10 Things You Might Need To Replace In Your Gear Box Before Duck Season
With duck seasons quickly approaching, now is the time to make sure you have all the duck hunting equipment you need to be successful.
There are few things more exciting to an avid waterfowl hunter than seeing a big flock of mallards on the horizon, calling them in close and watching them descend, feet down, toward his decoy spread. “Take ’em!” is all that’s left to be said about that. For duck hunters to be successful, however, they need a lot of equipment. The sport is very gear intensive, which makes it even more fun for those who are already gadget inclined. Here are 10 pieces of duck hunting equipment you might need to replace, or add to your gear collection, before duck season opens this year.
A duck call is one of the most critical pieces of equipment for success. Most hunters who hunt puddle ducks (dabblers like mallards, teal, pintail, gadwalls and wigeons) use calls that mimic the mallard hen. It’s a universal call and will get the attention of, and attract, ducks of all species. If you hunt where there are a lot of teal or wigeons, a whistle-type call might also be a good addition to your collection. If you’re not satisfied with last year’s results, maybe a new call is what you need. And when you get that new call, remember that practice is just as important to duck calling as to any other skill-based endeavor. Many a duck hunter has perfected his calling skills behind the steering wheel on the dark predawn road to his mallard honey hole.
A duck call without a lanyard is like mashed potatoes without gravy—it’ll work, but not as good as it should. If you’ve ever been on a duck hunt where you spent most of your predawn time digging around for your duck calls instead of setting decoys and getting other things ready, you know how important a good lanyard can be. Make sure whatever lanyard you choose is long enough to keep your calls hanging far enough down that they’re out of the way, while still easily accessible. If you carry several calls, find a lanyard that will accommodate all of them instead of wearing multiple lanyards. A lanyard that will hold multiple calls will allow you to easily carry your normal mallard call, a wigeon whistle, a goose call and more, all right where you can find them when you need them.
If you’ve yet to add a motion decoy or two to your decoy spreads, now’s the time to do it. Years back when motion decoys first came on the scene, they nearly guaranteed you a limit of ducks. Now that many ducks have seen them over and over, they’re not quite as effective as they once were. But you are still way more likely to kill ducks with a motion decoy in your spread than without one under most circumstances. Whether you use flying motion decoys that look like they are landing in your spread or floating feeding decoys that give motion by moving among the other decoys, they’re nearly sure to attract more ducks than a motionless spread. One word of caution: Check local hunting regulations to make sure motion decoys are legal in the area you plan to hunt. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
If you’re like most hunters, you probably get into the rut of putting out your three or four dozen mallard decoys, get set up in your blind and start scanning the skies. Most hunters can increase their success if they would add a little variety to their decoy spread. Whether a handful of Canada goose floaters or six to 12 duck decoys of a different species bunched together to one side, a mixed spread might be just the ticket to drawing in ducks that have become accustomed to the same old, same old. If you’re hunting dabblers but also want to kill a passing diver now and then, add a half-dozen ring-neck or scaup decoys on the outside edge of your spread. That could be all you need to get those fast-flying divers to buzz by within shotgun range.
Getting some new decoys mean you need a new decoy bag—or bags. Face it, when duck hunting, more decoys are nearly always better than fewer decoys. And unless you toss your decoys into your boat each time after you use them and leave them there until the next hunt, you need a bag to store and carry your decoys in. Good decoy bags hold a couple dozen standard-sized decoys, have a secure closure at the top and have sturdy, comfortable straps for carrying on your back to your hunting area. Get a bag that doesn’t have comfortable straps, and you’ll never be happy with it. Also, if you buy a decoy bag that floats, it’ll save you from having to look for it once you put that last decoy out and it sinks to the bottom in the predawn darkness.
If you get new decoys, you’ll also need new decoy line or cord, along with the weights/anchors used to hold your decoys in place once they are set out. Even if you don’t get new decoys, it’s always wise to check your cord and weights before every season to make sure all are still in good shape and don’t need to be replaced. Line comes in many forms, but tangle-free nylon type lines are easier to handle than most kinds of string or cord. Weights also come in various designs, but all do the same job—anchor your decoys in place while hunting. Some companies sell complete decoy weight systems that include the weights already attached to tangle-free vinyl cords. Find those and you’ll avoid a lot of hassle with tangles in the future.
Whether duck hunting in really cold weather or when it’s just cool outside, a good base layer is the key to keeping your torso and lower body warm. Layering is the simple process of adding clothing in layers to provide more insulation and keep the cold away from your body, where it doesn’t belong. The base layer is one of the most important pieces because it is the layer that sits closest to your skin. Consequently, it must be both warm and comfortable. A good base layer not only adds a layer of insulation for warmth, but also wicks moisture away from your skin if you sweat. That’s important because being dry is one key to staying warm when duck hunting. Get wet on a really cold day in the blind, and you won’t be able to hunt comfortably.
Whether you prefer to wear it inside your chest waders or outside, your coat/jacket is the outer layer designed to protect you from the elements, so it better be a good one. If your jacket from last year isn’t warm enough for you, is worn out or maybe you can’t even find it (be sure and look for it before the night prior to opener), a new jacket might be your best purchase of the season. Some of the best duck coats/jackets have a zip-out inner lining that you can use or leave at home, depending on the temperature. Jackets or coats with hoods are always preferable, since the best duck hunting seems to occur during the most inclement weather. That’s also why a waterproof jacket is better than one that is not waterproof when outfitting yourself for duck hunting.
Ducks have some of the sharpest eyes of all game animals and can spot you or your equipment long before they get within range. That’s why camouflage is so important for duck hunting. If you don’t carry a roll of camo fabric—whether mesh, burlap or other cloth—you should start this year. You can use it for a vast multitude of purposes, and all will help you kill more ducks. Frequent uses are covering open spots in your blind, covering equipment in your blind that might be seen by approaching ducks, using it as a top cover for topless blinds and even building makeshift blinds with it when you have to move to a different location. If ducks are flaring and refusing to come near your decoys, figure out what is spooking them and cover whatever it is with your camo cloth.
While warm gloves are an absolute duck hunting necessity, air-activated hand warmers are also a good addition to your duck gear. These inexpensive, single-use packs heat up when the package is opened to expose them to the air, and will remain hot, thus effective, for up to 18 hours. To keep your hands warm, you can either put them down into your gloves or hold them in your ungloved hand, keeping you warm and ready for those ducks that always seem to slip in when you’re not looking. Don’t forget to open the package and activate your hand warmers at the truck before walking to your duck blind, since it can take 15 to 30 minutes for them to reach maximum warmth, which is typically 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t leave home without hand warmers!
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