By John Jameson
Waterfowl hunting can seem intimidating to the first time duck hunter. What equipment is needed, what type of shotgun and do decoys work? The art of duck hunting is not that complicated to master. The sport will however, take planning and patience. You will need to gather up some equipment and learn some fundamentals of the hunt. First thing you need to do is decide on a shotgun.
1. Experienced hunters usually go with a 12-gauge shotgun chambered for a 3-inch magnum shell. What is the best shotgun, semi-automatic or pump? Pump shotguns will never let you down. The pump will rarely misfire, and it is extremely dependable under any conditions. Semi-automatics on the other hand, fire as fast as you can pull the trigger, for some, this equates to more birds. Keeping on target may be a problem for new duck hunters using a semi-automatic.
2. Ammunition can vary by hunter, although lead shot should never be considered for duck hunting because of its toxic nature. Steel shot is very popular. The shot provides good velocity and impact. There's also tungsten shot, and many claim it has the greatest impact. Why is impact important? Impact is what brings the bird down. You want your shot to have an immediate effect, and you want the bird to drop quickly. The standard three-inch shell with # 2 steel shot is recommended until you feel confident enough to experiment a little.
3. Decoys do work, birds are curious by nature and will always give any decoy the once over. Mallard decoys are probably the best to start with. They are all purpose decoys, and are an inexpensive way to get started.
4. Waders are needed; you will get wet retrieving birds. Chest waders will keep you dry even while sitting. Clothing is important, and it can make a difference.
5. Camouflage yourself and your blind. Landing waterfowl that spot anything amiss will not settle. Use face paint and wear long sleeved shirts. Hats, gloves and boots should all blend in with nature. Ducks can spot glare off any exposed skin, so make sure you are covered. They will usually circle a promising spot several times looking for any danger so be patient and don't move until the birds are truly in range.
6. Duck calls for beginners, are they worth it? You will need plenty of practice however, before attempting a call. Although, scouting for a good location with proper concealment will net you plenty of birds. Ducks will respond to the right call. Practice is the only way to become an expert at calls.
7. Birds will land virtually on any body of water where they feel safe. First time bird hunters may assume that all duck hunting is at the lake's edge. Birds can land in marshes, drainage ditches, water tanks and small ponds.
8. Keep in mind you can hunt only where it is permitted on public land, or where you have permission from private landowners. You will of course need the proper permits to hunt in any state. Hunting marshes and drainage ditches will make retrieving the birds easier. Many duck hunting enthusiast use trained retrievers for larger bodies of water.
9. Know your weapon's range. Shooting at birds well out of range is wasteful and aggravating to other hunters. Birds beyond 40 yards are more than likely out of range.
10. Practice makes perfect. Get to the range and shoot some clays. Watch some videos on-line for great shooting instructions and then practice what you've learned. Better yet, take some shooting lessons. You'll be amazed at how a lesson can improve your ability to consistently hit fast flying targets.
Most new hunters start out hunting Mallards, because they are the most recognizable. Some states have limits on the number of hen Mallards that can be taken in one day. Make sure you know the difference between a hen and a drake. Drakes have a bright green head. Make certain you know the difference between a Mallard and Wood Ducks, Pintails, Canvasbacks, etc., because the daily limits are usually different for each.