Our ancestors may not have had shotguns, but they cleverly devised other methods to go duck hunting. In fact, prehistoric data show that humans have hunted ducks for thousands of years so any duck hunter is in good company.
The methods of duck hunting are more sophisticated than ever before, but that doesn’t mean it is “easy”.
This complete guide to duck hunting will allow you to get started even if you are completely new to the sport. For advanced duck hunters, there are plenty of tips and tricks to increase the success of your hunts.
Duck Hunting: A Brief History
Even though our pre-historic ancestors did duck hunt, we know much more about modern methods. As early as the 17th century, matchlock shotguns were introduced in England, which allowed hunters to go waterfowl hunting.
The hunting practice developed in England and other parts of Europe for hundreds of years and was inevitably brought to the United States of America. As shotguns have developed, especially semi automatic models, waterfowling has become easier than ever.
Luckily, wildlife and conservation agencies have stepped in to limit the number of animals we kill with modern methods so that generations can enjoy duck hunting countrywide.
Hunting Ducks By Species
Not all ducks are created equal. There are dozens of species of these majestic birds and even categorizing them can be challenging. Anyone who is hunting ducks needs to be aware of the various groups and species to prepare.
With some subtle nuances between them, there are four loose groups of ducks:
- Puddle ducks (dabbling ducks)
- Diving ducks
- Sea ducks
- Whistling ducks (tree ducks)
The puddle ducks are generally plentiful across the United States and inhabit freshwater wetlands, lakes, rivers, and even marshes. The most famous (and often hunted) of this group are the mallard and wood ducks. There are nearly a dozen other puddle ducks we’ll leave off for the purposes of brevity.
For diving ducks, there are a few physical differences. For one, they dive often from large bodies of water. While they are pretty easy to find across the U.S.A. geography, they are usually smaller than their puddle cousins.
The canvasback and ruddy duck species are the most famous within this class. The former is considered the “king of ducks” and is one of the most-prized waterfowl in America.
The final two loose groups of ducks are a little more challenging to find geographically. Only certain areas will have sea ducks (for obvious reasons). The most common of sea ducks are called longtails (oldsquaws) and elders. Some of the sea ducks are protected by treaty because of their rarity.
Whistling ducks are some of the rarest, but they are usually long-legged. For Texans and those living in Mexico, these are a more common sight but otherwise aren’t commonly hunted.
Where to Go Duck Hunting
Duck hunting is ubiquitous in northern America, but certain waterfowl flyways are worth understanding. This is essentially the avenue in which ducks fly north to south in order to follow migration patterns with the season (and temperature) each year. The waterfowl flyways are broken up into four distinct regions.
Each state has rules and regulations that govern duck hunting, but birds obviously don’t mind state laws when they migrate.
Zooming in with a bit more detail, the right places to duck hunt will vary greatly depending on the specific birds you are after. The puddle ducks (which are most ubiquitous and popular) are often found in watery areas. The important thing to note is that they feed in shallow bodies of water.
This means marshes, swamps, shorelines, and backwaters are perfect places to hunt duck. In many regions, agricultural land (such as rice farmland) is used to entice ducks, which can be used for hunting purposes.
Some of the diver species enjoy bigger bodies of water like lakes and rivers. While this might be more challenging to hunt (and retrieve) ducks in some instances, there are plenty who make it work.
Typically, the easiest way to hunt ducks and retrieve the kills is in marsh and swamplands. They offer ample opportunities for hunters to hide and camouflage themselves, they present closer shots, and the birds usually fall where they are accessible for a duck dog in comparison with larger bodies of water.
When is Duckhunting Season?
Duckhunting season will depend on the state where you are living and hunting. We recommend checking your state government wildlife and conservation website so as to better understand the restrictions in your area.
Generally, the legal duckhunting season will follow the migration patterns of ducks. In the Fall (Autumn), ducks fly south to migrate towards warmer areas with better food sources. In the northern latitudes, duck season is usually in September as birds prepare to migrate. In southern latitudes, duck hunting starts as late as October and November.
For many of the southernmost states, hunting ducks can go all the way until December or January as the birds reach their destination. Whatever the laws of your state are, they are governed by strict Federal laws created with plenty of research on duck populations.
With some understanding of duck season generally, consider the timing of your duck hunt. Like many animals, ducks are most active in the morning and evening hours around dawn and dusk. Even though fog can sometimes make duck hunting challenging in these time slots, it is better to get out and try when you can.
Hunting Ducks with Calls and Decoys
There isn’t a single duck hunting method that is considered the “best”. Hunting ducks with calls and decoys can be helpful, but isn’t always necessary. Most duck hunting methods are broken up into three categories:
- Jump shooting
- Pass shooting
- Decoy hunting
Ever heard the term “getting jumped”? It refers to being surprised and robbed and that’s similar to the objective in jump shooting. The standard model is to sneak up on ducks that are feeding, which is best with the puddle duck group. This is often the most fun duck hunting as there can be a lot of action and great opportunities for shooting (while moving). It’s a good idea to have a duck dog for this type, though.
The second type of hunting ducks is pass shooting. This refers to hiding in passing corridors for birds and then shooting the birds as they pass. Keep the range within 40 yards to maintain ethical shots because many pass shooters have a bad reputation for shooting willy nilly at birds and injuring them with no hope of success.
The final duck hunting type is decoy hunting and this is where human ingenuity is on display. It certainly requires a bit more effort and skill, but can be an incredibly effective method of waterfowl hunting.
The main idea with decoy hunting is to leave decoy ducks in a body of water where real ducks are sure to feed. Setting up the decoys allows you to get into a position that is advantageous when the real ducks feel it is safe to join.
Make sure to set up the ducks and yourself in a spot where the ducks coming in to feed will not be looking directly at you. Even if you are camouflaged, it is better to have no chance of them becoming spooked.
What type of decoy duck? – the type of duck you use will depend on what you are hunting, but generally mallard decoys are fine for any puddle duck hunting. Other types will come near mallards and they are the most common. You can even get blue and green wing decoys during special seasons. For diving ducks, you might try a canvasback decoy.
How many decoy ducks? – again, this depends on your goals. If you’re in marshlands and wetland regions, you can get away with 6 – 10 ducks. When you are on a larger lake, you probably need up to 6 dozen ducks (72 individual ducks).
Now that you’ve got decoys out on the water, it’s time to help real ducks know where the party is. For this, you’ll need to start calling. Because mallard ducks are most commonly hunted, these are the most common calls.
Calling can be broken up into a few categories:
- Quack – simplest call. Hum the sound “huuut” and end the “t” as if you were saying “ten”.
- Feeding chuckle – this is to indicate ducks are feeding. Go with “tick, tick, tick. Take some pauses, but it’s good to let real ducks know there are good eats around
As you hear more real ducks, you’ll be able to fine-tune the sounds to meet their expectations. After all, the objective is to get realistic as possible so do your own investigation.
Duck Hunting Tips for Ammo and Guns
As fun as compound bowhunting can be, it will be virtually impossible to get a duck using a bow. It’s far more common to use a shotgun and for good reason. Ducks and waterfowl are fast, small, and generally harder to shoot than big game.
The shotgun is basic for duck hunting and a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun is your best bet. Make sure the gun can function in poor conditions as duck hunting is often done in the rain and poor Fall and Winter conditions.
Most modern hunters prefer a semi-automatic shotgun that has camouflage on the gun itself. The only problem with this is if the gun is not of good quality and shells don’t eject. Be conscious and invest in a good gun if you plan to duck hunt frequently.
Once you have the gun it’s time to find some ammunition. Here are the most common specs for duck hunting ammo:
- Steel or tungsten-based loads
- Steel pellet sizes from No. 4 to BB
- 1 ⅛ to 1 ⅜ loads
All of this is subject to personal preference, but it is a good starting point. If you don’t understand those specs, not to worry. A local hunting store will probably be able to point you in the right direction (and educate you further).
Concealment: How to Duck Hunt for Success
Birds can see. Well.
If you are planning to duck hunt, camouflage is a must. Birds simply will not feel comfortable getting close if they can see you. This is one reason why stillness and camouflage are the most important tools in a hunter’s arsenal.
Hiding in natural cover, such as timber, wild rice, prairie grass all help you to look natural, but only if your camouflage matches the field. Be sure you’re not wearing desert camo in the middle of a marshland!
Covering your face is a must as well, which means you should get some masks and caps that will completely hide everything but your eyes.
Of course, one common solution to this problem is a well-crafted (or temporary) duck blind. Some duck blinds (especially more traditional types) are built in the field near waterways. Duck blinds are built out of wood and remain on a certain property over time.
This isn’t always possible, but temporary and (relatively) easy to move duck blinds are also available. These lightweight and portable units are usually found in hunting stores like Cabela’s, but aren’t always useful if you have a long hike in. Keep in mind, the more stuff you have, the harder it will be.
Waterfowl Hunting: A Man’s Best Friend
For many duck hunters (and especially women!) the best part of waterfowl hunting are the duck dogs. For thousands of years humans have used dogs to assist them and there are now many breeds that do well locating downed birds.
This is especially important when hunting in marshlands and wetlands. After shooting a duck, you may not even see where it lands. A dog (especially a retriever) can help find it for you.
Duck Dog Breeds
There are a long list of duck dog breeds that successfully retrieve birds. Some of the dog breeds include:
- Golden retrievers
- Water spaniels
- Chesapeake bay retrievers
- Flat-coat retrievers
If you are planning to do a lot of waterfowl hunting or simply want a good duck dog, there are a few ways to do so. For one, you can buy a puppy from a kennel that trains dogs to retrieve ducks. This way they have a bit of training and going into the field simply further educates and bonds them to you.
Whatever you decide, a duck dog is a large responsibility and educating them properly to get the ducks can be expensive. To enjoy the great outdoors is enjoyable enough, but to do so with man’s best friend is another advantage altogether.
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