Duck Hunting, though seemingly an easier alternative to larger game, isn’t all that easy. As a matter of fact, it’s downright difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. Ducks aren’t turkeys, and I obviously mean that in more ways than one; if you bring the wrong equipment, or if you don’t know how to get at them from a concealed position, you’re essentially wasting your time. No matter how convincing your lures or decoys may be, bad technique will ruin any chances you may have.
But duck hunting doesn’t have to be a source of mallard malaise. The best habits of the best duck hunters can be boiled down into a few good habits, and we’ve compiled 6 of them right here. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be a crack shot following these tips, but I can assure you you’ll have a much better time than if you don’t. While these are strategies and tips best suited for beginners, even seasoned duck death dealers can learn a thing or two from the occasional refresher.
Know Thy Foe
Before you get out your trusty rifle and your big, old hunting dog, you may just want to sit down a bit and read up on what exactly it is you’re looking to hunt. Ducks are fascinating creatures, semi-aquatic birds with peculiar habits and behaviors, and you don’t have to be an animal-lover to appreciate this.
Learning as much as you can about ducks, including their behavior patterns, the color patterns that differentiate the species of duck, where ducks live, where ducks mate, where they move to when the weather gets colder, will all help you become a better hunter of ducks. The same can be said for deer hunting, fishing, or really any sort of hunting activity. If this is your first go at duck hunting, learn a thing or two about the animal! It will help you develop strategies and efficient ways of bringing them down.
Get Some Practice, Hunt Doves
Dove season usually comes shortly before duck season. Since doves generally tend to be more docile and easier to hunt, they’re often considered an ideal practice quarry for the novice duck hunter. Take advantage of dove season! Many of the strategies that work against doves also work against ducks, and vice versa. Hunting doves will help you familiarize yourself with some of the same equipment and strategies that you’ll be using in duck hunting.
For example, shotguns are quite effective against doves, even more than your standard, straight-shooting rifle. Learning how to use the spray of a shotgun against doves will help you later in duck season, since shotguns are the weapon of choice against ducks as well. Additionally, effective dove hunting requires good concealment skills, something that is also true of duck hunting. Dove hunting skills usually translate very well into duck hunting.
Go for the 12-Gauge
On the subject of shotguns, you’re going to want to go for the type of shotgun that has proven most effective against ducks: the good ol’, single-barrel, 12-gauge shotgun. Considering the terrain most duck hunters hunt from, you’ll probably be doing quite a bit of moving, and double-barrel shotguns tend to be too large and clunky to be efficient tools in this case. Plus, ducks are durable creatures, so anything under a 12-gauge usually won’t stop a duck in its tracks.
And speaking of durability, it’s usually best to go for larger, heavier ammo when possible, at least as big and heavy as your state regulations allow. 3-inch to 3 1/2-inch shells are usually ideal, and will do the job most times. Anything smaller than 2 1/2″ may be pushing it, but if the recoil of larger shells bother you, you should try to keep your shells no smaller than this.
“Waterfowl Ain’t a Watersport”
Confusing as that statement may be, what this really means is, you’ll generally have better not shooting from a boat. Indeed, while the stereotypical duck hunter shoots from a 15-footer on a calm, misty lake, the practical reality is, this is not a great strategy. Concealing a boat for duck hunting is possible, but it’s usually not worth the effort. Many duck hunters prefer to hunt from dry land, as it’s easier to conceal yourself there than on the water.
Most tend to hunt from high grasses or flooded fields, where crops provide natural cover for you and a good food source for the ducks. Hunting from the sloughs of creeks or rivers is also a great option, for many of the same reasons. Usually, the closer you are to the water, the better, so be prepared to wade through knee-deep water and muck with some thick clothing and high boots.
Experiment with Different Calls
This plays a bit into the previous point about learning about ducks. There are many duck calls out on the market, and not all of them will help you draw in the ducks in your area. Unfortunately, there usually isn’t a great way to find out what calls will work with what ducks, so you will need to experiment a little bit. Considering the best hunters tend to go for multiple species of duck anyway, having a diverse array of calls to go from will help your duck hunting long game.
Know the different types of duck calls. There are your standard “quack” calls, but there are also calls for mating, feeding, greeting, and so forth. These all have their distinct sound to them, and will work differently depending on the type of duck in the area, and what part of the season it is. Once you know how the ducks in your area behave during the different parts of the duck season, choosing your duck calls should be a bit easier.
Get Tech Savvy
This is another tip that will help regardless of what it is you’re hunting, though it also tends to be a tip not typically utilized by some of the older generations of hunters. Which is fine, for the most part. No need to change up one’s tactics with high-tech hassles when what you’ve got has worked for years.
Newer duck hunters needn’t be so reserved, however. We live in an information age, and there’s no good reason not to take advantage of the technology we have on our hands now. There are a lot of gadgets that will help your duck hunting game immensely, if used properly. Using trail cameras are a great way of scouting ducks around their food sources. Using a GPS unit, or a device equipped with GPS functionality (most smartphones nowadays have this), can help you mark precise points on a hunting ground where ducks congregate most. The same can be said of satellite-based online map services, like Google Maps.
Additionally, there are many duck hunting communities online that are more than willing to share information on what has worked for them out on the field. Online duck hunters come from all over the world, and so they tend to be less stingy with good tips and tricks than many local hunters. Take advantage of your connections!
Duck hunting isn’t an easy sport, but it can be learned with some effort. It, like many other hunting styles, just requires a practiced aim and a technique formed and hardened by practice and experience. While reading an article on effective hunting habits won’t get you either immediately, you’ll now, at least, have yourself a good lead on developing these skills. Just remember to bring the right equipment, a nice 12-gauge shotgun, and plenty of determination on your duck hunting trips. You may, one day, become an expert of waterfowl yourself!