The feeling is near indescribable. There’s nothing quite like
being on a duck marsh as the
sun peaks above the horizon and spills its rays onto still
water. As you wait in anticipation and hidden from view, fleeting
wings approach and slice through the still morning air
push invisible gas with an audible, high-pitched WHOOSH! Crouching
with eyes honed on the sky, you watch a group of ducks circle the
decoy spread like fighter jets on final approach to an aircraft
carrier. Cupping their wings and extending their webbed feet
towards the water, they commit to land amongst a spread of
carefully placed decoys.
duck hunting etiquette, everyone holds their shot until the person
calling the ducks in gives the go ahead. When the ducks are in
range, the signal is given and loud shotgun reports shatter the
morning quiet. Some ducks fall but most invariably fly away –
that’s why it is called hunting.
without a doubt, is one of the most exciting outdoor activities in
which to partake and many people throughout the country have
the latest U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Survey of
Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation Survey, which
was last released in 1996, duck hunting has seen resurgence in the
last few years. Citing the report, from 1991 to 1996 duck hunting
saw nearly a 34% increase in participation throughout the United
States. In Texas alone, there were 101,000 duck hunters in 1996 –
11% of the total hunters in the state.
is no wonder. Duck hunting is a challenging sport that has many
aspects in which to learn and master such as calling, duck
identification, decoy placement, and, for more advanced
waterfowlers, dog training.
also an active shooting sport. Because participants set out
decoys, call, and watch for incoming birds, duck hunting is an
excellent way to introduce new hunters to the
outdoors because boredom is kept to a minimum. Wetlands are also a
dynamic place that teems
with all sorts of wildlife like white-tailed deer, beavers, and
scores of birds. In addition, ample public and private land is
available in Texas for those wishing to pursue the sport. So where do you start? Here’s a
list of items that a beginning hunter may want to consider.
Gear to Go
Like other outdoor adventures, duck hunting has its list of
“must-have” gear that a hunter needs in order to get
started. However, the amount of gear you need is all a matter of
how involved you’d like to become in the sport.
I remember as a teenager growing up near the Red River in northern
Fannin County, my introduction to duck hunting was somewhat
informal. Being a near zealot for outdoor activities, my friends
and I would often crawl up tank dams or stalk beaver ponds in
order to jump shoot whatever ducks would explode from the water.
all we needed was a shotgun and some shells. An economically
efficient way to hunt, but our success rate was horrendously low.
As I matured, my interest in duck hunting also matured. The amount
of gear I bought and my interest as a student of the sport
So what kind and how much gear does a beginner need? Of course,
that’s up to each individual hunter. According to duck hunting
experts, there are a few things that a person new to the sport
needs to consider.
Camouflage, Waders, and Other Gear
good camouflage,” says Mike Bardwell, co-owner of the Red River
Hunt Club, a guide service and hunting lease club near Ravenna,
Texas. “A camo waterfowl parka that has a lot of pockets comes in
handy in the duck blind or in the field.” Currently, there are
dozen of patterns of camouflage on the market that are available
for hunters. Each pattern will do well in helping conceal a hunter
and are certainly better than jeans and a denim shirt but they may
not work well in all wetland situations.
Two good camouflage patterns to look for are the Advantage
Wetlands pattern and the Mossy Oak Shadow Grass. These patterns,
which are widely available at many retail and mail order stores,
are designed exclusively for waterfowl hunters. Each pattern is
made up of cattail reeds placed against a background of neutral
colors that blend in well with the type of vegetation commonly
associated with marshes, lakes, and ponds.
When choosing camouflage, total body concealment is the
rule. Because ducks have extremely keen eyesight, all parts of the
body need to be covered, especially the face and hands.
Camouflage waders are also a good idea if you plan to hunt in
flooded timber, potholes, or intend to wade out and retrieve your
own ducks. Waders, like camouflage, come in a variety of
styles. The first step would be to analyze your own particular
I use neoprene-lined waders with a Cordura nylon
shell. The neoprene is especially helpful in insulating against
the cold water of winter. The nylon shell also helps protect
against briars, tree limbs, and other sticky stuff that you may
rub against when duck hunting.
If you are
hunting along the coast or strictly during the early fall teal
season, uninsulated waders are available for added comfort.
Another important rule to remember when selecting waders is
to get them in the proper size. Perhaps nothing makes walking
more difficult than improperly sized waders. Waders are sold
according to the boot size. Always try to buy them as close as you
can to the size of boot you normally wear. Buy them too small and
you’ll rub blisters on your feet and they will be hard to take on
and off. Buy them do big and your socks will come off your feet as
you walk and the extra bulk of the waders will make it hard to
walk. The bottom line - do your homework.
In addition to personal camouflage, intrepid duck hunters may
also want to invest in a piece of military issue camo
netting. Netting can be strung up across a couple of limbs and
instantly conceal the subtle movements of picking up a shotgun or
rummaging for shells.
For permanent blinds, several commercially made models are
available such as the Nacogdoches based Ultimate Blind Company. A
least expensive alternative to a commercially made blind is to
build one from readily available materials.
Chicken wire strung up between a couple of trees makes a good
foundation for a blind. Cattails, grass, and other natural
materials can be woven into the wire to make a blind that blends
exactly to the marsh that you are hunting. Because it is
galvanized, chicken wire can last for many seasons around the
dampness of a pond before it starts to rust.
Gunning for Waterfowl
their favorite, but I like a 12 gauge autoloader with 3” chambers
and choke tubes,” says Scott Sudkamp, Texas Parks & Wildlife
Biologist and avid duck hunter. “I shoot a Remington 11-87 model
shotgun with an improved cylinder and love it. With steel shot,
the improved choke shoots like a modified cylinder.” It is
important to know how your gun sprays a pattern of shot at various
distances so that you can lessen game crippling shots. Take your
shotgun out early and shoot it at paper targets at various
distances well before the season starts. Learn the nuances of the
gun through measurable tests instead of through trial and error in
agrees. “If you are going to start duck hunting, it is very
important that you buy a shotgun early and learn how it
shoots. Then learn how to shoot it safe and accurate.”
Shotgun brands, like pick-ups, are
a source of endless debates in Texas. Therefore, it is best to
leave the topic alone. A good rule of thumb in selecting a
shotgun, though, is to buy one that is durable and takes apart
easily. Since duck hunting typically takes place in the wettest
and muddiest places and under cold conditions, it is important
that a shotgun be able to hold up for many seasons.
A pick of many
waterfowlers is a fully camouflaged 12-gauge shotgun that has a
stock and forearm made of synthetic materials. These shotguns are
water and rust resistant and take apart easily for a thorough
cleaning after returning from the duck marsh. Furthermore, a 12
gauge packs enough punch to down a flying duck at forty yards
away. Although there are many choices of chokes, brands, and
actions available in shotguns today, shot types are a bit more
In 1991, the
United States Fish & Wildlife Service, the body that governs
migratory waterfowl hunting laws, banned the use of lead shot for
hunting waterfowl. The reason is simple. It was found that ducks
and geese would ingest lead that had sunk to the bottom of
wetlands as they fed. In turn, the lead would rise to toxic levels
in the bloodstreams of the birds and they would ultimately die. As
a result, steel shot was phased in to lessen the impact of loose
shot on waterfowl populations.
As of the 1999 season, the USFWS had approved of six
different types of shot for hunting waterfowl: steel,
tungsten-iron, tungsten polymer, bismuth-tin, tungsten matrix, and
tin. The upside is that they all lessen the effect on the wetland
ecosystem. he downside? They all behave differently from lead
shot and are considerably higher priced.
Steel is harder
and lighter than lead so it patterns tighter at the same distances
yet packs a smaller punch at forty yards and beyond. Bismuth, on
the other hand, behaves more like lead shot but it is considerably
higher in price than steel. The highest priced shot that
waterfowlers might consider is tungsten. Tungsten can pack a
wallop at fifty yards and retains a tight pattern to boot.
Your best bet
is to try out different types of shotgun/shot combinations on
paper and clay targets and see what works best for you well before
the first day of duck season.
Duping Ducks with Decoys
Perhaps the essence of waterfowling can be found in the use
of decoys. Once carved for functionality, wooden decoys are
considered works of art today and many fetch into the hundreds and
even thousands of dollars from collectors.
Don’t fret though. Plastic decoys are readily available for a
whole lot less. “I would start with two dozen plastic Flambeau
water keel decoys,” advises Bardwell. “They are a nice looking
decoy and I use them whenever I guide duck hunts.”
Water keel decoys have a central ridge that runs down the middle
of the bottom of the block. Water keel decoys are lighter to
carry and less expensive to buy but critics of them contend that
they don’t look natural riding the waves when the water gets
rough. For wary ducks, that is plenty of evidence to send them
flying the other way.
Weighted keel decoys, on the other hand, have counterbalanced
keels that add to rough water stability. As a result, they have a
more lifelike appearance when riding waves. The downside is that
they are heavier and more expensive. If hunting big, open water
like lakes though, they could make the difference between success
“As for a
variety, beginners can’t go wrong with mallards. Nearly all ducks
will fly into mallard patterns. I also like add a few teal in the
spread, especially early in the season.” explains Sudkamp. When
going after diving ducks, hunters should add some scaup,
ring-necks, or canvasback decoys.
hunters might also want to consider adding a motion decoy to their
collection. A motion decoy can add life to a spread by creating
movement on still days when there is little or no wind. It works
by using a battery-powered ball that sits inside of the decoy body
and wobbles when the power is turned on. The wobble creates
ripples on the water that mimics ducks swimming around and
dabbling for food. The motion can be just what you need to
convince the wariest ducks to commit to a spread.
of motion decoy is the flying decoy. A flying decoy mounts on a
pole and has rotating “wings” that mimics the flapping of a
landing duck. I have hunted with a Red River Spinner flying decoy
and was amazed at how effective it was in getting flocks of birds
that were a couple of hundred yards away to turn and land right
though. To add a motion decoy to your collection, be ready to pay
$50 or more for a single bird. Is it worth it? It depends on how
serious of a duck hunter you plan on becoming…In addition to the
decoys, a lightweight mesh decoy bag is a must for toting the faux
birds in and out of the field.
Calling All Ducks
Perhaps one of the most difficult and, at
the same time, crucial aspects of duck hunting that a waterfowler
must master is the art of calling. Yes, art…Calling
ducks is more of an art than a science. It is kind of like playing
a piano. You can always get a sound to come out of a piano but
whether it is any good or not depends on your skill level.
Bardwell and Sudkamp agree that your best bet for becoming a good
caller is to buy a quality wooden mallard call and an
instructional tape and practice over and over. Then go out to
local parks or other places where mallards may congregate and see
how the ducks respond to your calling.
hunt with experienced callers and see how they work the calls as
far as pitch, tone, duration, and frequency of calls. Through
trial and error, those wretched sounds that all new duck hunters
make in the beginning begin to sound like the greeting call and
feeding grunts uttered by mallards. One word of advice,
though. Always practice by yourself and in your vehicle if you
don’t want your family to hide your new call.
License to Hunt
Although it seems like a given, it bears
mentioning that new duck hunters need to read and understand the
Texas Parks & Wildlife and United States Fish and Wildlife Service
laws as they apply to hunting waterfowl. Game wardens often report
that many violations that Texas hunters commit are due to an
ignorance of the game laws. To avert the problem, pick up a Texas
Outdoor Annual as well as a USFWS migratory game bird bulletin
wherever hunting license are sold. In each book you will find a
list of opening dates for various species of ducks and other
waterfowl, legal shooting times, bag and possession limits, and
legal shot types.
ducks in Texas, you will need a current Texas hunting license, a
state duck stamp and a federal duck stamp. In all the combined
license and stamps will cost you $41. A bargain in any book.
Ducks at a Distance
Maybe the most important skill that you can
develop as a duck hunter is also relatively free to obtain. The
skill is duck identification.
TPW guidelines state that different species of ducks have
different bag limits. For example, on any given day during the
season in the duck marsh, the current bag limits for mallards are
five per day; only two of which can be hens. Alternatively, only
two wood ducks can be taken while a single pintail can be
harvested. And those are the bag limits for only three of the 14
or so species of ducks listed as huntable species in Texas.
Can you tell
a wood duck hen from a blue-winged teal hen? How about a mallard
hen from a black duck hen? Do you know the difference between
diving and puddle ducks? If so, great. If not, you’d better learn
your duck ID before you hit the water.
many sources by which you can begin to learn duck
identification. The most obvious is picking up a field guide at
your local library or book store. If you are Internet ready, the
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Ducks Unlimited, and United
States Fish and Wildlife Service all have websites which have
information regarding the positive identification of ducks both on
the water and in the air.
have studied up on learning various wing patterns, plumage
coloration, and flight behavior, the next things to do is test
your skills in the real world. Often, in city parks, there are a
number of wild ducks that make their home in small impoundments
that often accompany these municipal lands. Go there and try your
hand at identifying them in the field. If you can recall the
species successfully you are ready to hunt. If not, hit the books
another day or two and give it another try.
the beauty of duck hunting is getting a chance to learn all you
can about natural wetlands and the animals that accompany
them. Taking in the sights, smells , and sounds is all a part of a
great waterfowl experience whether you harvest any birds or not.
“Look around you,” Sudkamp emphasizes. “Even on those days when
the ducks don’t commit to decoys, there’s always something neat
happening in the marsh or swamp. Don’t look so hard for ducks that
you’re oblivious to the hundreds of other critters out there.
Whether you realize it or not, they make the experience all the
Tale of the