Duck Hunting: Getting Started
We're all about breaking down barriers to newcomers, so we like this article from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks...
A few days ago a co-worker, commenting on the breeding duck population surveys this year, told me, "It sounds like a person could go out to a local wetland this fall, fire a shotgun into the air, and a duck would fall from the sky." I wouldn't expect it to be that easy, but I like hunters' prospects this year.
If you or some family members are considering getting into, or back into, duck hunting, this is a good year to do it, with record duck numbers and heavy rains providing more places to hunt than last year.
I often hear people give one reason or the other that they don't go after ducks. If you are a potential duck hunter, one or more of these may sound familiar. I'll try to help you see through these commonly perceived barriers.
Among the reasons not to go duck hunting that I hear are:
"I can't go duck hunting. I don't have a retriever or a boat."
You can pick a spot to hunt where you can retrieve your own ducks. Hip boots or chest waders will come in handy. Or, you can try to hook up with someone who does have a dog. Jump shooting along a small creek or irrigation ditch also makes for easier retrieving.
"I only have a dozen decoys. Don't I need at least 40?"
Nope. A dozen will do nicely in many places.
"I can't blow a duck call."
Especially early in the season, you won't need a call. Work at getting better by listening to wild ducks or by renting an instructional DVD.
"Ammunition costs too much."
A week ago I bought some of my favorite duck loads in Billings (2 ¾-inch, 1 1/8-ounce, steel 3's) for $8.99 a box. You don't need the high-priced stuff.
"I don't think I can shoot steel with my shotgun."
You probably can. Even your grandpa's old Winchester Model 12 is safe for steel shot. In fact, most guns and choke systems can easily accommodate steel pellets of size #2, 3, 4, or 6 that are the best loads for ducks. Use the larger sizes (2 and 3) for mallards, and the smaller sizes for teal.
"I don't have a camo layout blind like on TV."
Me neither. I usually get by with weeds and grass and cattails at the site.
"I don't have a good waterfowl hunting coat."
You don't need a $250 camo coat to hunt ducks. If you have adequate clothing, just buy a camouflage shirt to go over what you have, or wear a solid-color jacket that blends in.
"But I don't trust myself at identifying ducks."
Work at getting better. Study the regulations. Pick up a waterfowl identification guide at any FWP regional office. Go to a wetland before the season to practice. Try to go with an experienced hunter who can help you learn. Know that this year, other than the canvasback, you can shoot at least two of any duck and be legal.
"I don't know where to hunt."
There are public areas in all parts of the state. BLM reservoirs and private stock ponds will likely all have ducks early in the season. With the heavy rains, some parts of the state will have hunting choices we haven't seen in more than 10 years.
I'll add two additional tips. The wind is your friend. On windy days, the ducks sometimes seem to move more, and you can also predict from what direction they will come to your decoys. They will come into the wind, as an airplane does in landing. On a large wetland, the wind will encourage them to come to sheltered areas near the upwind shore. Second, if you are trying to decoy birds, make sure to keep your face hidden and don't move around when birds are approaching the decoys.
I'm sure many long-time hunters reading this will have their own advice for new duck hunters. I encourage you to put those ideas to work by hunting with and mentoring friends and family members interested in duck hunting this fall.