By Gary Koehler
Times have changed, and so has waterfowl hunting gear—to a point. Truth is, we are still using the same basic equipment our grandfathers used, but in many cases, both form and function have been tweaked extensively. Simply put, technology has improved what we employ in the duck blind. Here’s a look at how some of the gear from the good old days compares to what we use today.
Granddad’s decoys ranged from hand-carved blocks made by local carvers to factory-made wood, cork, papier-mâché, balsa, or plastic. A primary consideration was weight: A gunnysack full of handcrafted wooden decoys was a load to carry. Back then, everyone wanted lighter decoys. Plastic (or tenite) decoys hit the big time shortly after the end of World War II. Among the major players of the time were Carry-Lite, which started making papier-mâché decoys in 1939; the Animal Trap Company of North America, best known for its Victor models; General Fibre Company’s Ariduck; Pascagoula Decoy Company; Neumann & Bennetts’ Plasti-Duk; Real-Lite; Wildfowler; Herter’s; and G&H, which put its first Canada goose shells in the field in the mid- 1930s. Movement? That would come from Flapomatic wing-motion duck decoys, which were powered by a yank on a rope.
Today? Well, technology has come a long way, and modern molding processes have helped produce some of the most lifelike decoys ever to hit the water. The paint schemes are realistic. Poses, or attitudes, vary. Heads turn. And you can purchase motorized decoys that swim, spin their wings, flutter, and tip up and down. Some can even be remote-controlled. Wood, cork, and other materials are still used to produce working decoys, but by and large plastic rules.
Whether making one’s way by foot through a swamp, setting out decoys before daybreak, or looking for the odd shotshell that fell on the blind floor in the dark, flashlights have been a part of duck hunting for decades. The first flashlight, a crude tool hand-made from paper and fiber tubes and fitted with a bulb and brass reflector, arrived in 1898 courtesy of a Russian immigrant, Conrad Hubert, who was a salesman for Eveready’s Joshua Lionel Cowen (yep, the toy train guy). Hubert obtained a patent in 1903 for a flashlight with an on/off switch. By the 1940s, flashlights were staples in households—and duck camps—across the country.
Duck hunters of the era had a love/hate relationship with their flashlights. The largest models required multiple batteries (as many as seven), which made them awkward and heavy to carry. And the batteries had a relatively limited shelf life and sometimes leaked, which corroded the contact points and rendered the flashlight unusable. Dropping one on the ground or the floor of a duck blind often produced similar results. Lenses and switches were frequent casualties of the rigors of waterfowling. And even when a flashlight worked perfectly, it hardly produced enough light to be of much aid when navigating by boat in the darkness. Heavy and unwieldy lanterns that attached to six-volt batteries were popular with waterfowlers during the 1960s and 1970s because these lights produced a larger, brighter beam.
Today’s flashlights are smaller, brighter, and sturdier than those Granddad used. Ten-million candlepower lights are available. Many flashlights are now equipped with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) instead of incandescent light bulbs. LEDs consume much less power and are extremely bright. Because LEDs are encased in plastic materials, they are also lighter and more durable. High-tech batteries, such as nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, and lithium, are more expensive but provide increased power. Rechargeable batteries are another option. On the cosmetic side, many of today’s flashlights are available in numerous camouflage patterns.