By Wade Bourne
Several years back, a friend and I were running his boat up a west Tennessee stream, trying to get to where we'd seen ducks working. We made good progress until we were stopped by a fallen tree that stretched from bank to bank. Guess that's the end of this exploration, I thought to myself.
But I had underestimated my partner. He killed the outboard, opened a dry box—and pulled out a chainsaw. It took him only a few minutes to saw the tree out of our path.
Several hundred yards farther we flushed a swarm of ducks from a slough adjacent to the creek. We tossed out our decoys, hid in nearby bushes, and enjoyed a steady shoot as the birds trickled back to their resting spot.
Of course that's an extreme example. But my point is that it never hurts to be prepared. Following is a somewhat random list of gear that I always keep handy while waterfowling. Obviously, different items will be applicable in different hunting situations. But any of them could help save the day on your next duck hunting trip.
- Camo netting. I keep a large section rolled up and stuffed in a tote bag for hiding hunters, dogs, boats, ATVs, etc. I prefer military-issue camo strips stapled onto heavy string netting. This type of camouflage can be purchased at most military surplus stores.
- Cable ties. I carry several of these plastic fasteners in my blind bag. They work great for building, brushing, and repairing blinds, as well as for binding and fixing various gear.
- Brush cutters. Whether you choose a small ax, machete, or limb pruners, having some kind of tool for cutting brush or trimming limbs is essential for boat-in or walk-in hunters.
- GPS. This device can lead a freelance hunter to the "X" and get him back to the truck when the hunt is over. I prefer the Bushnell BackTrack, a simple three-waypoint device that's the size of a hockey puck.
- Facemask. It's surprising how many duck hunters don't carry a facemask. The eyesight of ducks and geese is better than most hunters realize, and waterfowl can pick up the shine off a hunter's face on both sunny and cloudy days.
- Multi-tool. Knife, screwdriver, punch, file, and pliers all in one—these practical gadgets allow you to carry the equivalent of a small
toolbox on your hip or in your blind bag.
- Life jackets. Each hunter in a boat is required to have his or her own Coast Guard–approved personal flotation device, and each hunter should be required to wear it when the boat is under way. Life jackets save lives.
- Jerk string. This rig, which includes a bungee cord, 50 yards of tarred nylon twine, and snaps for attaching decoys to the line, can be deployed quickly when a lack of wind leaves the decoys and the water's surface unnaturally still.
- Headlamp. A headlamp leaves your hands free for handling a boat and decoys or toting gear to the blind in the predawn darkness.
- Cell phone. Most hunters carry them—for good reason. A cell phone can be a lifeline in medical emergencies, and can help you out of a jam if your boat motor quits or your truck gets stuck. Carry the phone in a resealable plastic bag to keep moisture out.
- Marsh seat. These portable seats are compact, lightweight, and sturdy—great for taking a load off when hunting in marshes and fields.
In short, when it comes to gear, carry what you think you'll need—and then take along extras. Shells, calls, batteries, hand warmers, snacks, decoy string, toilet paper, first-aid kit, etc. I keep a "possibles bag" stocked with such extras in my pickup. It's amazing how many times I'll dig through this bag for replacements each season.
BEYOND THE BASICS While the following tools are not essential, they are useful in enough situations to be counted among my favorite duck hunting gear.
- Wading staff. I've used the same cherry wading staff for 20 years. It has saved me from countless falls in soft-bottom marshes and stump-strewn swamps. I never leave home without it.
- Layout blind. In my opinion, this is the best piece of waterfowling gear to come along in decades. Its portability, versatility, and capacity for hiding hunters in wide-open areas offer many advantages to those who use them.