Top Gear Picks For Waterfowl

Another year has gone by and the ultimate duck magnet has yet to be invented. You'll still have to call hard, scout for hours and suffer through nasty weather (that is, if you're doing it right). Don't fret, though, because several companies have your comfort in mind. Consider staying warm in the blind. It used to be impossible, but your shooting fingers won't feel the chill when tucked inside Avery's insulated hand muff. And Cabela's Pro Angler camo PFD will keep you afloat in case of an accident. Of course, technology helps this year's new calls and decoys sound and look more and more like the real thing. But that's just a sampling of what's being offered. Check out the rest of this year's new waterfowl gear.--Will Snyder

--Water Safety, Camo-Style Like most outdoorsmen, duck hunters are notoriously stubborn when it comes to wearing PFDs. Cabela's has reached the perfect compromise between comfort and safety, however, so no more excuses. The Pro Angler 100 is a Coast Guard-approved Type III PFD. It has three adjustable buckles and a reinforced zipper to keep it in place and the stand-up flotation collar is lined with Polar Fleece to keep you warm. Every aspect of the jacket is designed with safety in mind--except for the Advantage Max-4 HD camo pattern, of course, which is designed to hide you from incoming ducks. ($64.95; 800-237-4444; www.cabelas.com)

--All-in-One Hand Warmer The age-old challenge in the duck blind is keeping your extremities warm. Gloves can interfere with shooting, so I prefer a hand muff. Avery decided that if you're going to have a fleece-lined muff, it might as well be loaded with features. This model includes a shell holder, zippered pockets for items such as a heat pack, an adjustable belt (which extends to 60 inches) and 100 grams of Thinsulate. ($17.99; 800-333-5119; www.averyoutdoors.com)

--High-Velocity Duck Loads When it comes to choosing which shells to haul to the duck blind, it's hard to go wrong with high-velocity loads. These three shells all list muzzle velocities of 1,450 fps, which gives you one less excuse for missing.

--Remington's Hevi-Shot Nitro Magnum (above left) is one of the hardest-hitting duck loads on the market. Downrange penetration with the dense shot is remarkable. ($20 for a box of 10; www.remington.com)

--Winchester's Supreme (center) is an excellent choice for hunters who prefer the performance and economy of steel shot. The plated steel shot and two-piece wadding help reduce corrosion and make the shells more water resistant. ($25 for a box of 25; www.winchester.com)

--Federal's Premium Ultra-Shok is the company's latest high-velocity steel shot shell. During a hunt last season in Arkansas, the 1 1/4-ounce steel loads handled everything from big-bodied greenheads crossing over flooded rice fields to woodies and teal sneaking through thick timber. ($17.95 for a box of 25; www.federalcartridge.com)

DUCK WADER SHOOTOUT Conditions were not great when we started our wader review. It was hot and muggy, and the heavy-duty neoprene on most models turned the waders into literal sweatboxes. Then a cold front blew in, and suddenly it was more like a day in December. Through both extremes, we field-tested these waders for mobility, ease of use, comfort and options. Here's what we found.

--Hodgman's Dura-Mag Waders

OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR'S CHOICE 2004

If you prefer neoprene, this 5mm pair is one of the best. Extras include lots of pockets and exterior shell loops. The boots are well insulated and toasty, with 1,200-gram Thinsulate. Shoulder straps attach with Velcro, and the Durastrech construction makes for easy movement. ($229.95; 630-897-7555; www.hodgman.com)

--RedHead's Bone-Dry Waders These 5mm neoprene waders are heavy but comfortable. The "Ice-Sensor" outsole on the boot responds to the temperature, staying flexible on warm days and stiffening in the cold. That means better overall traction and mobility in varying conditions. Their snug fit made getting them off tough. ($169.95; 800-227-7776; www.basspro.com)

--Cabela's SuperMag 1600 Waders No details were overlooked on the SuperMag's pockets, which include a hand-warmer pocket, top-entry pouch and detachable shell loops. The boots are lined with 1,600-gram Thinsulate and the rest is made of 5mm neoprene. When I got stuck in the mud, I found I was slightly impaired by their bulkiness. ($179.95; 800-237-4444; www.cabelas.com)

--L.L. Bean's Hydrofowl Waders Flyfishermen are onto something: Breathable polyester waders dry quickly and store easily. The Hydrofowls offered great freedom of movement, were the easiest to put on and had a hand-warmer pocket. They're baggy to allow layering, but the extra fabric got in the way in the heat. The boots were not very warm. ($199; 800-441-5713; www.llbean.com)

--Herter's Expandable Waders A custom fit is one of the great features of this pair of 3.5mm neoprene waders. The chest section expands to provide room for a jacket or contracts for a snug fit and easier mobility. Rubber-stud soles on the boots give extra traction when you're on unstable ground. This pair was the slowest to dry. ($139.95; 800-237-4444; www.cabelas.com)

--Old Bird, New Features In the good old days, waterfowl were so unaware of hunters they would decoy to detergent bottles. Not anymore. Wary geese expect something more lifelike. Greenhead has kept its same Canada goose body but added new, more realistic heads, including these "Aggressive Feeder" and "Active" heads. Also new is a RealFeet locking foot base with a StubbleCord for field chaff. The package includes six decoys with two TrueFeeder heads, two Stretch-Neck Feeder heads, two Aggressive Feeder heads and six RealFeet. ($134.99; 800-333-5119; www.greenhead gear.com)

--Floating Game Strap As a rule, everything a duck hunter takes afield should be waterproof and buoyant. Avery's Floating Duck Strap makes the grade. It's built with a camouflage polyester front and a rubberized neoprene back. The flotation comes from 1/4-inch closed-cell foam. Two nice additions are the Loop Lockers that keep duck heads from slipping out and an oversized snap-hook so you can hang your brace of birds from a jacket or pants loop. Capacity for the Floating Duck Strap is either six Canada geese or two limits of ducks. ($9.99; 800-333-5119; www.averyoutdoors.com)

--How to Call 'Em In Like a Pro Finally, you can plead, cluck and moan with authority. That's the idea behind Hunter's Specialties' new Bad Medicine short-reed goose call. The Bad Medicine call allows hunters to adjust tones from soft moans to crisp clucks without switching calls. There will never be a goose call simple enough so that a beginner can pick it up and sound like a veteran, but this one comes real close. ($139.99; 319-395-0321; www.hunterspec.com)

--A Smarter Breed of Duck Bag The blind bag is fast becoming the designer handbag of waterfowl gear. Every season there's a new style and look. But this year, Redhead might have come up with the end-all piece for marsh and flooded timber alike. This blind bag has 10 storage compartments, many of them designed to hold specific items such as sunglasses, cell phones, maps and shotgun shells. The bag is water resistant and is constructed with a double polyurethane coating and a molded rubber bottom. It pays to be organized when mallards start buzzing the dekes. ($39.99; 800-227-7776; www.basspro.com)