Duck hunting is one of the most popular types of hunting in North America, from the marshes of Louisiana to the Praire pothole of Canada. The methods of waterfowling are as varied as the places you can hunt ducks.
However, no matter the type of ducks you’re after or your method of hunting them, a few main pieces of duck hunting gear will aid you in your comfort and success.
Methods of hunting waterfowl
As we mentioned earlier, there are a few different methods of hunting waterfowl. This also depends on the type of ducks you are after. Although most gear is interchangeable, sometimes you may not need a piece of gear or may need an extra piece.
Hunting ducks or geese over decoys is by far the most popular method of waterfowl hunting. It also probably requires the most amount of gear.
To hunt using decoys, a hunter usually sets up a blind by the waterside to conceal himself. This can be made of natural materials found on the shoreside or a fabricated blind.
Although there are other methods of staying concealed, such as hiding behind rocks or amongst long reeds, a blind is the most versatile.
Whatever your method, staying concealed is imperative as ducks have excellent eyesight.
After you build your blind, you will need to set out a decoy spread. The size of the spread will depend on the type of ducks you are targeting and the size of the water you are hunting over.
A hunter will then call ducks using a duck call to try and get the birds to come into his decoy spread.
This is probably the most effective method of hunting ducks.
- Gun & sling
- Blind Bag
- Dog whistle
Pass shooting probably requires the least amount of gear. This type of hunting requires finding flight lines. Birds will use flight lines when heading out to feed and back to roost.
In order to find these flight paths, head out early in the morning before sunrise as the ducks are heading out to feed, or late in the evening as they travel back to their roost. Use a pair of binoculars to scout areas you know hold ducks.
Once you discover a flight line, it’s as simple as placing yourself in that line and waiting for the birds to come by.
- Waders or short boots
- Gun & sling
This is another method of duck hunting that doesn’t require a huge amount of gear. Jump shooting involves a lot of footwork, so you need a comfortable pair of boots.
To jump shoot ducks, you go to areas where you can sneak upon them. Once you sneak up and startle them, they will take flight, giving you an opportunity to get a shot off.
This is typically done on rivers, creeks, ditches, or field edges that hold puddles.
- Short boots
- Gun & sling
Float hunting is similar to jump hunting in the manner that you sneak up on unsuspecting birds and shoot them as they jump. The only difference here is you’re doing it as floating down the river in a canoe or boat.
Although it sounds easy, it takes a bit of practice to manage the vessel on the water and is usually better with two people.
This is one of the best methods to waterfowl hunt without a dog. However, if you don’t already have a canoe, it can be an expensive investment.
- Waders or Boots
- Gun & sling
Essential gear for beginners
Now we’ve seen the different types of hunting and the gear needed. As you see, a lot of the gear is interchangeable. To summarize let’s have a look at the most essential pieces of duck hunting gear for a beginner:
- Waders or Boot
- Gun & sling
- Blind Bag
- Duck Strap
- Camo Clothing
- Dog whistle
- Dog Blind
- Canine First aid kit
- Dog Bowls
- Fresh Water
Our Top Picks
Duck hunting and waders go hand in hand because ducks like water. When it comes to choosing waders, you have two choices of material, neoprene or breathable.
Most duck hunters will choose neoprene due to them having better insulating properties and being more durable.
However, if you plan on trekking any distance, breathable might be a better option as they are more flexible, lighter, and you won’t sweat as much.
Frogg Toggs Amphib
These are some of the best value-for-money waders I have come across. While there are cheaper waders on the market, you are definitely getting a bargain here in terms of price to quality ratio.
The triple-finished seams are stitched, glued, and taped. There is a 600-gram Thinsulate boot with wool felt midsole and cleated outsole.
While they are not the warmest of waders, they are a great multipurpose wader that you can use in most weather conditions.
If you plan on putting in some miles to get your ducks, boots offer an advantage over waders. In some situations like jump hunting ducks along a field, waders would just be impractical.
Boots are much lighter, more breathable, and more flexible, allowing them to be more comfortable overall.
Similar to waders, boots can come in insulated and uninsulated options also.
LaCrosse Alphaburly Pro
LaCrosse is well known in the footwear business. After being established in 1897, they went from strength to strength, and it shows in their offerings of footwear they have available today.
One of these options is the Alphaburly Pro. This is an excellent multipurpose boot. Whether you bowhunting the timber in the west or jump shooting ducks on some riverbank, these boots will work for you.
The underlayer of this boot is insulating neoprene. Laid over that, the outer layer is a premium natural rubber.
If you opt for this boot’s insulated version, you will get an extra Thinsulate liner between the neoprene and rubber.
There is a huge range of camo patterns available for this boot, so whatever you’re hunting, there is an Alphaburly Pro for you.
This is where people get excited; after all, it is the one thing you can’t really go duck hunting without.
There are a couple of options here, depending on your taste. You could choose a side by side, an under over, even a pump-action, but I can honestly say 90 percent of my duck hunting I do with a semi-auto.
Having that extra shot when a flock comes in gives me an extra chance at dinner. I’m not alone in this train of thought either, as semi-autos are by far the most popular action for waterfowl.
If I’m out jump shooting, I might then bring my under over, you don’t get as much to shoot at then, and it’s nice to have the reliability. You don’t want to hike many miles to finally get a shot just to have your gun jam.
I only use a 12 gauge. It’s what I recommend for ducks and is the best all-around shotgun, in my opinion. However, if you want to start out over decoys with a 20 gauge, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus
One of the softest shooting guns in the marsh, the A400 Xtreme Plus was built with waterfowlers in mind. This is one of my favorite guns of all time. Beretta just got this one so right.
The Kick-Off technology Beretta used on this gun reduces recoil by 70 percent. This is a much welcome addition when your shooting heavy duck or goose loads all day.
It’s one of the most reliable semi-autos I’ve ever used. The gas operating system is a claimed 36 percent faster than any other semi.
I highly recommend this gun for both beginners and pros.
Choosing a duck load can get quite complicated. There are many influencing factors, such as shot materials, pellet shapes, and size.
Every waterfowler has their own preferences, and there are no one round suits all. However, there are many good all-around loads.
Steel shot has replaced lead over thirty years ago and has come a long way since then. It’s the most common shot used and probably the best for most situations.
If you prefer some other material to down your birds, you can use tungsten or bismuth.
As mentioned choosing the right load is a lot of personal preference and too much to write here.
Federal Premium Black Cloud FS
The Black Cloud has long been one of the top waterfowl loads. When Federal Premium introduced the FS, it got even better. The FLITECONTROL FLEX now allows for the use of ported chokes.
Now with FS, you can get the tightest patterns possible with both ported and standard chokes.
The high-performance primer ensures excellent and uniform ignition of the propellant.
With a payload of 40 percent FLITESTOPPER steel pellets and 60 percent Premium steel pellets, it’s fair to say the Black Cloud FS is great value for money.
Shotgun choke tubes are a hunter’s secret weapon. Put simply; a choke will alter the pattern and range. This allows you to turn one gun into several.
When you fire a shell, the shot travels down the barrel; the job of the choke is to squeeze that shot, thus altering the pattern.
There are three common sizes of choke tubes, full, modified, and improved cylinder. There are many variations to these standard size choke tubes.
While you would want to visit the range and pattern your gun, it’s safe to assume that the best all-around choke for waterfowl is the modified.
These choke tubes feature triple shot technology which is three graduated rings in the choke tubes tape section. This reduces pellet deformation, produces less flyers, and creates denser patterns.
The 25% longer parallel section in the choke produces more consistent patterns.
These chokes are simple to swap out due to being knurled on the end.
The greatest benefit of all Carlson’s chokes is that they all come with an excellent lifetime warranty.
A gun sling is often an overlooked piece of equipment. Many times when a hunter is getting a new gun, they’ll put in hours of research and shell out thousands of dollars.
While picking up their new top-of-the-range gun, they’ll pick up the cheapest sling at the store or whatever happens to be on sale that day.
This may be fine if you only plan on hunting over decoys. However, if you plan on any other form of hunting, you’ll come to regret it.
There’s nothing worse than out being jump shooting and having a sling cut into your shoulders or worse still, out float hunting, and your sling is so annoying you take it off; next thing you know, your gun is at the bottom of a river.
Slings come in a few options, leather, neoprene, and nylon. However, for waterfowl hunting, you’re going to want neoprene.
Also, if you intend to do any deer hunting with your shotgun, you don’t want to use leather as it carries a scent.
Browning Waterfowl Neoprene Sling
I really like this sling from Browning. It’s super comfortable and designed for the duck hunter.
It comes with a shock-absorbing neoprene pad and thumb loop. It has a rubberized non-slip backing which is great when you’re around water.
It’s easy to clean and requires little to no maintenance.
Whatever kind of blind you choose to use this part is important. I don’t always cart a blind around with me; sometimes, I will build a blind with whatever I can find around me.
However, sometimes I’m in a place that doesn’t have much material around. In those instances, it’s very useful to have a pop-up blind.
I can’t stress the importance of staying concealed.
Unlike in deer hunting, where you can go out wearing your favorite pair of Sunday clothes and still bring back dinner because deer depend on their sense of smell and hearing over eyesight, ducks have excellent eyesight and can spot the slightest movement or the smallest thing out of place.
Avian-X A-Frame Blind
The A-Frame Blind from Avian-X is one of the best pop-up blinds you will find on the market. Built with a non-corrosive aluminum frame and a 600 denier shell.
What I like most about this blind is it comes in my favorite waterfowl camo, Shadowgrass Blades.
It’s ultra-portable and folds up with carry straps. Feel free to take your buddies hunting with you as it holds up to four hunters.
I don’t think I need to stress the importance of a good blind bag. I mean, try trudging through the marsh, in the dark with a boatload of equipment and no bag.
Right, so we agree a bag is important, but now we need to know what’s important in a blind bag.
Obviously, it’s going to need to be waterproof. It needs to be comfortable, have a lot of pockets, and be durable.
RigEm Right Shell Shocker
The RigEm Right Shell Shocker ticks all of the above boxes and then some.
With enough space to hold 6 boxes of shells and still plenty of room for everything else, I think it’s fair to say the Shell Shocker is definitely a capacious bag.
The Shell Shocker is packed with features such as a built-in hard case for sunglasses, a pocket for your water bottle, a cell phone pocket with waterproof zippers, and an internal ammo compartment.
One really nice feature I liked about this bag is the padded sides for flotation.
It is available in three camo patterns, Realtree max5, Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, and Mossy Oak Bottom Lands.
Decoys are a wonderful thing when duck hunting. They really increase your chances ten-fold, and there’s nothing like watching birds come into your spread, giving you the perfect shot.
However, decoys can get complicated. It’s difficult to know what to put in your spread. It doesn’t help either that new companies are coming out with new products all the time.
Decoys can make or break your hunt, so it’s important to get things right here.
When starting out, it’s advisable to keep things simple. Start with a standard U or J spread. You don’t need anything more than mallards. As time goes on, you can start adding other species to your decoy selection.
Avian-X Top Flight Open Water Mallard
What I love most about Avian-X are their decoys. They make great decoys that are super realistic and really good quality.
These decoys can handle big open water, or you can use them in a small backwoods pond. They have a combination of high head and low head swimming postures to replicate active mallards’ natural behavior.
The weight-forward swim keel allows for realistic movement, along with the ultra-realistic paint, you have a top-class decoy.
I love shopping for duck calls. There is just something about them that makes me want to buy them. With that being said, you only really need two calls to get birds.
As a beginner, you will experience success if you only bring a double reed call and a whistle.
It’s true a single reed call is more versatile and takes less air, but a double reed is more beginner-friendly and can create a raspy sound that is easy to make realistic.
A drake whistle is something you should always bring to the water with you. When everyone else is using quacks, and they’re not working a whistle can be a game-changer.
The duck picker is one of my favorite calls. It’s a great call for beginners and very easy to get real soft.
This call is versatile but really best used as a close-in call or finishing call.
Duck Commander Mallard Drake Duck Call
This Drake Call from Duck Commander is a part of their specialty series. Their specialty series are calls that are used for attracting off-ducks or difficult birds that get wary of regular calling.
Made from High-Impact plastic, this call will stand up to all you can throw at it.
This is easy to use; just hmm your lowest into the call to create super-realistic drake sounds.
Remember that a mallard drake doesn’t quack, he whistles.
Binoculars are not something you think of when going duck hunting, but a good pair of binos can really increase your chances of having a successful hunt.
Ask any birdwatcher what’s their most important piece of gear.
Everyone has their own preference for magnification. The area you’re mostly hunting might be an influence. For example, if you’re hunting big open areas, you might consider 10x, whereas if you’re hunting smaller areas or moving around a lot, you might opt for 8x.
Vortex Diamondback HD
It’s hard to pass up the Vortex Diamondback HD when looking for a good budget-friendly pair of binoculars. The HD was introduced to the Diamondback lineup in 2019, and it is a considerable improvement over the standard version.
The Diamondback HD comes in a wide range of options, from 8×28 all the way to 12×50.
The Armor Tek coating is just what we, duck hunters need, exterior lens protection that is scratch resistant and protects from dirt and oil.
The body is protected with Rubber Armor that provides a non-slip grip as well as durable protection.
These binos are waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof, top this off with Vortex’s outstanding warranty, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better pair of binoculars for the same price.
A game tote or duck tote is one thing you might not think of, but one of the things you really hope to use.
I remember growing up, and after a good day of hunting, be it rabbits, ducks, or pheasants, we would use some baling twine as a makeshift tote.
I’m glad them days are over. The baling twine worked, but boy, was it uncomfortable. When I got home, I’d see a big red line where it was cutting into me, them times you were wishing you didn’t have to put it to use.
Now there are modern totes on the market, and they are a lot more comfortable as well as durable. You could opt for leather or nylon, but my preference is neoprene.
Drake Heavy Load
The Drake Heavy Load Game Tote is as good a duck tote you can get. Drake has been in the waterfowl game for a long time now and knows what it takes to succeed.
This 5mm neoprene padded shoulder tote is both comfortable and durable. A nice added benefit is the added No Hands feature with the attached waist strap.
If you’re lucky enough to bag twelve birds, then this tote will carry all twelve with six indestructible straps on each side.
You’re out by the water, and it’s cold; you’ve got your gloves and spot a flock out across the water. The last thing you want to be doing is fumbling in your pockets for a call.
This is where a lanyard comes in handy; it puts your calls where they are most convenient.
Duck Commander Cut Em
The Cut Em lanyard from Duck Commander is not only super comfortable, it’s also practical.
The ability to place the calls wherever you want them by a simple snap of a swivel makes things that bit easier on a cold morning.
Six double loop drops allow for more calls than you would ever need, while the neoprene upper makes them comfortable to carry.
There’s a lot that goes into preparing for a duck hunt, but once you’re out by the water or walking up your favorite spots, your mind is at ease, and all you’re focused on is the ducks.
While there are many different options available than what’s listed above, these are just some of my favorites.
I hope this list serves you as a good starting point while you go out there and find your own favorites.