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Washington’s world of waterfowl

A primer on duck hunting prep, gear, tactics, and resources

By Kelly Riordan/WDFW

Welcome to waterfowl hunting in Washington! Our state attracts a collection of waterfowl species that is among the most diverse anywhere in the world.

Across the United States, the mallard reigns supreme as a targeted duck species. While there is a good population of the mallard in Washington, other desirable fowl such as widgeon, teal, and diver species populate many of the same areas in our plentiful region.

Additionally, the unique topographical features across our landscape within the Pacific flyway afford hunters of any experience level opportunities to hunt.

All in the family. (John Pleau)

License and regulation

Before heading out, be sure learn the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife licensing requirements. All hunters born after Jan. 1, 1972 must have completed a hunter education course or procured a hunter education deferral. The licenses needed for waterfowl hunting are a small game license, state migratory bird permit, and the federal duck stamp. Keep in mind that the federal duck stamp is purchased separately from a local post office or sporting goods store.

Rules and regulations are a must and knowing your waterfowl is required. Review the current Washington Game Bird and Small Game Regulations for daily limits, species limits, species identification aids, and open seasons. Hunters who want to also pursue species such as surf scoter, goldeneye, or scaup in Western Washington must also purchase the migratory bird hunt authorization and associated harvest report card.

Dress for staying dry

Gear and weapon choices can be daunting but don’t have to be. Clothing options should be pointed toward staying warm and dry, with waterproof being key. A synthetic base layer, socks with sweat-wicking properties, and insulated and waterproof gloves are a good start. A good hat or beanie with a facemask are needed as well.

Also at the top of the clothing list is a pair of waders. Either neoprene or other material, a pair of waterproof chest waders can make the difference between a comfortable day and a miserable one. Make sure that any piece of gear worn facing out is camouflage because waterfowl have incredible eyesight.

Shooting for success

Legal weapons are shotguns up to 10-gauge, muzzleloaders, and bow and arrow. The focus of this article will be on waterfowl hunting with a shotgun. Commonly, 12- and 20-gauge shotguns with modified or full chokes are used. Shotshells with a length of 2 ¾ inches or 3 inches using shot sizes of 2, 3, or 4 are good choices. Non-toxic shot is required to hunt all waterfowl and shot such as steel, bismuth, and tungsten blends are best.

Shooting practice will be needed before the hunt, and learning to lead waterfowl in flight is a must. Head out for some clay pigeon shooting as well as shotgun patterning. This will increase your confidence in the field and accuracy during the hunt.

Duck hunting with dad. (John Pleau)

Choose your ground

Choosing a hunting spot can be a fun adventure. Washington has hundreds of miles of shoreline and many lakes, ponds, and rivers where you can focus in on a likely spot. Utilizing sources such as WDFW’s Hunt by Reservation program, its other private lands access programs, or its Waterfowl Regulated Access Areas are good starting points. Other online tools that show private and public lands are available, such as onX, HuntStand, and BaseMap, and can save you many hours of work in trying to locate a legal hunting property.

Leading from your blind

With your hunting area located, now it’s time to set up your blind. This doesn’t have to be anything special: Even just depressions, downed trees, or high grass make excellent blinds. A piece of camouflage burlap works wonderfully as a top cover. The objective is to conceal a hunter from waterfowl approaching above. Other tools such as layout blinds can be useful but also pricey.

A question of timing

Location selected, now to get set to hunt. Ducks prefer to land into a facing wind near points, inlets, or desired feeding areas. Additionally, timing affects the hunt. Early morning is best, although in saltwater areas, tidal swings can determine hunt times as well. Incoming tides are best, and in a tidal situation, be sure to set your blind above the high-water mark.

Keep it simple

Focusing on a more simplistic approach, puddle duck decoys painted as mallards, widgeons, or teals are a great choice. There is no need for hundreds of decoys. The fact is that an economical purchase of six to 12 decoys, rigged with 10 feet of string and 2-4 oz. weights, is easy and effective.

Combining the information above can paint a successful duck hunting picture, but hunter success is not just measured in harvest. Doing the research on your hunting and blind location, then having migrating waterfowl commit to your setup is a large win. If a harvest is had, field preparation is quite important in maintaining the best table fare possible. Field dressing your fowl, then getting it clean, cooled, and cooked or frozen for later use will provide tasty dividends.

Pup waiting for a bird. (Larry Wilson)

Additional resources

For more information on waterfowl hunting tactics, gear, or recipes, check out WDFW’s website as well as your local outdoors store. Here are some more helpful links to help waterfowl hunters find success:

2022 Big Game Hunting Pamphlet Cover Photo Contest

When you meet with success in the field this season, be sure to enter WDFW’s 2022 Big Game Hunting Pamphlet Cover Photo Contest. This year’s theme is “Exploring Washington,” so we’re looking for beautiful Washington landscape photos with a hunting element for this coming year’s Big Game Hunting Rules and Regulations pamphlet. See the photo submission form for contest rules and to enter your photos any time before Monday, Feb. 15, 2022, for a chance to win. Winners will be contacted by email and announced on WDFW’s Facebook page in March.

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