The Beginner's Guide to Duck Hunting

So you’re interested in duck hunting, but you have no idea where to start. This is a common problem.Now that the majority of us don't have to hunt to live, it’s not really a skill that's widely possessed. Still, there is something about hunting that brings us back to our roots, back to the earth, any it's an itch that many people want to scratch - even if it's not a necessity. This article sets out to get you familiarized with the basics on how to start duck hunting so you can get out there and enjoy one of the world’s favourite outdoor past times.

How to Begin Duck Hunting: Your 6 Step Guide

Step 1. Go for the Kill. The first, most critical thing you have to ascertain is whether or not you can actually handle killing another living creature. As we already mentioned, the days where most of us have to kill to eat are long gone, so while a good many people still eat meat, not many actually have to kill for it. If you can't handle the kill factor, then duck hunting (or any hunting) isn’t for you.

Step 2. Find a Friend - if you can. Unlike many other kinds of hunting, duck hunting is usually a social event. Of course, this isn't to say it involves spending hours in a marsh, slamming back beers and cavorting loudly with 20 of your best buds. In fact, other than spending hours in a marsh, you probably won't be doing any of those things - at least while you are actually on the hunt. The point is you may be able to hook up with some experienced hunters to help get you started. Granted, like most social circles, some hunters stick with a strict clique, so if you don't already know people who hunt and/or if you cannot gracefully ingratiate yourself into an existing group of hunters, you may have to start your own little hunting posse, or go solo for the time being. If you have a mentor the process of learning how to duck hunt will be considerably easier, but it is far from impossible even if you have to go it alone. Just keep reading...

Step 3. Get the Gear. Before you can even head out, you should make sure you do your background work. Part of this involves educating yourself about how to start duck hunting - which you are doing here - and part of it will also involve learning what you need to hunt. We're talking appropriate clothing, guns and other gear.

You will also need to get the necessary licences and permits to hunt in your area. We're not going to lie, this can be costly, both in terms of time and money. Duck hunting is a highly regulated sport with a slew of restrictions set out to conserve duck populations, protect the rights of landowners and protect overzealous hunters from themselves.

As far as duck hunting equipment goes, here's your basic checklist. You'll need:

Waders. Preferably chest high waders, since unlike hip waders, chest waders will also keep you dry when you sit down, even if you’re not up to water that’s chest deep - which you rarely should be.

Decoys. A dozen is a good number to start with and the ecumenical mallard decoys are a solid pick no matter where you hunt.

Guns and Shells. A hunter's gun is like his baby; it's beautiful to him, so far be it from us to suggest otherwise. However, if you're totally lost and don't know what gun to choose, opt for a 12 gauge chamber with 3 inch magnums. This is a solid standard. ALWAYS buy steel shells. Lead is not permitted anywhere.

Shooting Quick Tip: Skip the Skybust! Skybusting (when you shoot at ducks that are too far away) is a waste of ammunition and time. Not only does it wound birds rather than kill them, meaning you've effectively scared off the other ducks without getting any bird for your bang, but you've also spoiled the hunts for other hunters in the area. The ducks are now on the defence and will b-line it as far away as possible. When shooting, you need to stay patient. Allow the ducks to circle the decoys a few times and come in closer. 20 to 30 yards is your prime shooting range.

Camo. Duck hunters are exempt from the highly stringent restrictions that govern the garb of most other hunters who are confined to a world of some pretty heinous (but admittedly, totally necessary) safety orange. You'll want to make sure both your clothing and your blinds match your surroundings. You don't want to build a green cane blind in a brown field, for example. Ducks aren't total dummies. They'll pick up irregularities. Likewise, when we're talking about camo, we're not necessarily talking about outfitting in army-inspired green duds. Camouflage, while often thought of as synonymous with army green, really just means anything that will help you blend in with your surroundings. When it comes to duck hunting, this usually means brown. Also, don't forget a facemask. Your bright and beaming face is an ominous sign for these wily waterfowl.

Duck Calls. Make sure you have your call handy and know how to use it. (We've got you covered. Read up on duck call technique here.)

Optional Gear: A dog and a boat. A dog can help you retrieve your ducks and a boat will increase your potential hunting area by allowing you to take to the water. While undeniably useful, neither of these is absolutely necessary.

Step 4. Find a Spot. There are countless places to duck hunt, you just need to know where to look. A quick Internet search will yield a plethora of results. It's up to you to do your due diligence and make sure you’re hunting where you’re allowed to hunt and, if you are hunting at a lodge or outfitters, that they are reputable. We give some pretty good advice on where to hunt waterfowl in our Complete Guide to Waterfowl Hunting in Canada.

It's important to bear in mind that you don't have to - and won't want to - stick to a spot. Being mobile and being patient will be two of your greatest assets. Don't shy away from seeking out new hunting grounds. If you stay in the same area day after day, you'll be pumping a dry well. After they've lost a few comrades, the ducks won't be coming back to that same area again for a while.

Step 5. Duck Differentiation. You absolutely must know your duck species to duck hunt legally practically anywhere. This is because not all ducks are fair game at the same time, and depending on conservation, they may not be available to hunt at all during some seasons – even if they were last year. It's imperative that you refresh yourself on duck hunting regulations for your intended hunting region every single season to see what ducks are on and off the table. Most of all, it is important that you know what the different species of ducks look like so you aren't bagging the wrong waterfowl.

Step 6. The Nitty Gritty. Once you've got your ducks in a row, you actually have to do something with them. The most common method of preparation is called breasting and involves cutting up the middle of the belly. You then remove the breast meat on each side of the bird and freeze it until you are ready to eat. Alternatively, you can pluck and gut the entire bird and cook it whole. The first time you do this will probably be a little messy, but fear not – practice makes perfect!