Duck hunting doesn’t require a lot of expensive firepower. A standard twelve gauge is the place most hunters start and many end up (youth and ladies may prefer a 20 gauge). Pump actions are fairly economical and also perform well in the damp and dirty conditions you’ll likely be dealing with. You can of course go out and buy one with a camouflage treatment (and these hold up better in damp conditions with lots of use) but as long as your weapon has a flat, nonreflective finish, you should be fine. Since laws have changed and hunting waterfowl with lead is not allowed, the most economical bet is steel. There are other specialized shells out there, such as those made with bismuth and tungsten and the magnum and super magnum shells, but the extra cost is not really necessary unless you are a pro. Standard loads should travel well up to 35 yards and serve you fine if you are as patient as you should be. A gun sling will come in handy when you have to go tramping after your birds. Earplugs and eye protection are always recommended.
Decoys and Calls
These are the best known duck hunting gear “staples”. Again, it’s not necessary to buy these up front and decoys can rack up a pretty substantial investment. Generally, if you are determined to buy decoys, it’s best to get about a dozen as flying ducks look for large numbers of ducks below to decide if it’s a safe landing area. Using them is not difficult but proper placement takes some learning (you want to leave the real birds room to land among them and have a natural looking set up) and rigging a Texas line can save a lot of frustration with tangles. It’s important to use the right weight for conditions (water keeled, weight keel, etc.); this can take some extensive study also. Plastic molded ones are durable and probably the least expensive and lightest to pack in on foot. Beyond that, decoys are an art form unto themselves. There are myriads of varieties, some more lifelike than others, some cork, some battery operated to simulate swimming or the so-called roboducks that even dip and flap their wings. None of this is necessary to get started in the sport.
Calls are great, but they take some time to learn to use and this can take a lot of practice. They aren’t a necessity for a good hunt but many folks swear by them. A mallard call is a good basic piece to start learning on as it can make the approximately eight different sounds that are useful. A bad call sound is worse than no call and will send the ducks straight away – kind of counter-productive, so you might want to practice at home before you hit the field or forego the call entirely if the knack just doesn’t come to you.
Naturally, there are some other little items you likely have around the house that can come in handy on any outdoor excursion. Binoculars are great and a multi-tool like a Leatherman will likely find a few uses. A coffee thermos can help fight off the chill and keep you out there longer, as will a power bar or other snack. A small first aid kit and a cheap rain poncho are never bad ideas as well. Hopefully you’ll need a bag or at least some rope to help carry your haul out – this doesn’t need to be anything special or expensive either. Most of your duck hunting gear can likely be carried in a 5 gallon bucket, which has the advantage of being waterproof and which will come in handy as a seat as well. A can of 99 cent spray paint will dull down an old one from the garage.
Opinions vary about types of blinds and as you get into the sport you will probably want some type fairly soon. This might mean building a fixed blind on your property if you’re lucky enough to have a good spot or it might mean looking into the many portable options. They can be a great help to remaining invisible to the ducks but aren’t a must especially if you are just starting out. It’s more important to be in dull colors, be patient and sit still. Look for natural brushy areas you can use for a bit of cover – this will be more effective than the most expensive blind if it doesn’t match the ducks environment almost perfectly.
If you are like thousands of other hunters, you’ll find the thrill of duck hunting is worth the cold, wet weather and the eventual cost of specialty equipment. In the meantime, you can certainly get out there and get started with just basic gear and add on as you learn. Just remember to hunt safely, follow local laws (including buying a license with duck stamp and wearing orange where required), and most of all, enjoy yourself. You’ve joined the company of some great sportsmen from down through the ages!