Waterfowler's Notebook: Seven Essential Skills for Waterfowlers

All duck and goose hunting know-how begins with these fundamentals 
By Wade Bourne

Mastering basic skills is the first step toward success in any endeavor, duck and goose hunting included. It takes some work, but the effort is fun, and the results can be extremely satisfying. The more experience a waterfowler gains, the more proficient he or she will become in this quest. 

But first you must start with the basics. These are the building blocks that will lay a solid foundation for everything that follows. Here's a list of the essential skills that all waterfowlers must have to consistently bag ducks and geese.


1. Shooting. A successful duck or goose hunter must learn how to operate and shoot a shotgun with at least a fair degree of proficiency. You must also know and follow the basic rules of firearms safety. Attend a hunter safety course. Take lessons from a shooting instructor. Then work on improving your shotgunning skills by practicing at the skeet or sporting clays range during the off-season.

2. Calling. You don't have to be a competition-level caller to lure ducks and geese into your decoys. Learning the five-note greeting call and feeding chuckle will pull ducks in, while the long-range hail call and double-cluck will do the same with geese. Ask an experienced caller to teach you how to blow air into a call. Then practice regularly to improve your calling. Be sure not to overdo it when you're hunting; it's best for beginners to err on the side of calling too little rather than too much.

3. Dressing properly. Since waterfowling takes place in all kinds of weather, duck and goose hunters must learn to dress appropriately for conditions at hand. Purchase a quality parka and additional clothing such as moisture-wicking thermal underwear, heavy pants, a shirt, a vest or sweater, wool socks, warm gloves, a hat, and a neck gaiter. Learn to dress in layers to meet temperature extremes. All outer garments must be waterproof. Also, for hunting in water, buy the best waders you can afford. 

4. Concealment. If ducks and geese see you, they won't come within shooting range. This is why waterfowlers must master the art of concealing not only themselves, but also their blinds, boats, guns, and other gear. A broad range of camouflage gear and clothing is available to help hunters blend into natural surroundings. Match camouflage patterns to the types of habitats you will be hunting. When camouflaging a blind or pit, try to use grass and branches that will blend in with the landscape. Keep in mind that there's no such thing as putting too much cover on a blind. Cover it up, then create a shooting hole and stay back in the shadows when ducks are circling.

5. Rigging and setting decoys. Using decoys effectively is both an art and a science. A number of factors come into play, including choosing which types of decoys to use, how many to set out, and how to rig and deploy them for different hunting situations. My book "Decoys and Proven Methods for Using Them" (WadeBourneOutdoors.com) explains everything a beginning waterfowler needs to know about using decoys to pull ducks into shotgun range. 

6. Identifying waterfowl. Waterfowlers must be able to identify ducks and geese both on the wing and in hand. Harvest regulations specify restrictions on certain species, and beginning hunters must be able to ID their ducks to avoid bag limit violations. To learn how to identify waterfowl, visit the DU website at ducks.org/hunting/waterfowl-ID.

7. Scouting. To be successful, duck and goose hunters must hunt where the birds are. Waterfowl trade around frequently as food and habitat availability changes. During a freeze they will move to open water. After a rain, they will seek out recently flooded areas where fresh food is accessible. Study the movements and patterns of waterfowl and scout diligently to find birds in different water conditions.