The minimalist waterfowler
Just starting out? It doesn’t need to be a challenge
Getting started in waterfowl hunting can be a bit daunting. Boats, dogs, decoys, calls, shotguns, and loads are all big topics to tackle, but not to worry: With some basic knowledge and a sense of adventure, you can invest in some basic gear to get started and have a blast in the process of learning.
Waterfowl hunting spans many styles and traditions, and while those items can help improve your chances and access to hard-to-reach areas, the reality is you do not need much to get started. In fact, being successful is as much about preparation and shooting proficiency as it is about accumulating gear.
Gear vs. hunting location
Aside from a shotgun and ammunition, required gear is loosely a function of where you intend to hunt. Taking time to research hunting locations conducive to the style of hunting you’ll be doing will determine what gear is needed. Researching private land opportunities and public land walk-in locations are good bets for those just starting out or those who want a break from all the added work associated with dogs, boats, and large decoy spreads.
For example, for walk-in hunting areas where you might be hunting a flooded lowland farm field, irrigation ditches, or potholes, a quality pair of knee-high rubber boots and camouflage clothing/rain gear may suffice. On the other hand, while hunting larger bodies of water such as the coast or lakes, hip boots or chest waders, a dog, decoys, and possibly a boat may be needed. You can keep it simple or scale up based on where and how you intend to hunt.
Scaling up – clothing, decoys, calls, and blinds
Next up on the gear list are a quality pair of insulated chest waders, a waterfowl hunting jacket, gloves, and a hat. Staying warm and dry is critically important for safety and enjoyment in the field. Fall and winter waterfowl hunting is often cold and wet, so you need to be prepared. Personal preference comes into play here so be sure to do your own research and seek out recommendations from fellow waterfowlers.
Decoys and calls can play a significant role in pulling in passing birds. Decoy spreads can vary from a few decoys to several dozen depending on the situation. The truth is a few decoys can work well in many hunting locations, so you can invest in six or 12 and add more over time.
Learning target waterfowl vocalizations and adding these calls to your setups can really turn birds your way and provide shot opportunities, not to mention the excitement that comes from calling game. Don’t be afraid to invest in a call and add this exciting aspect to your next hunt.
Hunting blinds can be purchased or constructed on-site by using clippers and/or a small hand saw to enhance your concealment. Remember that waterfowl (birds) have amazing eyesight, especially from above, so anything you can do to conceal your movement is recommended.
Hunt with a friend or group
If you talk to experienced hunters about what they enjoy about hunting, they are quick to point out the fun and camaraderie of sharing experiences in the field. When you’re getting started in a new endeavor, such as waterfowl hunting, there are many benefits to sharing the journey with others. First, you have a partner to share in conducting research, planning, gear purchases, driving, expenses, etc. Second, there is safety in numbers should something go awry, such as vehicle problems or a need for first aid. Finally, as mentioned, the shared experiences and memories can be the most valuable aspects of the hunt because long after the cold fingers and sideways sleet fade, the memories live on for years to come.
- Regulations: Check the waterfowl hunting regulations to see what’s open in January: eregulations.com/washington/game-bird/migratory-game-bird-seasons/
- Hunting license and permits: Make sure you have a small game license, migratory bird permit, federal duck stamp, and the appropriate permits for the species and areas you want to hunt.
- Shotgun: There are different types and gauges, but a pump action gun is great for beginners as it is easy to use and having to pump another shell into the chamber between shots helps pace your shooting.
- Ear protection: Repetitive shotgun fire will lead to hearing damage if you do not protect your ears. There are many options to choose from so find a solution that works for you.
- Non-toxic shotgun shells: Consider different shot size and velocity depending on species and situation. Talk to other waterfowlers for recommendations based on your shooting skills and budget.
- Clothing: Birds see in color so good camouflage is a must. A warm/waterproof hat and jacket are highly recommended. A facemask is also a good idea to say warm and conceal your face as you look up.
- Waders: The type of waders you wear depends on water conditions. Temperatures and water depths will determine if you need chest waders or if you can get away with hip waders.
- Decoys with line and weights: Three to six decoys will work in many walk-in situations while a dozen decoys can work well for most other setups.
- Calls: Try whistle calls for beginners and reed calls as you develop your calling skills.
- Safety: Always let someone know where you will be hunting and your intended return date, especially if hunting alone.
Waterfowl hunting is a fun activity that you can enjoy in a variety of areas. Each region in Washington offers unique experiences with different wetland habitats that attract an abundance of waterfowl species, so you’ll likely be able to find an opportunity close to home. Please recreate responsibly amid the coronavirus pandemic by following social distancing guidelines from state and local health authorities.
We’d love to share in your success, so be sure to tag us in your social media posts: @WashingtonFishWildlife on Facebook, @thewdfw on Instagram, and @WDFW on Twitter.