Low-Cost Decoy Spreads
The decoy spread is another area where hunters can cut expenses. While there's no question that hunting over a large spread of realistic decoys is effective, just a few good decoys set in the right place can also entice ducks to come in. In my opinion, being on the X is more important than having a four-star spread. In many cases, a couple of dozen decoys will suffice.
In situations where ducks will be working close or there's no competition, standard-size (less expensive) decoys will fill the bill. When purchasing decoys, alert hunters can save big bucks by looking for catalog or website "hot buys," online postings, and even estate sales. You can buy used decoys and touch them up, and you can also save a few dollars on rigging costs by purchasing heavy nylon line (brown or black) and making homemade anchors (pour small paper cups full of concrete or mold weights from melted scrap lead).
And then there are black plastic bottles. Years ago my hunting partners and I collected several dozen one-gallon milk jugs, dipped them in cold roofing pitch thinned with gasoline, and let them dry. Then we rigged these jugs with line and anchors and scattered them among the regular decoys in our large open-water spread. By doing so, we greatly increased the size and visibility of our setup for very little expense. The ducks loved this spread. They would land right beside the jugs with no hint of suspicion.
Saving Dollars on Equipment
Besides blinds and decoys, duck hunters use a broad range of other gear, and with almost every purchase, there is an opportunity to cut costs. For instance, hundred-dollar acrylic or wooden calls are nice to own, but many companies make $25 plastic calls that play beautiful duck music.
There may be some prestige in shooting a handsome over/under shotgun or a high-dollar autoloader, but more ducks have probably been taken with field-grade pump shotguns than any other type. Pump guns such as the Remington Model 870 have been favorites with duck hunting guides for decades.
Since lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting, ammo companies have marketed a range of nontoxic shot alternatives, including modern alloys that are even denser and more effective than lead. However, these shells are expensive, costing $2 to $3 apiece. In my experience, less expensive steel shot loads are capable of cleanly taking ducks at reasonable ranges. At the ranges at which most decoying ducks are taken, steel shot loads will perform nearly as well as their more exotic counterparts at a fraction of the cost.
Waders are one area where duck hunters shouldn't scrimp on quality. Tough waders with good foot insulation and features including pockets, shell loops, and D-rings are recommended. Most hunters prefer neoprene waders for their flexibility and warmth, but nylon waders cost less and still offer great service.
Hunters frequently need a boat to pursue waterfowl, but new camo-covered boats and outboards can definitely be budget-busters. Instead, consider buying a used rig and camouflaging it yourself. Just be sure to buy enough boat to hunt safely on the waters where you'll be hunting. Also, for two-man hunts on smaller, quieter waters, a canoe or johnboat and paddles are a low-cost alternative to a larger boat and motor. Both canoes and small johnboats can be transported on top of cars or in pickup beds, thus saving the expense and maintenance of a trailer.
Duck hunters commonly use camo clothing, a blind bag, binoculars, a thermos, flashlights, decoy gloves, mechanical decoys, and other accessories. But none of these items is an absolute necessity. Consider what you would like to have and what you can afford, and then assemble your gear accordingly.