Archive for the 'Hunting Tips' Category

Keep it Legal – Keep it Clean

Since it’s about a month and a half until duck season opens here in Southern California I figured now would be a good time to go over some of the rules, regulations and common courtesies involved in the sport. There’s nothing worse than getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, and having Mr. Green Jeans scratching you out an expensive citation and ejecting you from the wildlife area while fellow hunters look on from the neighboring blinds. So, here’s some of the stuff you need to know, or for most of us, already know, but maybe a little reminder wouldn’t hurt so nobody “forgets” what they’re supposed to do.

First, and most obvious, is the season dates and limits. For the 2018/19 season in the Southern California Area (where San Jacinto Wildlife Area is located) the following regulations apply:
Ducks and Geese: October 20, 2018, through January 27, 2019.
Special Youth Hunt Days: February 2 and February 3, 2019. (San Jacinto’s Annual Youth Hunt will be February 2nd, 2019).

Ducks: Daily bag limit: 7. Which may consist of 7 mallards, of which only 2 can be female; 2 pintail; 2 canvasback; 2 redheads; 3 scaup. (*NOTE* – Scaup may only be taken November 3rd, 2018 through January 27th, 2019 – so be careful the first two weeks of the season once again. There’s always a few Scaup around SJ before their season opens).
Geese: Daily bag limit: 23 of which 20 may be white geese and 3 may be dark geese.
Possession Limit Ducks and Geese: Triple the daily bag limit.
Black Brant (Although a “sea goose” I’ll add this because occasionally a few seem to show up at San Jacinto): November 9, 2018 – December 15, 2018. Daily bag limit: 2 per day. Possession limit triple the daily bag limit
Ok, now that we have the most obvious out of the way here’s a few more we all need to keep in mind.

“Electronic” Spinning wing decoys (AKA – mojos) will be allowed from December 1st until the season ends (statewide) – non-motorized / wind-powered mojos are allowed all season.

NO LEAD AMMO!! This should be a no-brainer if you’ve hunted ducks within that last 26 years. The prohibition on lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting is a federal law and was phased-in starting in the 1987/88 hunting season and was nationwide by 1991. You might think that, since it’s been so long since the phase-in that no one needs a reminder of this. The reason I mention it is that even though California is phasing out lead ammo throughout the state for any type of hunting it still hasn’t been phased out altogether. We are currently in phase 2 of the phase-out of lead ammo in California and phase 2 states “Phase 2 – Effective July 1, 2016, nonlead shot required when taking upland game birds with a shotgun, except for dove, quail, snipe, and any game birds taken on licensed game bird clubs. In addition, nonlead shot required when using a shotgun to take resident small game mammals, furbearing mammals, nongame mammals, nongame birds, and any wildlife for depredation purposes.” So, if you happened to be out in the desert chasing quail last week and you’re going to bring the same sweatshirt you wore out there to go duck hunting this week make dern sure you thoroughly go through the pockets to make sure you didn’t leave a round or two of lead quail loads in there. Mr. or Ms. Warden won’t take the “oops, I forgot” excuse if the find any lead shot in your possession so make sure you don’t have any out there.

Sort of related to that is the shell limit. On any state wildlife area or federal refuge, you are limited to 25 rounds in the field. That’s not 25 rounds in the blind and another 25 hidden somewhere between your truck and the blind, that’s 25 period. If you really need more shells take the walk back to your truck, at least they allow us to keep some in our vehicles. In reality, there aren’t too many days you’re going to need more than 25 rounds. This is another good reason to check your pockets before you go into the field. You don’t want the aforementioned Warden(s) to check you early in the day and find out that, because you left 3 shells in your waders from chasing a cripple last week, you are in possession of 28 shells. Another big ticket.

Again, sort of related, make sure if you’re shooting a pump or auto-loading shotgun that is capable of holding more than two shells in the magazine make sure you have a magazine plug installed. You’re allowed three shells in the shotgun total, one in the chamber and two in the magazine. Don’t get caught without a plug installed in your shotgun while out in the field. Another big “ka-ching” if you’re caught.

Littering…(my pet peeve – the main reason for the “keep it clean” in this post title). If you brought in that candy bar, water bottle, ammo box or whatever assorted garbage you produce while in the blind, CARRY IT BACK OUT!! This includes your empty shotgun shells. Obviously, this stuff will weigh less than when you brought it in so there’s no excuse, (or actually there’s one partial excuse, which is to follow right here ->>>). Now I know, because it happens to me almost every hunt, with a modern pump gun or autoloader you’re going to lose a few shells. It can’t be helped as most of these guns throw the empties quite a way. But, please, make every effort to retrieve as many of your spent shells as you possibly can, plus any that you find that prior hunters missed picking up. Obviously littering is illegal, not only on the wildlife area but everywhere so just why would you even do it? A handy appliance for picking up spent shells is a shell stick. Here’s a link on how to build one, if you don’t want to bend over umpteen times picking up shells around your blind:

Skybusting. Please, just don’t. Skybusting or skyscraping is shooting at birds that are out of range hoping to get that one “magic bb” in the right spot to bring down the bird. I know it’s tempting, especially when things are slow, all you’ll usually end up doing is scaring away ducks that may have been starting to work a neighboring blind’s decoys or, worse, wounding a bird to fly off and die later on. Although there is no law against skybusting it makes you extremely unpopular with your fellow hunters so it’s not a good idea, unless you have stock holdings in an ammunition manufacturing business. 40 yards is about the furthest you should shoot at a duck. If you need some practice getting an idea of what a duck looks like at 40 yards take a life-sized decoy out to the local high school field and set it on the goal line and then walk out to the 40 yards line and look at it.

Excessive and/or poor calling. Another “just don’t” that’s not illegal but will PO your neighboring hunters if you “just do”. Calling properly actually takes some talent and, more importantly, practice to do correctly. I wrote a post on this a while back, so I’ll not rehash it here. Just click on the link below to read that post:

Parking. At SJ most of the blinds have specific parking areas. When you get you blind assignment in the morning (or later if you’re refilling) the SJ staff will tell you where to park. In most cases, these parking areas are for two reasons. First, to keep your vehicle safe. Nothing is worse than coming back to your truck and finding your windshield or the paint on your hood was peppered by shot sometime during the day. Second these spots are also designed so that as hunters come and go during the day it minimizes the disturbance of the other blinds in the area. So, park where you’re supposed to park to avoid the above problems.

Start/finish time. Start time, and finishing time, or legal shooting time, is posted at the check station for each day’s hunting. BTW – There’s an App for that! It’s called your cell phone. Set alarm times for start and finish times before you leave the check station. At San Jacinto the staff there also comes out into the wildlife area just before start time and blows an air horn at start time so there’s really no excuse to shoot early. Depending on the time of year and the conditions the morning fly off is sometime the only chance some hunters will get to bag a duck or two. If some, (yes, I’ll say it), Jerk shoots 5 minutes early it could ruin the hunt day for half the wildlife area, at least. It also tends to start a chain reaction of people shooting early as they think, since someone shot, that it’s now start time and their watch or cell phone is somehow set to the wrong time. It’s really the height of selfishness to shoot early just to try to bag a bird and thereby screw up everybody else’s hunt that day. Lastly, this one is illegal and if the Wardens catch you you’re done for the day with an expensive ticket.

So, that’s about it. The season’s just around the corner and it’s about time to pull the duck gear out of the garage and get ready for another season of duck hunting at San Jacinto. Hope to see you out there sometime.

The Shell Stick

As you probably know, if you’ve read some of the past posts here on the SoCalHunt Blog, one of my pet peeves is litter in and around the blinds and hunting area.  One of the biggest sources of this litter is the obvious byproduct of waterfowl hunting with a shotgun, especially a pump or auto-loader, empty shell casings.

Almost without exception (unfortunately) just about any blind I’ve occupied in the past several season after opening day has had some degree of empty shell litter.  In fact, it is such a rarity to get a completely clean blind that I will usually mention that the blind was clean upon my arrival in my hunting reports here on SoCalHunt.  As a consequence of the operation of the pump or auto-loading shotguns most waterfowlers use, empty shells get thrown all around inside and outside the blind.  The multi colored plastic of the different brands of shells and their shiny “brass” bases lend unwanted decoration to the hunting site.  (I put “brass” in quotes for a reason, I’ll explain later)  Now I can understand not picking up every single shell ejected by your gun.   It’s almost impossible to locate every one.  Some land in brush or bushes, some hit the water and float away before the hunter has a chance to gather them up and some get stepped on and driven into the mud before they’re seen so I’m not ranting against the hunter that might leave two or three random shells around a blind.  It’s the 20, 30 or 40 random shells strewn about that tick me off.

I always carry a couple of plastic grocery bags out to the blind with me to dispose of my trash and I always make it a point to clean up any other litter I find, including the masses of empty shells found all too often in and around the blind.  As the sands of time flow through the hourglass and my body, especially my back, ages, it has begun to become more difficult to bend over 20, 30 or 40 times to pick up someone else’s empty shell casings.  Yeah…I’m an old fart.  Anyway, I don’t want to stop picking up empties just because it makes my back a little sore.

The key to the solution to this is something that I discovered about most shotgun shells that some might not realize.  Shotgun shell “brass”, in most cases, isn’t brass.  Its plated steel.  I’m sure there’s exceptions but I have yet to find one that is actual brass.  Maybe if you found a real old shell it would have a real brass base but then it would probably be an illegal shell for waterfowl hunting as it would probably contain lead shot.

The reason this discovery is important for my solution is that steel is magnetic and brass isn’t.  Since almost all shotgun shell “brass” is plated steel it is magnetic.

So, here’s the solution…






I simply took an about 2 1/2 foot piece of broomstick and mounted a powerful “rare earth” magnet on the end of it.  I then wrapped some camo tape around the broomstick and, “Voila!”, a shell picker-upper.  Now I don’t have to bend over each time I have to pick up an empty shell.  The magnet is strong enough that I can sometimes pick up 4 or 5 shells at a time if they’re close together.

The magnet, which is the most important part of this devise, can be found at places like Lowe’s, Home Depot or Harbor Freight however most of these don’t have a hole for mounting them on a broom stick.  If you use this type you’d probably have to epoxy the magnet on the stick.  The one that I used for my shell stick I found on ebay.  Just search “rare earth magnet” on ebay and you should be able to find a few offers of round rare earth magnets with countersunk holes in them that are perfect for this use.   You can probably get a lot of 3 to 5 of them for around $6.

One more note on the magnet.  Be sure it’s a “rare earth” magnet as they have greater pulling power then a regular old magnet.  If you get a weak kid’s toy type magnet it probably will have problems holding the shells as you pick them up.

I hope this helps anybody who wants to keep things clean in the blind to make it easier for you and helps save your back.

Shotgun Shells – 2 ¾” – 3” – 3 ½” – Analysis

Many times, in many hunting forums, especially ones that deal with duck hunting, there seems to be a controversy regarding they type of shells used. And, not so much by brand, or even shot size (although you will get strong opinions on that too), but it is the length of the shell more then anything.

Since the advent of the requirement of non-toxic shot for waterfowl hunting many people who used to use 2 ¾” shells for duck hunting in the “good old days”, when we could use lead shot, have had to reanalyze their choices when it comes to non-toxic. Although there are some substitutes, such as Bismuth or Tungsten that come closer to lead shot in performance, due to their high prices most hunters in the marsh opt to use steel shot so I will concentrate on steel shot vs. lead shot in this analysis.

It has been said that you have to go up two sizes in steel shot to get near the performance of lead shot. The main reason for this is due to steel’s lighter weight per pellet. I won’t go through all the shot sizes but in this short article I’ll concentrate on a old time (lead days) favorite load 1 3/8 ounces of #5 shot in a 2 ¾ inch shell.

First we must compare the shot its self. #5 lead shot is 0.12 inches in diameter. Since we measure the weight of shot in grains we have to do a little math. One ounce equals 437.5 grains. In an ounce of #5 lead shot there are 170 pellets. If you divide 437.5 grains by 170 pellets you find that each pellet is 2.58 grains. If you do the math for #5 steel you’ll find that weighs 1.80 grains, only 70% of the weight of #5 lead.

Since, by conventional wisdom, you must go up two shot sizes to achieve near the same performance when going from lead to steel then we need to compare #3 steel shot. #3 steel shot is 0.14 inches in diameter. There are 158 pellets in an ounce of #3 steel shot. If you divide 437.5 grains by 158 pellets you find that each pellet is 2.76 grains.

Weight is what carries velocity. If you have lead and steel shot of the same size the lead will carry its velocity further as it weighs more then the steel of equal size. It is, for an exaggerated comparison, like throwing a rock vs. throwing a foam packing peanut of the same size. You know which is going to carry further.

Now, this is not to say we’re trying to stretch our shotgun’s range and become skybusters, what we’re trying to do is get near same performance out of steel shot as we used to enjoy from lead shot.

Now we need to look at shell capacity. You can stuff the same number of the same sized shot into the same sized shell but you’re not going to get the same weight. A load of 1 3/8 ounce of lead, about the most you can get in a 2 ¾ inch shell, will yield you 234 pellets of #5 lead to send downrange. Putting 234 pellets of #5 steel in the same shell will give you just less then an ounce of shot, there being 243 pellets of #5 steel in an ounce, so you’d actually be 9 pellets short of a full ounce of steel shot.

To get the same weight of steel shot in a shell you would have to put 334 pellets into the shell, 100 more then with lead shot. This takes a 3 ½ inch shell to achieve. For example, the offerings in Federal Speed Shok Steel Waterfowl ammo are the following, 2 ¾ inch – 1 1/8 ounce, 3 inch – 1 1/8 and 1 ¼ ounce and 3 ½ inch – 1 3/8 and 1 ½ ounce.

So, now that we know how much shot, weight wise, we can get in each length of shell, how do we figure which to use to get comparable performance to lead? We have to go back to the physical numbers again, since we’re going up two shot sizes to get the same velocity performance, or killing power, out of each individual pellet.

#5 lead 1 3/8 ounce (which, as a reminder, will fit in an 2 ¾ inch shell) contains 234 pellets. Since we now know that we need to go up two sizes in shot size to get the same velocity or killing power out of each individual pellet then we need to figure out how to send about the same number of larger shot out to meet your bird. 1 ½ ounces of #3 steel equals 237 pellets, just 3 more pellets then our #5 lead 1 3/8 ounce load.

Now, another aspect of steel vs. lead is that with lead loads the shot is relatively soft in comparison to your steel gun barrel. This always means that some of the shot would be flattened and deformed as it made its way through the barrel and choke. This always resulted in “flyers”, shot that would go slightly off course due to no longer being round in shape. With steel you don’t have this problem. The steel shot is approximately 3 times harder than lead and you should get very few “flyers” with steel. This actually allows you to step down your choke, as steel will give you a slightly denser pattern. Most recommendations are to use a Improved Cylinder choke for shooting birds over decoys, about 35 yards max give or take and then a Modified choke for anything further then that. Most don’t recommend a Full choke as it is a little tight for the steel shot that won’t deform.

There you have it. An analysis of steel vs. lead shot. I’m sure there will be as many opinions about this as there are shotguns on the Wildlife Area on an opening Saturday but when it comes down to it each hunter must decide what they feel gives them the best performance and what they shoot best to bring down the birds. Good luck, no matter what you decide to use come opening day.

Who Ya Gonna Call? Skybusters!

There are two things that I know that anyone who has hunted any public refuge or wildlife area in California has experienced. These two things can disrupt a hunt and ruin what could potentially be a great day of hunting. Both are rooted in selfishness, narcissism and an utter disregard for fellow hunters, as well as, in the case of one of them, a disregard for the rule of law.

What are these two things? They are early shooting and skybusting.

Early shooting is shooting before legal start time. The legal start time for waterfowl hunting in California is one half hour before sunrise. The Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) publishes a chart on their web site and in their printed regulation books showing what legal shoot time is for various areas throughout the state. In addition, the legal start time is posted each hunt day at the wildlife area or refuge check station. Also, at least at San Jacinto Wildlife Area, and I’m sure its done at other wildlife areas and refuges, the legal start time is announced at the morning briefing.

So, now you should know what the legal shooting time is for your area for the hunt day you’re on. How do you keep from shooting early? Well, maybe first I should talk about why you shouldn’t shoot early.

First, it is against the law. If a DFW Officer catches you shooting early it’s a big ticket and who wants to pay a big ticket, and possibly loose hunting privileges for a season? Second, its just down right rude. Here we all set in our blinds, ten minutes before shooting time. Ducks are filtering in to our decoys and we can hear the rustle of their wings and the muffled splashes as they touch down inside our decoy spread. All we have to do is wait ten minutes and we can hope up and potentially drop 4 or 5 birds between us for a great start to our hunt day. The clock ticks away, 9 minutes, 8 minutes….BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! from two blinds over and all the ducks sitting in the decoys take off for parts unknown. Because one person couldn’t wait 8 more minutes no one else on the refuge gets a shot at the many birds that were, (key word WERE), sitting in their decoys. And, unfortunately, this seems to be infectious, as once one person opens up others feel that its okay for them to shoot too. During a slim season, such as last year, sometimes the only good opportunity during the day to bag a couple birds is at start time but, because one person is so selfish and so desperate to kill a duck that they blow the opportunity for everyone else.

Now, as I asked before, how do you keep from shooting early? Personally I think the best way now a days is to set the alarm on your cell phone. Pretty much everybody and their brother has a cell phone now and there are two good things about that, clock-wise. First, the time on the cell phone is set by the cell phone provider signal so it is accurate. Second, as I mentioned above 99.99% of the cell phone I’ve seen have an alarm app. So, if start time is 6:25 am set your alarm on your cell phone for 6:25 am. “But”, some say, “won’t the alarm going off scare the birds off my pond?” My answer to that is that the multiple shots going off all over the refuge a millisecond after start time will be scaring them much more then the little “beep, beep” of your cell phone alarm.

Here’s a link to DFW’s Shooting time chart for Southern California for the 2014/15 season:

Now, on to skybusting. Some call it skybusting, some call it skyscraping in short it is consistently shooting at birds that are out of range. I say consistently because we all make errors in judgment and distance once in a while, but doing it over and over indicates a problem. Once again, as with shooting early, this practice is rooted in desperation to kill a duck and basic selfishness along the lines of “if I can’t shoot them then no one else can either”. There are guys out there that are pretty good at longer range shooting and can consistently drop birds at 60+ yards but they are few and far between. There are also guys that will tell you they have dropped ducks at 100 yards, and, its not a lie, they probably have. However, the 100 yards shooters are relying on an old technique called “the golden BB”. The “golden BB” is that one pellet that happens to hit the bird in a vital area, such as the head, and brings it down when, under normal circumstances, due to the distance, the bird would usually escape due to the loss of shot velocity not inflicting a debilitating wound. Once a shot pattern gets beyond 50 yards or so it starts to spread so much that it is possible for a bird to fly right through the center of the pattern and not be hit by one pellet. What’s worse is when the bird is hit by only one or two pellets in an area that isn’t immediately lethal. What happens then is the bird flies off only to die somewhere else from blood loss or inability to escape a predator due to the injury. A good rule of thumb is to try and keep all your shots within 40 yards, 50 on the outside. At 40 yards you’ll still have a dense enough pattern to knock the bird down, usually killing it in the air, if you center it in the pattern. The part of skybusting that effects other hunters’ hunt is that when people are shooting at high flying birds they are scaring them out of the area and not giving them a chance to work anyone’s decoys where they might come in for a good lethal inside 40 yard shot. Skybusting will not endear the offender to anyone on the refuge as they are preventing anyone else from having a chance at the ducks which, if left unmolested, might very well drop into someone decoys.

Sometime inexperience is the reason for skybusting. People will shoot at high birds thinking they are in range just because they haven’t hunted that much. If you are weak on judging distance the following might help. Take a standard sized decoy out to your local high school football field some Saturday or early evening. (don’t use a jumbo-sized decoy it will throw you off). Place the decoy on the goal line then walk out to the 40-yard line. Turn around and point your finger at the decoy and look down your arm, as you would down the barrel of your shotgun. This will give you an idea of what a duck look like at 40 yards. A word of caution here. I recommend looking down your arm at the decoy because it would probably not be a good idea to take your shotgun out on a high school football field and point it at the decoy. Your local law enforcement would probably take a dim view on that so use your arm, or may a broomstick at most if you have to have a prop. The idea of this is to get an idea of the size of a duck at 40 yards. You might want to do this several time over the course of several days until you get a good idea of what 40 yards looks like.

Bottom line on all this is I know, in most cases here, I’m probably preaching to the choir but hopefully this will dissuade a few people from doing one or both these two things. If everyone cooperates, which is essential on a refuge or wildlife area with their close together blinds, everyone will have a good productive hunt.

The Blind Bag

This is my blind bag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.  My blind bag is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.  (Apologies to the Marine Corps).

Well, maybe you shouldn’t take your blind bag this seriously but, in my opinion, it is an important piece of equipment.  Once you get into duck hunting you find that there are numerous small items that range anywhere from handy to have to downright essential and a blind bag brings all these items together in one handy place making them easy to find and easy to carry out to the blind.


Most blind bags are to one degree or another somewhat waterproof, at least on the bottom.  Many are designed around a rubber or plastic bottom piece where camo fabric is attached to build the blind bag.  This allows you to set the bag down in the bottom of a wet blind (wet, not flooded) and not get the contents of the bag wet.  Most blind bags have a carrying handle and a shoulder handle, which give you a couple of options of how to carry the bag out to the blind.

As I implied in the first sentence of this article, no two blind bags are alike.  We each have our own ideas of what we need out in the marsh and pack our blind bags according to our choices.  I’ve included a few photographs along with this article showing what I have in my blind bag.  I’ll go over each and share my choices of what I have put in my blind bag.  You may or may not agree with these choices but hopefully you will find this a handy “starting point” for stocking your blind bag.

My blind bag has three external pockets, a main internal area and a couple of mesh pockets in the lid.


Let’s start with the larger outside pocket, or rear pocket as you look at the front of the blind bag.  For me, this one is easy.  This is where I put my 25 shotgun shells.  Remember, when hunting a State or Federal refuge or wildlife area in California you are restricted to 25 rounds of non-toxic shot while in the field.  For me the easy way to do this, so that I don’t miscount, is a 25-shell belt.  It fits nicely in the larger rear pocket on my blind bag and by a quick glance I can see how many rounds I have.



Next we move around to the right side pocket.  In this pocket I keep all the calls I’ve accumulated through the years (although if you’ve read my articles before you know I don’t use calls all that much).  I also have a pair of reading glasses, in case I have to do something that requires me to see something close (since a lot of us older hunters can’t see nothin’ up close) and, inside a zip-lock bag in case it leaks, a cloth and some break-free to wipe down and lube the shotgun if necessary.


Moving over to the left side we find a roll of camo duct-tape, my wonderful (when its cold) Jon-e hand warmer, a bottle of aspirin, a slip-on shotgun sling, a couple of LED headlamps, a brush (to brush mud or dirt off the shotgun) and a battery back-up for my cell phone.


Moving to the main compartment of the blind bag we find the following.  Avon Skin So Soft (don’t laugh, it’s a great mosquito repellant), a can of Deet based mosquito repellant and a thermacell mosquito repellant devise.  Can you tell mosquitos are a problem in the marsh some times?  Also you’ll find the small fuel bottles and repellant pads for the Thermacell, a couple of bottles of lighter fluid to run the hand warmer (only reason there’s two is one is almost empty), some cord, a small bungee-strap, an extra decoy weight, a duck ID book and a waterproof cell phone case.  Also, kept in this area are my binoculars, which I missed getting in the picture (They’re in the picture of the right pocket but they go into the main compartment).  Also, in this particular bag there are a couple of small plastic pockets inside the main compartment that I didn’t pull out for the picture that have some extra batteries (for the head lamps and the cell phone back-up), some matches, a few band-aids and a couple of chap-sticks (which really come in handy when its windy).  Also, on the back of the lid for this compartment, which is not shown on the picture (but is shown in the picture of the rear pocket), is a couple of mesh pockets with a couple of camo head covers, a couple of pair of camo gloves and a spool of braid fishing line (which is what I use for decoy cord).


So there you have it.  As you can see there’s a lot of stuff inside a typical blind bag.  And, as I always say, I’d rather have it and not need it then need it and not have it.

So, You Want to Start Duck Hunting? (Part 3)

This is part three of a three part series on how to get started in duck hunting. In the prior post (part 2) we discussed shotguns and ammo.

Okay, now that you’re licensed and you’ve got your shotgun and ammo you’re almost done…NOT! Now you need to get the rest of the gear that will turn you in to a full-fledged waterfowler.

Next on your list should be waders. There are basically three types of waders, neoprene, rubber/canvas, and breathables. When I say waders I’m talking about full chest high waders, not hip boots. There may be a few ponds that you can get away with wearing hip boots but they are few and far between so you should get full on chest high waders. Even if a pond is only a foot and a half deep you can have problems with hip boots as, if you hit a soft spot on the bottom, you can sink a foot or so in the mud and once the water comes over the top of the hip boots you’re wet and (depending on the weather) cold for the rest of the day. I have had all three types of waders in my time. I have developed a preference for stocking foot waders as you can then tightly lace a pair of wading boots to them and you have no problem with the mud pulling the boot off your foot as I have always had in boot-foot waders. Lately I have leaned towards the breathables as, being I’m in Southern California, it usually isn’t cold enough to require the neoprene and its sometimes way to hot to be comfortable in the neoprene, especially if you have to walk any distance at all. With the breathables you can just wear long underwear and pants under them if you expect it to be cold. Expect to pay around $75 at least for a decent pair of chest high stocking foot waders (either neoprene or breathables) and an additional $40 or so for wading boots. If you prefer boot foot waders you might be able to find a decent pair for around $75 or so and not have to buy the wading boots.

Next is clothing. You should have the following, all in some type of camo pattern:

A long sleeve t-shirt, a sweatshirt, a jacket, some type of rain jacket (this can be a full on insulated rain jacket or a rain shell to just cover your other clothes to keep the rain off) a hat, a stocking cap and gloves. I tend to try and keep my camo patterns on the brownish side rather then the greenish side as most of the vegetation in the marsh tends to be on the brownish side of the spectrum. Check off season sales on this type of camo clothing, especially with some of the big on-line retailers. You can sometimes get some great deals if you hit the ads right. Expect to spend around $150 to $300 for this clothing depending on which sales you manage to get in on.

Now on to decoys. Decoys can be a controversial subject. There are many that think the more the merrier and then there are some that think less is more. For a start I’d say get at least a dozen. You can sometimes find good sales in the off season also. A good combo pack is the Avery Greenhead Gear puddler pack which gives you a nice variety of ducks for your decoy spread. Each puddler pack gives you 2 Pintails, 2 American Wigeons, 2 Green Winged Teal and cost about $35. Two puddler packs are enough to get you started and they’re great looking decoys. All you’ll need then is a little fishing line and a dozen 3 or 4 ounce weights (which, if you’ve ever fished, you might already have in the garage). The only other thing you’d need would be a decoy bag to transport the decoys in. You should be able to find one of those for about $10 or so. One tip on the bag. Take an empty water bottle and zip tie it to the bag. That way, if you drop the bag in the water it won’t sink and you won’t loose it.

Now on to calls. I wrote a post on calls a while back so I’ll just refer you to that. I’m not a big fan of calls unless you’re real good at it and it really takes a talent. Check this link for further on calls:

Seating is the next subject. Unless you want to stand up all day you’ll usually need something to sit on. There are some blinds that actually have seats in them already but, for the most part, you’ll need a seat to sit on. This can be anything from a 5 gallon bucket painted camo to a dove seat to a folding director’s chair in camo. Whatever you choose be sure it is either camo colored or some flat greenish or brownish colors. A decent dove seat goes for around $20. A bucket you might be able to find for $6 or $8 and then add some paint.

Lastly, what to carry all this stuff in/with? When you’re just starting out you can probably just carry the stuff in your hands and on our back. The bucket or dove chair (which usually has a pouch beneath it) can carry your loose items such as shells, calls, lunch and other assorted small stuff. The decoy bag can usually be carried on your back like a backpack and the shotgun can be carried in hand or with a sling over your back. The waders and clothing you’ll be wearing out to the blind. Later, when you fully caught the addiction and have accumulated all kinds of gear you’ll want to take out to the blind, you might want to invest in a cart for your equipment. One of the best I’ve seen is the Ducks & Bucks Cart Blind. I also did a review on the D & B cart a while back so I’ll refer you to that link if you’re interested:–-ducks-bucks-cart-blind/

So there you have it. The basics to get you started in duck hunting. Hopefully it will lead to a lifelong addiction, as it has with me, and I’ll see you out at the refuge from time to time.

So, You Want to Start Duck Hunting? (Part 2)

This is part two of a three part series on how to get started in duck hunting. In the prior post (part 1) we discussed getting licensed to hunt ducks.

Now that you have your license what’s next?

Well, next in importance is a shotgun. Without a shotgun you’d be a bird watcher out in the marsh so, what should you get for your duck gun? My personal preference is a pump action 12 gauge. My reason for this is mainly reliability and ease of use. Some people like semi-auto shotguns, as they don’t seem to “kick” as much and there are others that like a nice over/under double barrel. You might want to check at a local trap range and see if you can rent a couple different shotguns and see what your preference is. Another good source you might want to consider that could save you some money is if you have a local pawn shop that handles firearms you can sometimes pick up a used gun for cheap as well as checking out the consignment and used guns at the local gun shop. I’ll list a few of what I think are good starter shotguns for your consideration. Of course, the final decision is entirely up the the individual hunter and what he or she prefers and can afford:

Mossberg 500 – A very basic, pretty “bulletproof” pump action gun. They’ve been around for many years and work well. They can handle 3-inch ammo and are not too expensive. You can pick up a new 500 for around $280 to $300 or so. I have recently seen a deal at Big 5 for one of these that comes with 28 inch barrel with screw in chokes and another 18 inch barrel for home defense for about this much money. Many years ago I bought my son his first duck gun at a pawn shop and it was a version of a Mossberg 500 but is marked “New Haven 600AT”. I believe I paid about $125 for it from the pawn shop.

Remington 870 Wingmaster – Just take a look at the shotgun rack in any police car in the US and I’ll bet 99 times out of 100 you’ll see a Remington 870 sitting in that rack. These guys bet their life on these guns so you know an 870 is reliable. I’ve heard some of the newer “express” models aren’t as well made but I have no personal experience with them so I don’t know for sure. I do have a 50+ year-old 870 that used to be my duck gun. I mainly use it for upland now as it only handles 2 ¾ inch shells so when we had to go to steel I retired it from duck hunting. Most of the more recent 870s will handle 3-inch ammo and there are even a few around that they chambered for 3 ½ inch shells but they are hard to find. You’ll probably be looking at about $400+ or so for an 870. Another good one to look for used in a pawn shop or as a used gun at a gun shop.

Remington 1100 – The 1100 is a good basic reliable semi-auto. Of course, made by the same folks that make the 870. My preference is for pump guns so I have no personal experience with the 1100 but they have a reputation for reliability and, from what I understand, tame the recoil somewhat over what you’ll feel with a pump gun. Most will handle 3-inch shells although some of the older ones only took 2 ¾ inch shells. Again you can sometime find a deal on an 1100 at the local pawn shop or used at a local gun shop. 1100s go for around $500+.

Benelli Super Nova (or just Nova {older model}) – A newer style pump gun. These have a polymer stock and fore-end and come in black anodized or camo. Novas are a good reliable shotgun and will handle all ammo up to and including 3 ½ inch shells. This is what I use as my waterfowl gun and it works great. I don’t think you’ll see too many of these in pawn shops or on the used gun rack at your local gun store but they aren’t too pricy and you can walk out the door with a Super Nova for around $450 give or take a little.

As with all things, shotguns are a big personal preference item and these are just a few suggestions to get you started. Try some of them out and don’t be afraid of a used gun as most of them, especially the pump guns, are hard to mess up as long as minimal maintenance is done.

Now, the next thing you’ll need is ammo. What are you going to feed your shotgun? Of course, due to federal waterfowl regulations, you have to use “non-toxic” shot. This means steel, bismuth, tungsten or heavy shot. No lead! That’s a big ticket if you’re caught with any lead shot on your person or in you gear when you’re out duck hunting…don’t do it! Personally whatever I use I like it to be what’s referred to as “fast”. In other words I like mine to have a muzzle velocity of at least 1550 feet per second. I’ve seen some steel loads that have a velocity of 1300 fps or less. These, in my humble opinion, are too slow for reliable, kill shots on ducks. There are some newer non-toxic loads that have a velocity of 1625 fps or more. In the case of duck loads, as they say, speed kills. Steel shot will be your cheapest option and a box of 3” or 3 ½” “fast” steel shot loads will cost about $13 to $18. Other non-toxic loads (other then steel) can run anywhere from $15 to up to as much as $32 a box. A lot of these non-steel non-toxic shot shells come in boxes of 10 instead of boxes of 25 as most steel shot loads do, even with those afore mentioned high prices so you could be paying up to $3 a round or more for some of the more expensive types. As for shot size, personally I like #3’s. Lots of people shoot #4’s and a lot of people shoot #2’s. If there is a possibility of geese I usually carry a few rounds of BB or T size shot just in case.

Well, now that you’re armed and ready. In the next installment we’ll discuss the rest of the equipment you’ll need to get into duck hunting.

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