By Joe Glotz
Waterfowl hunting is one of the most thrilling and challenging of all of the hunting opportunities out there for both beginners and seasoned veterans. There is nothing quite like calling in a flock of ducks or geese and having them set their wings and back-pedal into your decoy spread. I get "goose bumps" on my arms every time I even talk about it and when fall is in the air, you will find me chasin’ webbed-foot creatures of all sorts.
There are various species of waterfowl or ducks. They include puddle or dabbling ducks, diving ducks, sea ducks, geese, swans, and whistling ducks.
Dabbling ducks derive their name from what they do as they eat; they dabble. Mostly found in shallow waters or shores, they submerge their heads and necks below the water in search of aquatic plants such as algae. They also feed on grains and insects among others. Some examples of these ducks are the Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, and Cinnamon Teal.
Diving ducks are so-called because of their unique nature of diving headlong underwater. They are found in deep waters and consume their food while under the water. Stifftails, sea ducks, and pochards are some examples of diving ducks.
Sea ducks constitute 42% of the duck species in North America. Needless to say, they live in the sea and are excellent divers. They have a lifespan of up to seven years and breed after three years of life. Some examples of sea ducks are Eiders, Goldeneyes, and Scoters.
Geese and Swans
Geese and swans have the largest body size among the duck species. However, swans are the larger ones of the two. Geese are mainly found on land and feed on plants. Swans mainly feed on aquatic plants and small animals. While geese lay and nest their eggs in their second year of life, swans breed in their fourth.
Whistling ducks produce whistling sounds, hence the name. In the entire globe, whistling ducks are categorized into eight species. They closely resemble geese and swans. Some examples include the spotted, fulvous, and black-bellied whistling ducks. The black-bellied and fulvous whistling ducks are found in the United States. Both species lay eggs and nest within the first year of their lives.
There basically three ways to hunt waterfowl: over decoys, jump-shooting and pass-shooting.
In the hunting over decoys strategy, the primary objective is to draw your prey in close. Visible decoy spreads are placed in an area that is frequented by birds, such as along a waterway or field. The pattern of the decoys can take a "C", "J", or an "X" shape. The birds are expected to land on the open sides of the decoy patterns. The open side is also parallel to the wind direction, which is the natural flight direction of the birds. Meanwhile, you, the hunter, should be strategically positioned and properly camouflaged, both with clothing that conceals your presence and surroundings, to increase your chances for success.
Jump-shooting requires a stealth movement of rowing, walking, or crawling to the location of the birds. This technique usually requires a little more accuracy and experience by the hunter, as quicker and longer shots are required much of the time. But, if you are persistent and are willing to put in the time, you can definitely reap the benefits.
Pass-shooting involves laying in wait for ducks and geese at a location where they pass as they go in search of food from where they roost. Once you get their travel routes and timings right, a place where you can position yourself for a shooting ambush should be carefully selected. Routes that have hills or valleys offer vantage points for pass-shooting. Generally, these birds move twice in the day: early in the morning when going to look for food and after sunset, when returning to their roosting locations.
Now let’s talk a little bit about some of the equipment you will need in order to be successful waterfowler.
Your shotgun, of course, is a pretty important part of your waterfowl hunt. Shotguns are designed for different needs. The most important decision you can make when selecting a shotgun is deciding on one that you are comfortable with. A 12ga model in 3-inch chambering is the most popular choice for most, as it will have good knock-down power and range. But if the weight of the gun, along with its power is too much for you, then a 16ga or 20ga can also get the job done with less stress on your body.
Shot size selection requires a balance between the size of the shot and sufficient energy to manage your knock-down power. This means, with a small shot size, you will have more pellets available. This is OK if you are hunting smaller ducks at closer range, but if you are hunting larger ducks or geese, you need the heavier loads to be able to reach out and have that needed energy to bring them down. Generally, small ducks can be hunted effectively with shot ranging from 4 to 6. Larger ducks require a 2 to 4 range, and geese usually require #2’s to BBB’s. And remember for waterfowl steel, non-toxic shot must be used.
When considering clothing, you are looking for outfits that not only will protect you from possible extreme weather, but also offers the needed camouflage. Waders and woolen socks are also needed in some cases. A good pair of gloves can also come in handy on those cold winter mornings. Also, a face mask will help to conceal you from those wily eyed birds as they make their final approach.
Duck or goose decoys should also be part of your hunting equipment. Selecting the right kind depends on the type of duck or geese you intend to hunt and the surrounding habitat. Floating decoys are designed for water hunts, while field decoys are made for the land. Conventionally, the more the decoys, the better the hunt, but in many cases, a dozen decoys and a good decoy bag will get the job done for the beginning waterfowler.
Duck calls and goose calls are also an important part of your hunting equipment. Always use good quality duck calls that sound convincing when blown. Loud calls with a high pitch are recommended when the hunting distance is stretched such as in lakes. Soft calls with a low pitch are perfect for hunting within closer surroundings.
And lastly, just a reminder on licensing. A small game license is required in most states and some require a separate waterfowl license. Some require a state waterfowl or migratory stamp and all require a federal waterfowl stamp. As I mentioned in the beginning, waterfowl hunting is at the top of my list and I look forward to joining my family and friends in the field or on the water every chance I get. You don’t have to break the bank to get into the sport and you can slowly upgrade, if needed as you enjoy the sport of a lifetime.
Get your licenses and check out this & more waterfowl gear at your local Sportsman's Warehouse!