Save Money; Hire a Guide
For some hunters, saving money may actually mean hiring a guide for a couple of hunts each season instead of hunting on their own. This may sound incongruous at first—spending money to save money—but it's actually not. Comparing the cost of a guide to buying gear and all the other expenses involved with hunting on your own may tilt favorably to the first option. Also, when hunting with a guide, the odds are favorable that you'll be hunting in a good spot, in a quality blind, and over a hunt-tested decoy spread. As a result, if you can hunt only a few days a season, a guide may be the best value for your limited hunting dollars.
Strategies for Hunting Ducks on a Budget
Finding hunting spots and having the essentials are important, but it all comes down to what you do with what you have. Budget-minded hunters should look for a niche—a place, strategy, or time that other hunters don't know about or won't interfere with. Waterfowlers on a budget need to make up in knowledge and ability what they lack in cash, and there are several good ways to do this. One obvious way is to find a hunting spot that's not overrun by competing hunters. Such spots are out there, but, again, they take some legwork to find.
Try to find ducks that other hunters aren't pressuring, and then figure out how to hunt them.
For instance, I know a group of young Tennesseans who drive to Arkansas several times a season to hunt on a small state wildlife management area that receives little gunning pressure. Several years ago, they found a spot where a few ducks were working, and they've enjoyed many good shoots there since.
Another dependable strategy is learning where ducks go under various weather and water conditions and moving with them. After a heavy rain, fresh floodwater rising into fields or bottomland woods can attract large numbers of ducks. During a hard freeze, ducks may shift to rivers and lakes where water is still open. On a big lake, try setting up on an upwind point at the mouth of a feeder creek where trading ducks can see your decoys. On rivers, just run until you flush ducks (usually in a pocket or an eddy next to the bank), and then set up where they were resting.
By learning where and when to hunt, waterfowlers can stay in the action. This may require wading far back into thick cover on a public area where ducks have been pushed by hunting pressure. It may mean timing hunts to coincide with weather changes. It may mean scouting doggedly to find out-of-the-way beaver ponds and sloughs where birds like to loaf.
When it comes to hunting strategies, cost-conscious hunters should remember two Cs: complacency and creativity. You must replace the first with the second. Don't do what everybody else is doing and become comfortable with leftovers. Instead, try to find ducks that other hunters aren't pressuring, and then figure out how to hunt them.
Have the Right Mindset
Hunting ducks on a budget involves being frugal rather than frivolous. It means spending on necessities, but not gimmicks. It requires making up in effort what you conserve in cash outlay. Overall, duck hunting on a budget involves a mindset of thriftiness, but not an acceptance of mediocre shooting. There was nothing second-rate about the hunts my partner and I enjoyed so many years ago on that Tennessee wade-in area or on scores of similar hunts since. More dollars don't necessarily equate to more ducks. Waterfowlers who hunt on a shoestring can still fill their duck stringers, and the satisfaction of doing so has them laughing all the way to the bank.