What do you need to start out duck hunting?
Not long ago I was at a hunting show and a kid that was probably 12 or 13 years old asked me a question.
Kid: So you know a lot about duck hunting?
Me: Yeah, I suppose.
Kid: So how do you get into duck hunting?
I was a little surprised by the question and didn’t know quite how to respond. I told him it would be best to find someone that he could go along with to learn about duck hunting. As I thought about it more, I realized that’s probably how most of us got started hunting ducks. We had a dad or an uncle or a friend that was into it and we went along and learned from them. Eventually we started getting our own stuff and started hunting on our own.
I could have answered the kid like this. Getting into duck hunting is pretty straightforward. First, find 3-4 buddies that are into it and will take you hunting. Next, go spend several thousand dollars getting all the gear you need. Spend some time thinking about who is going to take care of your dog while you are at work and where you will park your boat the 8-9 months out of the year you aren’t hunting with it. Lastly, spend hundreds of hours scouring over maps, internet information and driving around trying to figure out where you might find some ducks to hunt. When you stop and think, it’s amazing that anyone new gets into waterfowl hunting. I think for most of us it just kind of happens. Next thing we know we have a garage full of decoys, a camo boat in the back yard and a closet full of boots, waders and waterproof camo clothing. You aren’t really sure how it happened, but here you are.
This got me thinking about how I started duck hunting. I grew up in a hunting family. When I was five or six I made my first trips out to the marsh with my Dad in the pothole country of North Dakota. I rode in an old Styrofoam canoe dad had painted camouflage. He always made sure I had on a black or brown stocking cap so my blonde hair wouldn’t shine in the sun and scare the birds. As a teenager we moved to western South Dakota, which isn’t known for its waterfowl hunting. I spent most of those years hunting big game with the occasional duck or pheasant hunt in the eastern half of the state. I didn’t become a duck hunter until I went off to college. When I moved to Nebraska for college I took my 870, some Air Force surplus camo that sort of fit and a mesh bag with a couple dozen beat up Carry Lite mallards. I had heard central Nebraska had some good duck hunting so I splurged and bought a brand new pair of Cabela’s neoprene waders to replace my old rubber ones. Honestly, I didn’t do much hunting the first couple years of college. Too many other distractions. A buddy and I decided to start duck hunting for real in the summer of ’93. Little did I know that ’93 was an extremely wet year which made the hunting conditions in Nebraska’s rainwater basin amazing. This was my first stroke of good luck. The second was a tip I got from a cousin that lived in the area that we should check out a particular WPA. That place was full of water and we hammered the green heads there all season long. Even though the points system was in place back then and we could only shoot 3 ducks a day, we had an epically good duck season and I was hooked for life.
I kind of got started on my own, but kind of also had help from my dad, cousin, and hunting buddy. If you were starting out on your own, what is the bare minimum you would need to get started hunting ducks? I think this is important to be able to tell people interested in duck hunting. We want to get more people, in particular young people, into the sport of waterfowl hunting. It must be approachable and attainable or else new people won’t even try. This is my list of what it would take to start hunting ducks on your own.
- Shotgun. You have to have a shotgun, which should be self-evident. However, there is a ridiculous array of shotguns on the market today and this could be intimidating to a new hunter. This is an easy one for me. Remington 870. Period. Most reliable shotgun ever made and probably the one gun that has killed more ducks than any other in existence. I shot my 870 for 25+ years. It was only about 5 years ago that I retired it sand treated myself to a new Berretta A-400. The beauty of the 870 is it’s cheap and reliable. I’ve stumbled in the marsh and put my entire shotgun under water, and it still worked. It’s been frozen in ice, submerged, used as a paddle and it just works. There’s only like 3 moving parts in the thing. It’s also easy to disassemble and clean. The 870 express models are very affordable. You can buy a brand new one today for under $400. There are other affordable pump guns on the market too, but why mess with a proven winner. Go get an 870. Oh, and grab a box of steel shot shells too. The 870 works fine as a paddle without shells, but isn’t much good for killing ducks without them.
- Decoys. Now you could make an argument that you don’t need decoys and you could just pass shoot birds. Yeah, I suppose. I’ve been hunting ducks a long time and done my fair share of pass shooting. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Also, if you want to be a duck hunter, then you need to decoy ducks to you. That’s how the game is played. Decoys can be very intimidating to a new hunter. I recently saw an ad from a decoy company for a dozen fully flocked mallards for $200! That’s insane. Like I said, I’ve shot a lot of ducks over some pretty rough decoys. To get started you need a dozen or two. One dozen could get you started and two dozen would be great. You can usually find deals on used decoys online, but another option is very affordable new decoys from Decoy Central. Their Super Blocks line was specifically designed to be good, tough decoys at an affordable price. A dozen Super Blocks mallards are only $50. Get some string and old fishing weights and you are ready to go.
- Waders. You pretty much have to have waders to hunt ducks. The decoys have to be put out in the water and picked up when you are done, and you have to go get your downed birds. Waders run the gamut in prices as well. I recently bough a brand new pair of breathable waders for under $200 and there are neoprene options for closer to $100 on the market.
That’s it. That’s the list. I think this is the bare minimum you would need to get started duck hunting. I think a new hunter could get everything they need for $500 or so. A lot of money to be sure, but certainly not thousands.
What about a call? You could make a strong argument for a call, but I think it’s not an absolute necessity. I’ve shot a lot of ducks without blowing on a call. If a new hunter wanted a call, there are a lot of affordable options out there. The Buck Gardner brand has duck calls under $20.
What about camo clothes? You need to hide for sure, but you don’t need all the fancy camo that we all wear. Thrift store camo or even brown sweat shirts and pants could be good enough if you have a good hide. Which brings us to…..
What about a blind? Again, I’ve shot a lot of ducks while standing in cattails or hiding in the brush along the shore. Not having a blind would also teach a new hunter the importance of a good hide and how to make one on site.
I love waterfowl hunting and would love to see more people get into the sport. Helping remove some of the intimidating factors around all the gear should help make duck hunting more approachable for new hunters. So next time I’m asked what it takes to get into duck hunting, I’ll have the answer. And now you do too.