by Aaron Fraser Pass
So you've got your basic waterfowl gun and some well-selected nontoxic shotshell loads. (Hopefully your choices on these items were influenced by this column and others in this magazine.) What else do you need to hunt ducks and geese? In truth, not a lot. However, going past these basics, there are a few refinements and grace notes that might upgrade your shooting.
The first improvement to consider is one of those high-visibility, fiber-optic front sights. Usually seen (quite brightly) in orange or yellow-green, these little beauties collect and concentrate ambient light (diffused light that's already there) to really catch the shooter's eye.
OK, you're going to say that the shotgun should be pointed, not aimed, and the shooter shouldn't be searching around for the sights. That's exactly my point. These little "glow-in-the-dark" (well, nearly) front sights help your shooting by catching the shooting eye so you are instantly aware of the gun and its muzzle orientation and can immediately start focusing on and tracking the target as you should.
These sights are at their best on those cloudy, foggy days so often encountered while waterfowling. As any photographer can tell you, there's literally a lot more light out there than meets the eye on gloomy days, and these high-visibility sights can capture it to really speed up an accurate gun point.
After-market choke tubes? Well, this has an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" answer. If you have patterned your waterfowl gun with the specific nontoxic pellet you prefer and you like what you see, leave things alone. However, the one thing that many of the different nontoxic pellets seem to have in common is they can be pretty picky about choke constriction. And this isn't limited to the "whoop-dee-do" expensive pellets either. I've seen good old garden-variety steel perform erratically from standard chokes. Just to make things more interesting, I've seen different types of pellets perform poorly in one barrel and then "straighten up and fly right" when shot through another barrel marked as having the same degree of choke.
Sometimes a very small change, of only a few thousandths of an inch of choke constriction, can make a big difference in pattern performance. If you have one of those "anomaly" guns that shoots patchy or otherwise weird patterns, changing either your pellet type or choke can help. Today, you can get after-market choke tubes bored to just about any degree of constriction you want, and it is just a matter of experimenting until you achieve optimum pattern performance. (Avoid "super-full" turkey tubes. These are designed for lead shot only and some of the harder nontoxics, including steel, can cause problems in these extremely tight chokes.)
Some way of slinging your shotgun on your shoulder is a worthwhile thought for the waterfowler. I don't think I've ever met a waterfowl hunter who carried too little stuff to the blind and couldn't use an extra hand. Today many American shotguns are easily equipped with after-market sling swivels, and some come that way from the factory. This was not always so. The continental Europeans have always been fond of slings on their shotguns, but slings, and a method of attaching them, have been uncommon on American shotguns until recently.
Not all shotguns are easily equipped with sling swivels and a sling. For such guns, a case with a sling is the answer. There are some very good ones on the market that are also thick and protective, will float (with your gun inside), and come in popular waterfowling camouflage patterns. For really nice guns that you don't want to drill holes into (to install sling swivels) and also want to protect from the rigors of waterfowl hunting, these are a good deal.
I guess the final "fine-touch" shooting accessory would be the shooting bag. Back when muzzle-loading hunters carried unassembled ammo and a plethora of shooting gadgets to the blind, the shooting bag was an absolute necessity. Today it is merely immensely convenient. Not only does the bag carry your extra ammo, it serves as convenient storage. The shooting bag should be the place where your calls, shooting glasses, ear plugs, and other necessities "live" between hunting trips. Having a well-organized shooting bag means never having to say, "I forgot..."