by Wade Bourne
Big bucks! No, not the kind that grow antlers, but what many duck hunters spend to fund their sport: private clubs, fancy blinds, pricey shotguns, super-sized decoy spreads, and more. This is one undertaking that can suck up money like a bowling ball in quicksand.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Hunters can experience quality duck hunting while sticking to a budget. Penny-pinching hunters may have to hunt a little harder and smarter, but they can still find high-quality waterfowling.
So, if the recession has left a lasting impression, your credit card is maxed out, your kid's college tuition has skyrocketed, and you can't afford 24-carat duck hunting, don't despair. The quality of a hunt doesn't always rate proportionally to its cost. Here's how to cut corners to hold duck hunting expenses down and still enjoy great shooting.
Hunting Spots for Budget-Minded Hunters
For starters, forget the private clubs and leases. Owning or leasing a prime duck spot can cost a prince's ransom. However, there are plenty of options available to budget-minded hunters. All you have to do is find them.
First on the list are public areas: wildlife management areas, refuges, public reservoirs and natural lakes, free-flowing rivers and streams, military reservations, state and national forests, BLM lands, utility company lands and Ducks Unlimited projects.
Public areas? Aren't they always overcrowded and hyper-gunned? Some are, but others aren't. The best-known areas with the most ducks can be mob scenes. However, other areas that don't draw as many birds may still offer good shooting. This is where the "hunt a little harder" part comes in. Finding such spots takes some legwork, but they do exist and can be uncovered and enjoyed at little or no cost.
Another option is figuring out how to outhustle the competition on heavily pressured areas. This may mean going in earlier, walking in deeper, or staying out longer. For instance, when I was in my late teens and early 20s, a friend and I hunted a public wade-in area in west Tennessee where spots were available on a first-come, first-served basis. One hole in this flooded bottom drew ducks like a magnet. To claim it, my pal and I would wade in two hours before shooting time. We had some long, cold waits for sunrise, but we also took many limits of greenheads there. Other hunters weren't willing to get out so early, so we routinely claimed this prize.