By Phil Bourjaily

The right kinds of shooting accessories can help you shoot better, more safely, and more comfortably, and they can help you continue shooting if something goes wrong. Here are some of the accessories I have found most useful.

Shotgun Slings

A sling keeps your hands free and allows you to keep your gun with you when you're rearranging decoys or picking up ducks. Rubber, neoprene, and paracord all work much better than leather. Neoprene has some give to it that makes it the most comfortable choice for long walks in. Some slings hold extra shells, which can come in handy when you're out of the blind. In place of a sling, which can be a burden in the flooded timber, many hunters prefer a loop just big enough to hang their gun on a hook. A heavy-duty zip tie run through the swivel stud on the magazine cap works too. If you don't want to put swivel studs on an older gun, there are slings with loops at the ends that fit over the barrel and onto the stock.

Recoil Pads

Many waterfowl guns come with very effective factory recoil pads. If your gun doesn't have one, a good aftermarket pad like those available from Kick-Eez or LimbSaver goes a long way toward taming recoil. Look for a pad that is custom-made for your gun. If you can't find one, most gunsmiths charge $50 to $100 to grind a pad. A slip-on pad adds both recoil protection and length to your stock. You can put it on for early season hunts and then take it off as you add layers of clothing later in the season. Heavy clothing absorbs recoil, and its bulk means you don't need the extra length afforded by a slip-on pad.

Fiber-Optic Beads

Some of the best shooting takes place in the worst light, when a brass bead on the end of your gun can disappear. A bright fiber-optic bead can help, but remember that the bead's job is to help you be aware of the muzzle in your peripheral vision, and that it shouldn't be used as a sight. Fiber-optic beads come standard on many guns and can be added to other guns either with a magnet or by choosing the right thread size to replace the factory bead.

Eye Protection

It's an unfortunate truth of waterfowling that on some of the best days you're staring into the morning sun. Dark glasses help, but most sunglasses have lenses so dark that they make it difficult to focus on a target. Choose the lightest tint you can stand and consider using amber or brown lenses, which will help make a duck pop against the sky. Bona fide shooting glasses will also protect your eyes from a freak ricochet and other debris.

Hearing Protection

Because waterfowlers hunt together in close quarters and shoot in volleys, we are at high risk for permanent and irreparable hearing damage. Foam earplugs provide cheap, effective insurance. If you want to be able to hear and still protect your ears, you'll find that mechanical ear valves work well. Electronic earplugs amplify sound, allowing you to hear jokes in the blind and wings overhead, and they shut down for an instant to protect your hearing when a gun goes off.

Gun and Ammo Care

Cardboard shell boxes come apart like tissue paper when they get wet. Neoprene shell box covers or plastic ammo boxes make durable replacements. For in-blind gun care, bring along a spray can of CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant, Preservative), a rag, a cleaning rod, a choke wrench, and a multitool to see you through minor repairs.