Bird hunting may seem intimidating on the onset, especially if you don’t come from a family of hunters, but a great way to get your feet wet is with a little waterfowl action. If you’ve always wanted to head to the marshes for ducks or geese but missed the ponds last season, here are some reasons you should make it a point to go waterfowling later this year.
Waterfowl were my first hunting foray and it didn’t take long to get hooked on wing-shooting these high-speed birds. If you like shooting shotguns at all, then going after ducks is an incredible and fun challenge. They come in from any direction, at speeds varying from almost a hover to so fast you hear them zip by as the wind whistles through their feathers. Their speed and agility make them a very challenging, yet fun game.
Waterfowl hunting can be done almost nationwide and you probably are a lot closer to a marsh than you think. Though you might assume it requires chest-waders and expensive equipment, you can have a great time just hiding in the tall grass in earth-toned clothes. In short, don’t fret if your gear doesn’t match the guys on the Duck’s Unlimited calendar.
While some of the best duck hunting spots are all on the water, you can still have a great time hunting from walkable banks and shores. Decoys can help bring the birds in, but if you play your cards right you can benefit from being in the right place at the right time. A good bird dog with an affinity for water is also an invaluable hunting partner in this case.
My adventures started as a kid with a classic Remington 870 12-gauge by my side. Hard to go wrong with something simple and tested. Due to the typical wet and muddy conditions encountered when waterfowl hunting, it would be a good idea to use a gun with synthetic furniture like the Benelli Nova.
When it comes to shells, most shotguns are capable of shooting non-traditional loads such as steel or bismuth shot, which are specifically marketed to duck and goose hunters. Most waterfowl management areas, through a mix of state and federal laws, require the use of non-toxic shot due to contamination in filter feeders, and woe be it the sportsman who is caught by a conservation officer duck hunting with lead shot.
If goose hunting is to be a part of your waterfowl adventure, then you should also consider a shotgun with a 3 or 3 1/2-inch chamber due to the fact these big honkers often need some extra ounces to bring them down, especially from altitude. Whether you choose a pump shotgun or a semi-auto, like the Beretta A300, make sure you practice before heading out on the hunt. Many an old school goose hunter can still be found with bolt-action shotguns as well.
As with most types of bird hunting, you can get into it as much or as little as you want. A good start is simply scoping out the local area and wading into the sport slowly. See what works for you. If possible, find a local group or club to show you the tricks and nuances of your local marsh. Keep in mind that waterfowl don’t mind the weather, and some of the absolute best days wing-shooting might be in completely miserable conditions. Wind, snow, and cold often produce some of the best hunting days.
Perhaps one of the best parts of waterfowl hunting is the camaraderie between friends and family. There is always plenty of time to talk, take friendly jabs at each other’s shooting, or tell old hunting stories.
You might start with a $200 hand-me-down shotgun and an old musty duck coat; but before you know it you’ll end up knee-deep in muddy water with your very best friends — freezing together while discussing shot patterns, retriever breeds, and Pintail whistles. If that sounds like fun to you, then you might need to try bird hunting.