BushLife - A Guided Duck Hunt

A Guided Duck Hunt: The Easy Way to Learn Hunting

Actually, a guided duck hunt should read a guided duck AND goose hunt so you are in for a treat.

I’m also not going to lie to you, I am very educated about hunting. But I am not super experienced in it. There’s a big difference in the concept of educated vs experienced. In fact, this post is about my very first “experience” hunting where I wasn’t just an observer and sharing that journey with you. As a bonus, I will include my “education” on the topic as we go.

I am the type of person that can read a book or watch a video and not only retain the info, I can understand it very well. I’ve been doing my homework on hunting for a couple years now and it was time to get off the couch and make this happen. If hunting is something you are considering or you have already started the process on, A Guided Duck Hunt is definitely for you.

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A Brief on Licensing

Before we cover A Guided Duck Hunt, we need to address one thing. When covid hit and I made the move from fiscal to forest (leaving the corporate world for the bush), it was time to get some licenses. I’ve always had a fishing license and an outdoors card but now it was time to add the hunting designation. A hunting license is mandatory to hunt in Ontario and that requires taking the Ontario Hunter Education Program. If hunting with a gun, a gun license is also required.

Living in the country full time for me simply means it is time to open more doors and have these options available. There isn’t much point in being here just to stare at everything and be sidelined. For what its worth, even if I don’t become an avid hunter, it’s nice to know the option is there. The licensing process can be daunting so that will be a blog post of its own in the near future.

Why Hire A Guide?

Once someone goes through all the hassle of getting licensed, it leads to several questions. What am I going to hunt? Where do I go? What do I have to do to call an animal? How do I have to dress, what do I bring? and so on. A big one for some people is even am I emotionally ready to harvest an animal?

The Hunter Education Program is great, it arms you with basic information and a LOT of safety. But like any “school” it doesn’t prepare you for the real world and by no means are you a hunter just because you sat in class for a day.

There’s nothing wrong with reading my blog or any blog for that matter. There’s nothing wrong with reading books and watching videos. Do those things and educate yourself as best you can but mark my words, you will learn more from an experienced guide in a couple hours than you will by reading about things for years to come. It’s worth the money and the effort.

Consider this as well: Getting out in the bush for a day to hunt is a good thing. A day in nature is great whether you actually harvest something or not. It can however become very frustrating if you find yourself repeatedly unsuccessful at hunting or making simple mistakes that cost you aggravation, money and wasted efforts.

Comparatively, when you can successfully harvest an animal, as a hunter and on your very first day, its exhilarating! It’s doubly exhilarating when all of a sudden you learn how to repeat that success on your own. That’s what happened to me, I got my first bird with my first shot and probably within the first hour – and it’s all thanks to my guide.

An Early Morning Start

Yes, early morning! We booked the hunt well in advance and the date we set was October 19th. We discussed to chat shortly before the actual hunt to arrange where we will meet and its based on where the action is. A good guide has multiple spots and they monitor them regularly to ensure there is activity. So the day before the hunt we discussed meeting in Peterborough at 5:30 in the morning. That meant I needed to get up at 4:30 in order to get dressed and make the drive in.

I went as a guest once during the Spring Turkey Hunt. It was my only other time hunting but I just went as an observer to learn from a hunter friend of mine. I bring it up because it too was an early morning ordeal and it is a royal pain in the ass rolling out of a warm bed at 4:30 in the morning. There is however something very magical about this time of day – the stars seem to be a lot bigger, the skies are clearer and on both occasions I had the pleasure of catching a large if not maybe a full moon that lit up the night sky with splendour. Once you are out the door with a coffee in hand, you’ll quickly realize it was worth getting out of bed.


To hunt duck or geese, you obviously need water: Lakes, rivers, ponds, flooded woodlands, etc. On this day, we headed down the Ottonabee River in Peterborough. It was pretty amazing launching a duck boat around 5:45 in the morning, in darkness, yet with the backdrop and glow of a city getting ready to wake up.

We launched the boat in the city but obviously immediately started heading away from civilization where it was safe to shoot. The exact location I won’t give away as its not mine to share. After a multi kilometre and memorable boat ride in the fog and dark, we arrived at our spot on shore at which point it was time to get ready.

Setup for A Guided Duck Hunt

We landed the boat in a little cove on shore where we could unload our waterfowl gear. That means spare clothes, some food and drink, guns, ammo, folding chairs, etc. I’ll always mention the extra gear you may want in your pack.

My guide then proceeded to walk into the river and strategically place all his decoys in the water. This means a bunch of geese in one grouping and ducks in the other. These decoys were all fairly close to where we actually sit. He then hid the boat a little farther down river and out of sight.

We sat fairly close to shore and had just enough tree cover to hide us. We also had a clear line of sight for our shots. In case you don’t know, you can’t shoot through brush as it messes up the trajectory. The applies to bullets and shot. At precisely half an hour before sunrise when hunting is legal, we loaded our guns with ammo. Specifically, these are 12 gauge shotguns with #4 steel shot. My guide had a beautiful Beretta semi and I brought my old Remington 870 pump. My 870 has seen a lot of action, just not in my hands up until this point.

Tip: Keep all your calls at the ready with a call lanyard!

I learned the call lanyard trick from my guide and it’s so much better than digging through pockets. An easy way to remember what’s what is by placing your goose calls on one side of the lanyard and duck calls on the other. You’ll know you reached the “experienced” level if not master one day when you fill that lanyard up with recovered bird bands! It’s your secondary trophy to the bird itself when you get one.

The Upside of Duck Hunting

A Guided Duck Hunt
A harvested mallard on the riverbank
A harvested mallard duck on the riverbank of the Otonabee River in Ontario

I chose birds for my first hunt. I don’t exactly know what it is but the thought of field dressing a deer just wasn’t in my wheelhouse at this point. A bird is much easier to pluck and de-breast with a lot less mess. This makes it quite natural for a first hunt, especially coming from someone who has filleted hundreds if not thousands of fish already. But still, it’s an evolution so to speak.

What I didn’t know was how lax bird hunting is. When you hire a guide, who is a fellow hunter, you have someone to talk to with similar interests. I found my guide to be an amazing person with interesting stories and we quietly chatted away. You can’t do that in a deer stand or on a coyote hunt. Unless there are birds close by that you are actively calling, you have some wiggle room to chill and enjoy your company.

Do you smoke? That’s no problem on a bird hunt. Need to pee, also not a problem. It’s funny but it’s not because these are things to consider as you won’t be doing these around a deer stand. At least not if you are serious about your success. I highly suggest birds for newbie hunters as you can layer on your skills over time. Scent by example is not a part of the bird hunting equation.

Success and My First Bird!

As we sat on shore and enjoyed the sun coming up, a goose was close by. My guide started calling and the bird made a pass or two before he decided he like what he saw. He came in with grace as he was landing into the wind and remember that as you’ll know which way they usually come in. This was the point my guide whispered “raise your gun slowly” followed by “take him” once I was lined up.

Just like that, we were on! We went from chatting away to this hunt becoming very real and so early on. Before I knew it I had pulled the trigger on my first ever animal of any form and I didn’t miss my first shot either. Once the first one hit, it injured him enough that he was definitely mine and unable to get away. A quick second hit and that goose was mine. At this point my guide called his dog Woody and just like that my bird was being retrieved.

Lessons of A Guided Duck Hunt

Emotions Are Really Hard at First!

I have to admit, it did not feel good nor did I jump up and high five my hunting partner. I had just killed something and that’s a feeling all new hunters may have to deal with. It happened so fast I was in a bit of shock and disbelief. While I did take this animal’s life, I was also suddenly successful or at least full circle in the journey to becoming a hunter. I quickly reassured myself that I will eat this very bird and its not in vain nor waste. Frankly, I wouldn’t have shot him otherwise so it was time to simply remind myself that I am just a part of the food chain and this sort of thing is a normal part of survival.

I also have to admit that ever since this hunt, I feel a certain power and confidence in my life. I feel like I don’t have to rely on the farmer, or the truck driver or the grocery store or a million other things that can go wrong to provide a meal for my family. Again, if hunting is not for someone I understand. But does it ever empower you knowing that you can rely on your ancient roots to survive.

The Fast Flock

Here’s where experience comes in. We were chatting and 3 birds flew by in a split second – I thought nothing of it. But my guide on the other hand leapt from his chair into the cold river turned sideways and took a bird before I even knew what had happened. We now had a duck to add to our catch.

As the morning progressed, my guide had called in a beautiful Mallard and it was my turn to shoot. Again, I got him with the first shot and it took a quick follow up to finish it. This Mallard had 5 curls on his tail feathers which my guide says he has never seen. For my first duck, I actually got something special.

Big Flocks are Bad News

And so I learned many things that day. As successful as our hunt was going, it was one of those days where the geese were moving in big flocks and a bit far away from where we were. Most often calling was unsuccessful, understandably as I doubt they’d even hear it over all their own ruckus. When our calls were heard, we’d get the odd few birds that would breakaway from the flock but not come close enough to shoot.

What I learned was that the more birds there are, the less likely it is to separate some from the flock. This can be attributed to that many more collective eyes able to spot that something is not quite right with the decoys or the couple oddly dressed humans sitting in the bush with 12 gauges 🙂 Remember when scoping a site, you want activity, not just big flocks going by.

I also learned that day that 50 yards was the absolute max a shotgun with steel shot will effectively reach with enough force to get a bird. Even that was pushing it. Don’t let the old 12 gauge kick fool you into thinking it can do more, it can take quite a bit to knock down a bird this size. Thanks to my guide, we didn’t bother shooting like crazy at basically nothing. If the bird is not in reach, you might as well shoot at thin air so please don’t waste your ammo or risk injuring a bird needlessly. Again, real world experience from an experienced hunter has more value than one could ever imagine.

Wrapping up the Day

A Guided Duck Hunt
Harvested Mallard
Stelios holding a mallard from his first duck hunt

Our hunt went from very eventful to very quiet all of a sudden. We knew the geese were feeding at a nearby field and we stuck around for them to come for a drink. Somehow they just knew to avoid us. They are smarter than we think and they actually have an idea of where they get shot at and where they don’t. That’s the other reason you don’t shoot at them when they are out of range as you’ll quickly ruin your spot.

Around 11 am in the morning, it was time to pack up and call it. Albeit, a very successful one!

Book YOUR Guide Today

My guide happened to be Richard Fanning from Highland Waterfowl. Based in Marmora, he hunts a fairly big area including Hastings County and Peterborough County right down to Lake Ontario and he is typically at it from season open right until Christmas. Starting at $200 his fees are down right amazing, in fact I would say he’s worth every penny.

Not only is Richard a fine hunter, he’s a great guy that is full of knowledge and real world experience and he will go out of his way to ensure his guests are comfortable, confident and well cared for. If Richard is within your reach logistically and financially, I recommend him wholeheartedly.

That wraps up A Guided Duck Hunt. Stay tuned for more stories like this and the things you need to start doing now to prepare yourself for your own adventures. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter and share this story on your favourite social channels.

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Stelios Lazos
Stelios Lazos

Stelios comes from the corporate world where he was a highly successful executive. Inspired by his love for the outdoors he has re-located with his family to live to the BushLife where he blogs about his adventures. Finding inspiration in the never-ending questions from aspiring outdoors people, Stelios aims to share his knowledge, one post at a time.

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