Duck hunting or waterfowl hunting is a popular activity in the United States. According to the 2021 Migratory Bird Hunting Activity and Harvest report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, roughly one million Americans engage in duck hunting. The number increased from last year, showing renewed interest after the pandemic started to wane.
Duck hunters are among the most dedicated bunch of people. Some would even say they’re wired differently, which makes the art of waterfowl hunting an interesting topic to cover. If you want to get started in this affair, it’s best to arm yourself with the necessary knowledge. Once you’re in the “game,” you’d realize there’s so much more than shooting down the variety of waterfowls.
Are you ready to learn more about duck hunting? Let’s get in the game.
What You Should Know About Duck Hunting
If you’re a new duck hunter, here are the must-knows:
1. Use Proper Gear
As with any other hunting activity, you must ensure you’re well hidden. Many make the common mistake of getting a gun instead. However, it’s best first to get the proper gear. As a beginner hunter, you’d find more success if you observe the ducks first, and the only way you can do it is by knowing what they do in the wild.
When choosing your camouflage gear, it all depends on the place you plan to hunt. If you plan to go in a layout blind, the camouflage won’t matter much since you’re essentially hidden. However, if you expect to hunt your ducks in an area with dead grass, you’d do better if you could go for a light grassy camouflage. If the hunting area is in the woody area, you can choose to have a disguise with prints resembling barks.
Once you’re settled with your camouflage, waders are the next thing to get. Ducks are essentially like water animals. They’d be wading on the water so you would likely get wet when you put out decoys or while you wait out in the rain.
It’s best to get a breathable wader and prepare to layer on so you can be comfortable when the temperature drops.
2. Learn from the Experts
Before you even start duck hunting, arm yourself with the right knowledge. Look for someone with hunting experience. Make sure your chosen “mentor” is a responsible hunter. Since they have more experience, they can tell you what actually happens when you’re out there.
They can give you pointers on how to put the boat in, blend the layout blinds accurately, and even set up a decoy spread. If you don’t have a friend or a close colleague to learn from, you can join forums and take notes from the discussions.
3. Scout the Ducks
Your preparation won’t matter if there are no ducks to hunt. Before you set out to spread your decoys around, find the ducks first. Drive around and look for waterways or fields where ducks may flock. Keep in mind that most ducks will have a place where they choose to stay the night or roost. These areas serve as their partial home. Aside from the roosting area, you must also identify their loafing and feeding grounds.
While you need to identify where they roost, it doesn’t mean that you should hunt there. If you do so, you’re essentially chasing them away. They’d likely look for a roosting area. If you plan to hunt them, only do it in their loafing and feeding areas. Looking for them and hunting them in traffic ways is another option.
The traffic way refers to the areas where ducks fly over from one place to another. In general, they can be considered both a loafing or feeding area.
One tip to follow when you’re scouting the feeding area is to look for the “X” spot. While this strategy is best for field hunting, it can also apply to duck hunting. Take this scenario. Ducks would go from their roosting area to their feeding area. They do the feeding in the morning and evening. The “X” spot marks the site wherein they stopped to feed. There’s a high likelihood that the ducks will return to the same location for food again.
When you find this spot, place your marker so you can see it when you come back. The best time to scout is before the season starts.
4. Get Your Permission
When you have found your hunting spot, you can’t just go hunting at will. You need to first ask for permission from the property owner. Make your case when asking for permission. Don’t bring your guns when securing a nod from the property owner. Come in your regular clothes first. In short, never assume that you’ll get permission. Try to leave a good impression. Promise them you’ll abide by the rules of the property.
Of course, when you get their signal, show your appreciation by giving them one of two dressed ducks.
Aside from private properties, you can also explore public areas. You can inquire from wildlife offices about how you can hunt in these areas.
5. Choose Your Gun
For beginners, the best firearm is a 12-gauge shotgun. However, be careful to buy it only if your frame can handle it. You can also achieve the best results if you go for a semi-automatic shotgun. Still, you can choose to have a pump-action shotgun.
Important note: For duck hunting, the law says you can only use a non-toxic shot.
Your shot size should match the species and the area you plan to hunt. So if you’re hunting teal, a smaller pellet. You’d want to use three or four shots when hunting smaller and faster birds. However, if you’re gunning for mallards or similar-sized ducks, number two shots can help knock them down with ease.
After the gun, you need to choose a choke. It’s the one you add to the gun’s muzzle. Chokes are useful because it allows your shot pattern to remain tighter if you’re aiming for a longer or spread in when the shot is closer. Choose the choke according to your hunting ground; where the birds will finish matters.
6. Hunt With a Decoy
One important factor you should consider about duck hunting is your decoy. When it comes to choosing the decoy, it isn’t always about the most expensive ones. In fact, you can even hunt more ducks by using a painted bucket. It’s best to go for quality decoys.
Another tip when choosing a decoy is the motion. Ducks don’t sit still in the water. A perfect decoy is something that will cause a ripple. You’d want your decoy to mimic a live duck's movement. A mojo or a robotic duck can have constant wing motions that can make the water move.
If budget is an issue, you can make a jerk rig.
7. Practice Your Call
You can attract ducks to your area by calling them. Keep in mind that it’s a humbling experience because you have to get it right. Otherwise, your calling can scare the ducks off. It’s something you need to practice and perfect.
On top of knowing how to do it, you also have to know the right time to do it. Start watching instructional videos. Learn how you can soften or louden your calls to attract them.
8. Keep Your Duck Hunting Within the Law
There are existing regulations for duck hunting. If you get caught violating any law, you’d be fined heavily. Complete your hunter class—secure permits and licenses. Before shooting your gun, make sure you know the rules and regulations. Following the law means also knowing the laws of nature.
Betting on Duck Hunting
Duck hunting doesn’t mean that you have to be serious all the time unless you have an existing bet with your friends. Yes, you can also engage in duck betting. There are types of duck hunting bets you can make. Some of them include a bet on the first to hit a duck. It can also be the number of games they take home.
Enjoy Duck Hunting
Duck hunting is an enjoyable activity you can do alone or with friends. Keep your duck hunting enjoyable. If you hit your kill limit, enjoy the fruits of your labor. Falling short of your kill goals shouldn’t disappoint you enough to quit.
Take your duck hunting activity further by enjoying it with your family and friends. You can also bring your dog if you have one on your next hunt.