10 Essential Items for DIY Waterfowl Hunts

By John Pollman

If you are planning a do-it-yourself waterfowl hunting trip this fall, packing the right gear can make the difference between a successful adventure and a dismal failure. Here are 10 often-overlooked items that you shouldn't leave home without. 

1. Handheld GPS: A satellite-aided navigation device on the dash of your pickup truck is invaluable when driving in unfamiliar country. Better yet, a handheld GPS unit will allow you to mark the exact spot where flocks of hungry mallards are feeding in an Alberta pea field. Using a GPS while scouting unfamiliar territory helps eliminate confusion early in the morning, when even a few lost minutes can mean missed hunting opportunities.

2. Plat Map: Many state and county agencies publish plat maps that identify property lines, landowner names, and their contact information. An online search will help you find these maps, which can be invaluable for securing permission to hunt private land in sparsely populated areas.

3. Garden Tools: One of the best things about freelance waterfowl hunting is being able to move with the birds each day based on their roosting and feeding patterns. But changing locations on a daily basis also means hunters must find new ways to hide each morning. That's why Georgia hunter Mark Smith always brings a pair of pruning shears and a rake along on his waterfowling adventures. "Pruning shears can be used to cut willows or other cover for a makeshift blind," Smith says. "And a rake is especially helpful when trying to conceal a layout blind in crop stubble. One guy can use the rake to create a pile of chaff, stalks, or leaves while the others stuff the blinds. It's a huge time saver."

4. Walking Boots: If you plan to do any serious walking, you'll need to bring along comfortable footwear. This is especially true for chasing upland birds, whether it's Huns and sharp-tailed grouse in Saskatchewan or pheasants in the Dakotas. If the waterfowl hunting is particularly slow, a rooster pheasant erupting from a stand of switchgrass may be just what the doctor ordered.

5. Tow Strap: While you may not need it, pack a tow strap or chain in your vehicle before you hit the road. When your truck is mired in a muddy two-track in the middle of nowhere, you'll be glad you did.

6. Scouting Vehicle: Scouting is essential on any freelance hunting trip, but miles of driving in a gas-guzzling SUV can eat up a travel budget pretty quickly. Champion caller Field Hudnall (fieldprovencalls.com) suggests using a smaller, more fuel-efficient set of wheels for scouting. "Instead of scouting in a big diesel truck that gets 12 miles to the gallon, borrow or even rent a small economy car to scout in. You'll save money in the long run," Hudnall says. "One year we spent 21 days in Canada, and our primary scouting car was a small, purple hatchback. Embarrassing? Not when we were getting 25 to 30 miles per gallon!" 

7. ATV: In wide-open country like the prairies, freelance waterfowlers often have to transport decoys, blinds, and other gear long distances from their vehicle to hunting areas. Having an ATV to carry hunters and gear will make all the difference when the birds are using spots far off the road.   
8. Small Boat/Sled: A small car-top boat can be invaluable for crossing sloughs and retrieving downed birds in deeper potholes, while a sled will ease the pain of carrying heavy bags of decoys on your back across muddy fields. Both of these items take up a lot of space, so you might be tempted to leave them behind, but you'll almost always be glad you brought them along. 

9. Thank-You Notes: Knocking on doors and receiving permission to hunt on private land is still possible in some places, and rural landowners can be some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet. "It's always a good idea to stop by a landowner's home after a hunt to say thanks, even if the birds didn't materialize that morning," says South Dakota waterfowler Ben Fujan. "If they're not home, I'll leave a simple thank-you card with my contact information on it. Chances are they'll remember that the next time you stop around."

10. Traveling Kitchen: What a better way is there to cap off a day of waterfowl hunting than preparing a meal with the morning's harvest? If you've got room, throw a small charcoal grill in with your gear, or ask your place of lodging if there are cooking facilities available. Bring along a large plastic container filled with assorted pots, pans, plates, utensils and spices. And don't worry about presentation—your hunting partners won't notice. They'll be too busy eating, telling stories, and discussing plans for next year's trip!