To be considered a successful waterfowl hunter you don’t need to get your limit each time out. What you do need is to master a few skills that all truly successful waterfowl hunters possess. I have hunted with guys that have been hunting ducks & geese longer than I have been alive and I have hunted with guys that aren’t sure what end of the call to blow into. I don’t mind hunting with either of these guys. The ones that have hunted for years have probably forgotten more about waterfowl than most guys know. The ones that are new to waterfowl hunting need to learn the lessons that need to be taught by the former. Over my years of hunting experience I have determined these are a few must have skills that all waterfowl hunters need.
The ability to shoot straight and safely with your shotgun is a skill all waterfowl hunters need and without this nothing else matters. This will only come from knowing how all the parts of your gun operate. To be a great shot you need to know where your gun shoots. My advice is to pattern your gun before each season. You need to know how to take it apart and what to do if it jams up so that your hunt doesn’t end after the first trigger pull. Practice with your gun year round, read all you can about shooting skills, be sure to truly master the art of hitting the moving target.
Having the right gear is extremely important and is one of the best parts of being a waterfowl hunter. Who doesn’t love all the guns, calls, decoys, and the clothing? Take the time to research the latest gear. You absolutely have to get a pair of quality boots and a pair of quality waders. Nothing ruins a hunt faster than being cold and wet. You can’t spell waterfowl without the word WET. That $1500 shotgun won’t keep you warm but some quality hunting clothing & boots will.
Now that you can shoot straight and stay all day in the blind because you are warm and cozy you need to know what you’re shooting at. There are many laws governing waterfowl hunting. This is a huge part of being a successful waterfowl hunter. If you exceed your limit of a species or shoot one that isn’t allowed you will never be successful. Passing on a bird is always better than taking an unknown shot. Prior to your hunt know the limits and the species that are allowed to be harvested. After each pass regroup and take a count of the birds to ensure you are ok. Make sure the others in your group do the same. Don’t let one hunter shoot into another hunters limit.
Although it’s not always needed, but certainly makes the hunt a whole lot more fun, calling can be a very cool part of the hunt. To be considered a truly successful waterfowl hunter you will need to know how to work a duck call and a goose call. You don’t need to have trophies lined up along the mantle to be considered a good caller. All you need is to know the different style of calls like the Hail, Comeback, Greeting, and Feeder call for ducks. For geese it’s pretty much the same thing, you just need to know these few styles of calling as well. Don’t call so much that you get light headed. Simply watch the birds as they come in and try to sound like them. If you are hunting with other guys who call, let them start it up and mix it up a bit to have it sound like what the birds are seeing in your spread.
So you have the calling mastered, you can shoot straight, and can handle whatever mother nature tosses at you. But to actually shoot a duck or goose you need to have them come within range. This won’t happen if the ducks and geese see your pretty face peering out from the boat or blind, or if they see your nice bright pink thermos that your daughter let you use. Be sure to get to your spot early enough to be able to properly set up your blind and get the cover in place. Make sure to look around your set up to see if you look like a lawn sale that just opened for business or if you look like another part of the field you’re in. If hunting from a boat you have to look like a bunch of shrubs growing out of the water, not like a bright aluminum row boat that was set adrift from high winds.
Once you have your blind set up and you have gathered and placed plenty of cover you can now set out your decoys. Be sure to bring enough decoys to allow them to do their job decoying in the birds. This part of the hunt is the fun part. I have never hunted with a guy that hasn’t reset their decoys a dozen times before or during a hunt. There is something about decoys that cause a waterfowl hunter to go goofy. I have had more conversations about the decoys are to close or too far or there are too many or too few. We use a Mojo duck that creates motion with spinning wings and we argue about turning it on or off or not to use it for geese. The key to decoys is to have ones that will float and are easy to set up and take down. Give the birds a place to land within range and you are good to go.
To make all of this come together and to truly be successful, you need to be where the birds are. You need to do your homework and find the birds prior to going hunting. This is accomplished by scouting and talking to fellow hunters, local farmers and talking with the Fish & Game folks. The hardest part of waterfowl hunting is getting to where the birds are. These birds fly thousands of miles a year during their migration and they see 100’s of decoy set ups and get shot at all the way north to south. Those that survive get smarter with each trip.
To be considered a successful waterfowl hunter is easy if you put in the time to master these skills. This doesn’t happen overnight but that’s what makes it so fun. To truly enjoy the pursuit of waterfowl and to be able to consider yourself successful, you simply need to get up and get after them.