Yes. Finally… The bird season is back! And before you even think it, we all know everyone is after the coveted deer season. Even schools in rural areas start discussing plans for the deer season as soon as the kids return in September. But if you haven’t tried birding, you don’t have the slightest clue what you are missing! Its fast paced, fun and nowhere near as demanding on a hunter’s skillset. You’re just going to need some basic waterfowl hunting gear before you head out and this post is here to help.
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- Shotgun Shells
- Shotgun Choke
- What Gun do I Need for Waterfowl Hunting?
- What Do You Wear for Waterfowl Hunting?
- What Decoys and Calls Do I Need to Hunt Waterfowl?
- Migratory Game Bird License
- Waterfowl Hunting Gear
- Purchase the Items in this Post
Last year, there was an ammo shortage – call it crisis if it’s the day before you are booked to go hunting and can’t get shells. Been there, done that and it’s not a good feeling whatsoever! So it’s the first item in this post.
I don’t know if officially things are better or worse this year in terms of the ammo shortage. The gun budget for the year was exhausted a long time ago so we try to stay away from those stores:) But we do see a lot of empty spaces where ammunition USED to be anytime we are shopping somewhere that happens to sell ammo. Further complicating matters for waterfowl (duck, geese and actually a few others) is you have to use “non-toxic” shot by law. That generally means steel. There are alternatives like TSS and Bismuth but they are costly and hard to find.
Steel Shot for Duck and Geese
If you are even remotely thinking of waterfowling this season, go buy yourself some steel shot. Do it today or tomorrow or in other words get some while you can. You can always use it later and it’s not like anything is ever getting cheaper these days. A box this year (this morning to be exact) compared to this time last year from the same store went up by $5. That’s roughly a 25% increase.
What Shot Size Do I Need for Geese?
You will see a lot of references to people using shot size of #2 or BB which is even bigger. The thing with birding is you are trying to hit the birds neck. That is a fairly small target. While bigger shot size does have more knockdown power, you have a lot fewer pellets at your disposal. A table with shot sizes vs pellet counts is below. We’ll also cover what I use and why shortly.
What Shot Size Do I Need for Duck?
If you look this up online, it’s all over the map. Winchester has their own blog and they are not only a gun manufacturer, they manufacture ammo. They recommend shot #4, 5 or 6 for small ducks and BB, 1, 2, 3 for large ducks. That is quite the range not to mention you haven’t the slightest clue what will fly in during your hunt. Going right around the middle, #4 stand outs as the best of both worlds.
Also note that Winchester has T, BBB and BB specified for geese. When duck hunting, most people are also targeting geese so that farther complicates which ammo to pack.
Shot Size vs Count
|Shot Size – Largest to Smallest||# of Steel Pellets per Ounce of Shot|
Looking at this table, there are almost 4x as many pellets in a #4 shell vs T.
My Preference for Ducks and Geese
For ducks and geese, I have never had a problem with shot size of #4. A goose may need a follow up shot – but none of them I hit with #4 have ever flown away on me. If you generally practice with clays and pattern your gun, you are light years ahead of the game. When hunting, simply wait for a great shot vs the “ok” ones. I’ve also used #2 with great success during the times #4 simply wasn’t available.
What Shell Size to Use for Waterfowl?
I always use 2 3/4″ shells as up until this season, I had no gun capable of shooting the bigger shells. There is NO DOUBT the larger 3″ shells should work even better – it’s just not technically necessary. Admittedly, I bought a few packs of 3″ for this season and may report back later if they are infinitely better.
2 3/4″ shells also happen to work in a bigger variety of guns! This makes it easier to share ammo if you are hunting in a group and one of your buddies has an older gun.
Let’s complicate things though just for one second. Many “waterfowl guns” even come in a 3.5″ version. I can see using 3″ but not 3.5″. If you’ve ever shot 3.5″ shells in a shotgun, you’ll know it kicks both ways! For taking out turkeys over a greater distance, sure. Overkill for waterfowl, at least in my mind.
Update: I put the 3″ shells to good use and YES they are amazing! With a #2, 3″ round I even got 3 geese with 1 shell! Let’s just say it was the best hunting experience yet for me. How many deer hunters can get multiple deer with 1 bullet??? You gotta LOVE waterfowl.
Nowadays a box of shells can range from around $22 – $30 which is still reasonable. There are countless shells out there that run $55 a box and may even have very similar specs to their cheaper counterparts. Unless you are desperate and can’t find shells, there is no need to overspend on shells. There’s always that old guy with the beat up old gun (and cheap shells) that can outshoot and out hunt the most rigged out and outfitted hunters. Practice makes you better, not price!
Remember with steel shot, you can only shoot it out of a choke that is modified or more open than modified. Unlike lead, steel does not compress and unless you want your gun to blow up, watch your choke! Unfortunately, there are so many beautiful old shotguns lying around collecting dust as fixed choke barrels were quite common back in the day and full choke was quite popular. This doesn’t mean the gun is trash, it just has no use for the waterfowler in your house.
Tip: If your gun is older and choke is not marked on the barrel, the best advice is to take it to a gunsmith and have them check the choke size for you. There is a little measuring gauge they can drop in the muzzle to tell you exactly what you have.
The other tip we’ll mention here is choke manufacturer. Apparently the stock factory chokes that come with guns aren’t very good. I can say mine are all ok, one of them is really nice and it’s a Beretta modified. If you want to get a really good choke for your gun, try a Carlsons.
What Gun do I Need for Waterfowl Hunting?
Since we’re on the topic of ammo and chokes, let’s touch on the gun. It seems like everyone I went birding with was sporting a Beretta semi. I was always toting my beat up, old Remington 870 Wingmaster pump and it works PERFECTLY fine. It has a Cutts Compensator on it which back in the day meant someone cut the barrel (sometimes a factory option) and put on a device that was an old school iteration of a choke tube system. Luckily, mine came with a modified tube.
Going back to a modern Beretta: It’s semi-auto, full camouflage, has screw in chokes, an actual recoil system, fiber optic sight and so on. When a mint example of a used one was traded in to my local store, it had my name all over it. But there is a point to all this. The newer guns can usually run the 3″ and often 3.5″ shells. This opens the door if that steel shot shelf for 2 3/4″ happens to be empty one day but 3″ isn’t.
For turkey season which is coming soon, 3″ and up is the recommended shell size anyways and what you should be using. In my search for ammo last year there was tons of turkey shot sizes available in 3″ but NOTHING in 2 3/4″. You can’t get a turkey with slugs or bird shot… Not wise nor legal. With a modern gun, ALL your ammo woes are solved for all your hunting needs, not just waterfowl.
One Shotgun is All You Need
With screw in chokes, one shotgun can do many different things. Something like the Beretta can truly be the only shotgun you’ll ever need. Also worth a look is Benelli and Browning.
We haven’t done the semi auto action any justice yet either. While pumps can be very fast and semis are a “false sense of security”, semis do make a worldly difference with recoil as the action absorbs a lot of that felt recoil you get off pump or break action. Especially with semis that are gas driven. If you happen to have a great day with lots of geese or duck flying in, your shoulders will thank you the next day if you tote a modern gun. This is not just a comfort issue, it keeps the door to a 12 gauge open for someone with smaller physical abilities, injuries, age or whatever may be the case. Accuracy will also improve as we are taking the flinch out of the equation.
Grandpa’s old shotgun maybe nostalgic or cool. Maybe it even took a lot of birds back in the day. But a nice new shotgun will take your waterfowl hunting (or any hunting) to the next level. It’s an investment so to speak and of all the things involved in waterfowl hunting gear, it’s where I suggest dumping a bulk of the budget. It’s a costly mistake to fix later.
What Do You Wear for Waterfowl Hunting?
An obvious reminder is to wear clothing appropriate for the weather. It’s not fun hunting in the rain or dreaded cold when you are not dressed for it. I highly suggest getting some camo if you don’t have any. Personally, I use army surplus as much as possible. It’s of great quality and durability. When you compare surplus to a lot of hunting brands out there, you’ll quickly see its also very budget friendly in comparrison. In fact it’s often a fraction of the price. The geese don’t care about any fancy brand label, you just need to blend in with your surroundings.
If you find your waterfowl hunting gear budget is razor thin, you can get away with wearing brown pants and a camo jacket. Keep in mind that your accessories should also be that of a neutral colour (browns, greens and blacks). You are also going to have to work a little harder in terms of concealing yourself amongst some cover.
If you are into the turkey season which starts a little later than waterfowl, camo is far more critical than the other birds. If you are not using a blind for turkey, you really need to cover your neck, face, hands and so on. You’ll generally want to avoid any shine. We’ll cover that in a later post. The point is you can start now and get a jacket, maybe some pants and layer the other pieces later.
Boots and Waders
Boots are a pivotal piece of waterfowl hunting gear, especially this time of year when things start getting rainy and cold. I love my Irish Setters, they are extremely durable, warm and waterproof. Save on clothes if you can and get a really good pair of boots as they need to take a beating and still keep you warm and dry. If you walk some waterlogged trails in the fall, you’ll quickly see what I mean.
There is also a good chance you’ll need waders. You may end up hunting in ponds or even if on a shallow shore of a lake or river, you’ll probably need to get in to get your decoys out or adjusted. When I went hunting last fall with a guide, we launched the boat at a launch that had no dock! That means at least one person has to get in the water to deal with the boat.
My guide from last fall is in the water every single day this time of year – right up until Christmas. After years of doing this, his advice is that all waders start to leak and eventually get torn. In other words, don’t go overboard on price here unless it comes with a good warranty. Do look for insulated ones, they will keep you much warmer. His waders are neoprene and in a perfect Realtree Max 5 camo pattern.
What Decoys and Calls Do I Need to Hunt Waterfowl?
It wouldn’t be hunting if you didn’t have to lure in your prey somehow. You are going to need decoys and calls and they are a pivotal piece of your waterfowl hunting gear arsenal. The calls are not expensive nor hard to find. But that’s certainly not the case when it comes to decoys…
A minimum number of decoys is typically a dozen. Ideally, you would want 18 to 36.
I scored a 6 pack premium duck decoy set brand new last year for $110 and the price was good at the time. If you can find a similar deal, I would suggest it wholeheartedly. Used, they are generally still expensive. From time to time, a good deal will come up on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace. I have managed to score used geese decoys and to give you an idea, 6 floaters ran for $100 which is perfect. Just be warned, good deals on used move quickly so don’t take too long if you find something that is right for you.
Right now, every hunting store seems to have no goose decoys, at least not floaters. Seems like another shortage item. I see them at Canadian Tire for $37.99 a piece and it may be the best place for you to start looking if you need some. As to ducks, there’s the Flambeau Classic Mallard Floaters in a 6 pack.
Mix it Up
The 6 pack of duck decoys I bought are of a really nice mix. 2 each of the wigeon, pintail and gadwall. By 2 each, 1 being a drake and the other a hen. In terms of goose, mix it up if the option is there. Try to get some that are resting, some that are feeding and so on. All you are trying to do is make your spread look as realistic as possible.
Looking back on photos from my guided goose hunt, my guide’s geese were not mixed and we did perfectly fine. Don’t sweat it if it’s not an option as in times like these, you may have to take what you can get. But mixing them is always better if you can as it’s more realistic.
Tying it all Together
I bought a roll of #36 bank line (Ie. tarred mariners bank line) this summer on Amazon. 500 feet of it for under $30. Particularly it was the SGT Knots 1 LB Spool. This was to make a rapid deploy ridge line system for a tarp shelter and bank line has to connect via Prussik knot to a paracord ridge line. It’s a very interesting piece of kit I’ll write about one day for camping. It comes up here because it’s excellent for tying up decoys! You can add a weight to each decoy, run Texas rigs (Ie. 4 decoys per anchor) or tie them all together on a long lake line so they don’t float away on you.
Most hunting stores don’t seem to sell the actual decoy line which is basically a heavy fishing line. Nor do they sell the crimps, weights and other related hardware pieces to “properly” rig your decoys. With bank line, it’s super easy to tie loops on the ends. You can find carabiners in just about any outdoors store and Texas rigs reduce the number of weights you’ll need in general. Fishing stores should carry heavy weights that’s perfect if you opt to rig each decoy separately and should also suffice for Texas rigs. As to a long lake line, a small boat anchor is all you need on one end with enough rope between the weight and your first decoy to cover your intended depth of water. The anchor I use for that is 6″ long and 1.5 lb.
To sum up your rigging, you can easily get away with bank line, carabiners / clips and some weights. Your rigging doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to keep your decoys in place and stop them from floating away.
Last but not least on the decoy side of things is a decoy bag. There are really nice ones out there that have compartments for each individual decoy. This keeps them tidy and at the ready for transport and deployment. It also allows them to aerate and dry when not in use not to mention it stops them from banging into each other during transport and storage. Do you need a decoy bag to hunt? No. Is it really, really nice to have? Absolutely yes. Grab it if you come across one and it’s in the budget. If not, save this one for later and aspire towards it as you can get away without it for now.
Calls for Duck and Geese
Calls are really fun, especially when you are new to hunting. When I got my first duck and goose calls, I would mess with the birds in the off season right in my own backyard. It’s amazing how much attention the calls get and you can basically sneak in some practice with them before your actual hunt.
Primos makes some particularly good calls and all you need is 1 call for geese and 1 for ducks. Their standard goose call is the Honky Tonk. As to ducks, a mallard call is pretty generic. I purchased the Primos Pro Mallard to complement an old Lohman call for under $20. You don’t need the fancy wood or acrylic calls to start. That’s something you can always scoop up if you really get into waterfowling later.
The same advice goes for calls as it does for patterning guns and ammo. Practice, practice, practice! There are a ton of YouTube videos out there on how to use the actual calls and it will give you a good point of reference on what you should sound like. Primos themselves have a YouTube channel and you can get your video instructions right from the manufacturer.
One really awesome piece of gear is a call holder. By holder, specifically a lanyard. These call holders are amazing and usually made of paracord. The cinch knots on them securely go around all your calls and its necklace format keeps them at the ready. After calling in your birds, you can simply let go of your call and go for your gun. Far better than trying to pocket your calls. Pictured is one of a few of mine. They are not exactly branded and the make is long forgotton but for your convenience, here’s a link to a Duck Call Lanyard.
Migratory Game Bird License
DO NOT forget your license! I always make sure small game is renewed every year and it’s usually around Christmas so as to not forget. Provincial licensing is always one part of the equation and Ontario’s is handled through huntandfishontario.com
Waterfowl is federal but can also be done online. It’s bought annually but doesn’t exactly follow a calendar year which is why we say don’t forget to check your license!
You’ll also want one of these, a license holder. It keeps the water out and protects your tags for your other hunting adventures. They are super inexpensive and you may even get one free if you spend enough money (Ie. New Beretta) at a hunting shop.
Double check your firearms license as well. You don’t want to be hunting with an expired one and if you are 6 months away from renewal, you may want to renew NOW. Last I checked, they still had some serious backlogs at the RCMP. They were offering a grace period for the delay Ie. they don’t take your guns away if your license is expired but in renewal. However, if you read carefully, you won’t be hunting unless your license is perfectly valid. In fact I believe your guns don’t get to leave the locker either. You are sort of in limbo where you are licensed but you aren’t if that makes any sense.
Waterfowl Hunting Gear
Well, there you have it. All the basics of what waterfowl hunting gear is needed to go get those wild geese and ducks are right here. There’s a little cost and leg work as a “barrier of entry” at first but once you are equipped, it’s actually not an expensive sport nor does it need a tremendous amount of gear.
If money is particularly challenging right now, start with duck hunting. Duck hunting on a budget is a lot easier to pull off than geese. With ducks, you can start with as little as 6 decoys and the decoys themselves are a lot cheaper than their goose counterparts.
Ducks Unlimited is an another item worthy of mention here. It is a wetland conservation group started by hunters. Hunters are highly connected to this group today and are major funding contributors. You simply can’t talk waterfowl without the words “Ducks Unlimited” coming to mind.