You need to be rich to duck hunt. You need a barn full of decoys. And you need a $2000
professionally trained dog.
These are all statements you’ll hear as a new waterfowl hunter wanting to participate in a
hunting tradition that has shaped the lives of thousands of sportsmen for generations.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In fact, getting into waterfowl hunting is not as difficult as you think. We’re going to cover the
basics of what you need to know before heading out on your first waterfowl hunt…no gimmicks,
tricks, or tall tales – just the facts. We’ll even shed some light on the simplest path to take so you
can experience the thrill of whistling wings at first light.
We’ve brought up a couple of common misconceptions, but they deserve more explanation.
Let’s be honest, there are some wealthy people that waterfowl hunt, own a barn full of decoys,
and have spent a small fortune on dogs. The truth is you can make any pursuit as expensive as
you want and as hunters, we tend to love gear and gadgets that promise to give us a better
experience or make us more effective.
But if you ask a bunch of seasoned waterfowl hunters how they started, you’ll find a common
trend filled with used shotguns, old waders, and a burning desire to chase ducks and geese. So
before you take out a personal loan, let’s be clear – you can have a great hunt without a boat,
dog, decoys, or a $1500 shotgun.
With that out of the way, there are some things you will need before you head out.
If you want to hoist your first greenhead or drake woodie, you’re going to need a shotgun to bring
him down. In the vast majority of situations, your shotgun cannot legally hold more than 3 shells.
Most pump and semi-auto shotguns will come with a plug, but double check so you’re certain
your gun holds no more than one in the chamber and two in the magazine.
You can’t go wrong with a 12 gauge and many sportsmen already have one at home. A pump
action will give you the most bang for your buck, but semi-autos and double barrels also work
great. If you’re smaller framed and want less recoil, you could even go with a 20 gauge, but
you’ll want to be a bit more selective with your ammunition to maximize knockdown power and
Speaking of ammunition, you’re going to need non-toxic shot. This means shotshells filled with
non-lead shot, such as steel, bismuth, or tungsten. These boxes will be clearly labeled as such
and will likely be advertised as waterfowl loads.
They’re called waterfowl for a reason, so unless you’ve got the opportunity to hunt birds in a dry
field, such as cut corn or wheat, you’ll need to keep yourself dry. A basic pair of chest or hip
waders are essential. Be sure to factor in the temperature range you might be hunting in – if you
plan on hunting frigid, icy conditions go with an insulated pair. But if you’re only chasing
early-season ducks in mild conditions, an uninsulated pair is perfect. And if you’re debating
between chest and hip waders, just go with the chest waders so water coming in over the top
isn’t a concern.
If there’s any aspect of waterfowl hunting that intimidates new hunters, it’s the regulations.
But it’s not as complex as you may think…
Just know waterfowl hunting seasons and regulations are influenced by both federal and state
agencies. With that being said, you need to take the time to read the regulations provided by
your state (which will also include the applicable federal regulations). If you’re unwilling to take
the time to personally read and understand the regulations, don’t even bother going.
These regulations outline species and bag limits, season dates, transportation rules, and
shooting times. Speaking of species, spend some time learning how to identify various species
you might encounter and understand the difference between hens and drakes. City parks and
local wetlands can be invaluable in providing easy access to practice identifying birds. And if
you aren’t sure of the species when you’re hunting, either don’t shoot or wait until you have a
better opportunity to identify the potential target.
If you still have questions after reading the regulations, feel free to contact a game warden for
your state. You can look up how to contact them online and they’ll be happy to help out by
clarifying any lingering questions you have. They might even be able to give you the upper hand
on the next big topic…
A Place to Hunt
Here’s where waterfowl hunting can get a bit more tricky than deer, turkey, or small game.
You’re going to be hunting near water in most cases and the fact is there’s less of that on the
landscape compared to woods or open ground.
If you’ve got access to private land with waterfowl, you’re all set. But if you’re going in blind,
we’ll give you the inside scoop on something a lot of hunters overlook.
For new waterfowl hunters, some of the best hunting is found on small creeks, rivers, or ponds
where wood ducks, mallards, and teal can feed and feel safe. And a lot of these water sources
are on public land. The best part is you won’t need a ton of gear and the action can be fast and
This is where a mapping app like OnX Hunt or HuntStand is invaluable. You’ll not only identify
public hunting land quickly, but you’ll be able to see potential water sources holding birds.
Now before you march in before daylight and set up, you’ll want to scout those bodies of water
and see if birds are using them. Don’t waste your time in an area where you don’t find ducks or
geese. Keep moving until you find them.
Remember, scouting kills far more birds than anything.
So you’ve found a honey hole with with some birds, you know your regulations, and you’ve got
the gear to get in and put meat on the table. You’ve now made it to the part where many hunters
fall in love with waterfowling and never look back. But there’s still strategies to significantly
shorten your learning curve…
Stay tuned because next time we’re going to cover the must-know tactics so you’ll be able to
pull the trigger on birds in close range.