Right now, there is more interest in waterfowl hunting than there ever has been before. Whether that can be attributed to the extreme popularity of Duck Dynasty remains to be seen. The fact remains that there are more and more Hard Core hunters looking at getting into waterfowling. But where do you get started?
An email I got from a young guy the other day really got me thinking about this topic. He’s a Marine going through college and training to be a fighter pilot—pretty cool stuff. He gingerly asked me for permission to hunt geese on one of my fields and I agreed after meeting him. He had a few decoys, but didn’t really know what he was doing. I offered up the best advice I could give and he had a decent hunt. In his most email he asked me about duck hunting, saying he had never been before but wanted to start.
The “want” to hunt waterfowl and the “desire” to do so are two different things. You say you really want to hunt ducks, but do you? Waterfowl hunting is a Hard Core commitment. It means a commitment of time, energy and, of course, money. When we say “It’s Not Easy,” we mean it!
You need to have expectations but they need to be realistic. You’re not going to shoot a pile of ducks every day. You’re not going to be able to just buy your way into a great hunting trip. It takes work. You need to find ducks and geese by scouting, checking local laws, and knowing where you’re going to hunt.
A Hard Core waterfowler is respectful of other hunters, too. You don’t have to let others push you around, but be mindful of where you set up. If you’re first, etiquette dictates that the spot is yours. If someone else is there, find another spot. You might also ask whether they’d be willing to hunt together.
Finding a more experienced hunter is a great way to learn the ropes, especially if you’re not very familiar with the area. Every time I have moved, I worked very hard to get to know local landowners as well as other hunters in the area. Sometimes it worked well for me and other times it did not. That’s hunting.
One other piece of advice: if you go hunting with someone else, don’t spot poach later by coming back to the spot on your own, unless it’s public land. I know a few guys who did this and their reputations have followed them. Waterfowlers are a pretty tight-knit group.
Gear to buy
Waterfowl, perhaps more than any other form of hunting, is gear-dependent. It’s kind of like having a kid who plays hockey and having him tell you he wants to play goalie. You start seeing dollar signs scream past your eyes as you think about all the different pads he’ll need. But it’s not really all that bad! There are some great deals out there and you can get started with a minimal set-up.
So what should you buy first? Well, a lot of that depends on what you have already. There is one piece of gear Hard Core’s Mike Galloway suggests everyone must have.
“You need a good pair of comfortable boots that will handle most conditions,” he said. “You can always borrow a gun, or other gear, but you need good boots.”
Galloway went on to say that the biggest mistake new waterfowl hunters tend to make is underdressing. Layers are a good idea, and having a good set of rain gear is also wise.
For decoys, Hard Core offers a lot of options. If you only have a modest budget, most Hard Core hunters will first buy mallard decoys. Most ducks in North America will decoy to mallard decoys. Hard Core offers several, from budget-friendly Hot Buy decoys to Magnum-sized dekes. A great choice for a new hunter are Hard Core’s Pre-Rigged decoys, which are ready to hunt right from the store, with clip-and-go convenience.
“What we wanted to do was offer our customers the best decoy with the best paint, with a three-year warranty; have it so the hunter can buy the decoys, take them right to the lake, take them out of the box, clip on the weights, and be ready to hunt,” Galloway said. “We wanted the decoys to be affordable, too. For so long, guys would have to buy decoys, then buy the rigging, take the time to set them up and then after a season of hunting, the decoys would look terrible and need to be repainted. Today, people just don’t have the money to repaint decoys at the end of the season every year. The Texas-rig system is one of the easiest ways to set up a decoy for hunting. It’s all assembled and ready to use.”
As for calls, there are a ton of good calls available for not much money. For the beginning hunter, the best advice is to listen to live birds and try to emulate the sounds you hear. Of course, you want to do this before you hunt. There are also a lot of good CDs and MP3 files online to figure out the best sounds to make.
As Galloway said, you can always borrow a shotgun. If you need to buy one, a good pump will last for years and is relatively cheap. The tried and true Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 are both proven winners. If you want to go with a semiautomatic, take a look at the Beretta A300 Outlander. At under $800, this budget-busting Beretta gives you super-high quality at a price that doesn’t break the bank too much.
Blinds and other gear can fill in as you gain experience. The Hard Core Run-N-Gunner Blind is a great, portable layout blind that also doubles as a decoy bag.
The social aspect of duck hunting
The most important thing to keep in mind is to have fun, said Galloway
“Enjoy the entire experience,” he said. “Take in the scenery, the people you meet, the stories you’ll all tell and recall time and time again, and so on.”
Waterfowl hunting is one of the most social hunting sports there is. I can’t recall many deer hunts past the last one or two, but I can remember most all of my waterfowl hunting trips because I was with friends and had a good time, even when we never saw a bird. To that young Marine, this is the information I tried to impart. I’ve extended an open invitation to him to go hunting with me. We may not see a lot of birds, but I’m sure we’ll have a good time.
Images courtesy Derrek Sigler/Hard Core Decoys