discussion. For now, start with a modified choke.
It is illegal to hunt any type of waterfowl with lead shot. Load your shotgun with steel, tungsten or other non-toxic shot in #3 or #4 shot. Two of the best performers are Hevi-Shot Duck and Federal Black Cloud.
This is one reason why it is so important to know exactly what type of duck you will be hunting. Decoys help flyover ducks feel safe to come in. Start out with about a dozen decoys spread in a “U” shaped pattern in the water. Do not put them all bunched together. Leave enough space in between decoys for real ducks to land. Attach your decoys to a jerk chain to replicate movement.
Many decoy companies make moving decoys, including ones that appear to be feeding. Though more expensive, moving decoys are highly effective. However, moving decoys are not legal in all states, seasons or species. Please check your local laws before using moving duck decoys.
If you aren’t sure which type to buy—don’t worry. You are safe buying a set of mallards. Mallards are the most common duck in America and found in all four flyways. Put your decoys roughly 25 to 35 yards from your blind. This is an excellent indicator of range when shooting at incoming ducks.
Calling ducks isn’t necessarily easy and you can overcall. Unless you have practiced using a duck call by listening to CDs, watching DVDs or with the help of an experienced caller, it is best to leave calling up to someone more experienced. But if you insist, get a simple-to-use single-reed loud attention call to bring in distant ducks. For the beginner, I recommend Haydel’s Magnum Pintail Mallard Drake. There are plenty of other types of calls that experienced duck hunters use to create a variety of different vocalizations, but it is highly recommend beginners skip calling all together.
Because duck hunting falls during the colder months, you will need to have proper warm clothing, good boots, hand warmers, and chest-high waders. For a full list of ways to stay warm during cold-weather hunts, read “30 Days of Preparing for Severe Winter Weather Day 14: What is the Best Way to Stay Warm During Late Season Hunts?” Besides being warm, you will need to stay completely concealed. This includes your head, face and hands. Black or brown camo face paint will work. Camo that matches timber, wetlands, marshes, lakes, ponds and grassy areas without much green in it is best. Look for Advantage Wetlands, Shadow Grass, Duckblind, Shadow Grass Blades and Realtree Max-4 camo patterns.
Duck season around the country starts in the fall and goes through winter.
My best advice to a beginner is to go hunting with someone who has more experience. If you go with a group, you might select one person as the designated caller. Let this person call all the shots. They will let you know when it is time to raise your gun and shoot. Knowing when to shoot is extremely important. If you shoot too early, you will scare off the flock. If you shoot a flock too far away, again you will scare them off, miss or possibly even just wound the duck. A good rule of thumb to follow is if you can clearly see the duck’s eye, it is at a distance where you will most likely be able to hit it. Remember to swing ahead and lead the bird when necessary. Shoot at only one bird at a time. Time spent at the sporting clays range getting familiar with your shotgun before hunting will help.
The best place to find ducks is around or in the water. Field hunting is an option, but success rates will be much lower. Ducks feed, migrate, roost and generally hang out in pretty much any body of water. From stock ponds and small creeks to large, open bodies of water. You’ll even have a chance of finding ducks in the ocean. You will find ducks in wetlands, marshes, ponds, rivers, lakes, bays and sloughs. You can choose to hide in a blind in the middle of the water, on the shore or use your boat as a blind—depending on where you are hunting.
Whichever area you choose, make sure it is legal to hunt ducks. There are plenty of private and public hunting lands. Always ask the landowner’s permission before hunting privately owned streams, creeks and ponds. It is best to start your day before the sun rises, giving yourself plenty of time to set up a blind and set your decoys before the ducks fly overhead.
Make sure you have a way to retrieve the downed birds. If the water is too deep to wade through, you will want to take a trained dog or a boat. You will also need to build a blind, either semi-permanent or removable. When building a blind, make it look natural by covering it with leaves, branches and grasses from the vicinity you are hunting.
Duck hunting is challenging, rewarding, highly involved and requires skill, precision, patience and conservation. America is experiencing the highest duck population in 18 years, making now the perfect time to start duck hunting.
Are you a seasoned duck hunter? Share your tips and tactics with beginners in the comment section.