Dear Writing Huntress,
My friends and I want to start duck hunting, but we really don’t know where to begin. Do you have any advice for newbies? Do you have any duck hunting necessities for first-timers?
Duck, Duck, Goose in Devils Lake
Dear Duck, Duck, Goose,
Waterfowling, of any kind, is easily one of my most favorite outdoor activities. My husband and I essentially moved to North Dakota in order to enjoy the boundless bounty of mallards, pintails, teal and geese. That being said, I remember, all to well, being a beginner in the sport. Chasing fast food, i.e., the winged kind, is a cult all its own. More often than not, older hunters are happy to lend a hand to beginners, while others covet the tradition, almost forcing newbies out.
Luckily for you, I’m more than happy to help. If I had to compile a list of the 7 things that are absolutely necessary before one’s first foray into the world of waterfowling, it would read as follows:
[Note: This list has been created assuming that the future hunt in question is over or near a body of water, i.e., flooded timber or field, pond, lake or slough.]
1. Rules, regulations and stamps
As opposed to any other hunting, duck and goose boasts the most regulations. From bag limits, to shooting times and dates, to waterfowl identification; the chasing of these birds should not be taken lightly. You must be able to identify what kind of duck, as well as its gender before you shoot — in the rain, snow, fog or sunshine. In the same token, you must be able to keep a certain bag limit within the type of duck. Therefore, it’s absolutely essential to educate yourself, with any state-specific waterfowl literature, identification, especially, pre-hunt to avoid any questions and ensuring fines from a game warden.
Ensure you’ve licensed yourself properly to shoot ducks and geese via your state’s waterfowl regulations. Finally, adhere and sign your Federal Duck Stamp to your license and carry it on your person during your hunt.
2. Layered clothing
Depending on your location, you’ll be either hunting ducks or geese from late August to late January. This means you’ll need an arsenal of layered clothing to keep you cool, warm or dry during your hunts. Invest in a good pair of gloves, as frozen, wet fingers can break a perfect morning when the mallards are flying.
Area-specific camo also is necessary for a successful duck hunt, especially if you’re ground hunting or making a blind from available natural materials. Personally, I wore a lot of Mossy Oak Duck Blind when we resided in North Dakota, simply because it blended nicely with either the fields we were lying in or the cattails we were hiding amongst.
3. Face paint
I cannot stress how important it is to keep your face covered, either via paint (my preference) or facemask (my preference on -60 degree days). Ducks are cunning creatures that flare from an area for the smallest of reasons, from a rock that’s casting a weird shadow, to 5 very bright and upturned oblong shapes floating amidst a sea of camo. Ducks fly together, meaning there many eyes on your spread at one time; the more clandestine you can be, the better.
Ask any waterfowler: waders can be a total and complete pain. Walking in them is much akin to sporting insulated, tightly wrapped garbage bags with rubber gloves for shoes through a sea of dense pudding. However, they’re pretty much the only way to retrieve ducks if you don’t have a dog or boat handy. My best advice for waders is to buy secondhand or inexpensive ones until you really feel out your duck hunting style.
Ducks like to hang out with other ducks — they’re social little feather balls, so play to their weakness. I’ll be discussing spreads in my next column, but for this week, I’ll advise you to pick up a dozen mallard floaters, again, secondhand, if you can get them, although they will probably need to be repainted. Float decoys should come with a line and weight to anchor them to the bottom of whichever body of water you’re hunting. They can also be used sans weight, in fields.
Duck calling is a delicate art, and I have yet to master it, even after years of practice. I’ve hunted many times, sans calls, and still have bagged ducks. However, if you’re interested in beginning to call, purchase a single-reed call with an instructional DVD that will get your through the basics of when to call, when not to call, how to call and when calling is unnecessary.
Obviously, in order to shoot waterfowl, you must have some sort of firearm and projectile with which to expel from said firearm. If you’re new to the sport and don’t have a lot of experience shooting, invest, again, in a secondhand model, either 20 or 12 gauge. Bring your new-to-you gun to a skeet or 5-stand range to condition your shooting and get comfortable shooting flying targets.
In terms of ammo, be sure to buy only non-toxic shot, as lead is illegal in most states. I generally go with #2-shot for most ducks, and #4 for geese.
Waterfowling begins in the wee hours of the morning, sometimes as early as 1 or 2 a.m. Given this, arm yourself with a good headlamp, not only to illuminate your way, but also to keep your hands free to detangle decoys (this is a common, annoying occurrence) and set them before the sun rises.
Duck, Duck, Goose, I do hope you and your friends have an amazing time waterfowling. It’s a proud and amazing tradition that I hope you enjoy for years to come.