I am an avid fisherman and hunter from the great state of Texas.
This article is the second in a series of articles iabout duck hunting public lands in Texas.
In this article, we answer the frequently asked question, "What basic equipment do I need when duck hunting public lands in Texas"?
The emphasis is on basic equipment for first-time duck hunters.
Note: As a general rule, always refer to the current Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual: Hunting and Fishing Regulations before heading out to the field. Beware of changes and refresh your understanding of the hunting regulations.
Equipment You Need to Hunt Ducks on Public Lands in Texas
Some of these items, of course, are a given, such as a shotgun and non-toxic shotshells.
- Nontoxic Shotshells
- Duck Decoys
- Duck Call or Mechanical Duck
Check out the shotgun(s) you already own and make sure the one you plan to use for duck hunting is capable of shooting steel shot. If you do not own one, purchase one keeping in mind the suggestions below:
- Use a shotgun that can handle steel shot. There are shotshells that use non-toxic material that acts like lead and will not damage older model shotgun barrels but for versatility use a shotgun that can handle steel shot.
- Use a shotgun that has a more open choke, such as modified, over a full choked shotgun. If the choke can be changed, use a modified or improved cylinder choke. Else, go with the existing choke if you already own a shotgun. In all cases, pattern the shotgun to determine where your shotgun is placing its densest pattern.
- Use a shotgun that can handle both 2-3/4" and 3" shotshells, preferably in 12 Gauge. A greater selection of shot sizes and availability of ammo provides for a more versatile shotgun.
- Use a shotgun that holds no more than three shotshells including the one in the chamber. If the shotgun is capable of holding more than three, verify the magazine can be "plugged" using a one-piece plug that can only be removed by disassembling the shotgun. Waterfowl can only be hunted using a shotgun that holds no more than three shotshells including the one in the chamber.
- Use a shotgun that fits.
When you check the fit, make sure the shotgun is unloaded and keep it pointed in a safe direction the entire time. To check the fit, place the butt of the shotgun in the crook of your arm (same arm as your trigger finger) and check if your trigger finger can reach the trigger comfortably. Then, mount the shotgun to your shoulder as if you were preparing to take a shot. Do this several times and note where you are looking and where the barrel is pointing.
If you cannot reach the trigger without effort, and you tend to move the barrel to where you are looking after mounting the shotgun to your shoulder, the shotgun may not be right for your physique. At this point, you can take the shotgun to your gunsmith to check fit and make adjustments, select another shotgun if purchasing one, or work with what you have or what you can afford.
And then: practice, practice, practice....!
Recommended shotguns: Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 Pump Action Shotguns.
2. Nontoxic Shotshells
"While waterfowl hunting, only nontoxic shot approved by the director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be possessed. Lead shot is unlawful!" *
Nontoxic shot may be made of steel, tungsten, or bismuth. When starting out we suggest steel due to lower cost compared to tungsten and bismuth.
Steel shot requires getting used to, due to its lighter weight compared to lead. When selecting a shotshell, pay attention to its shot size and velocity. A good all-around shotshell for duck hunting over decoys has a shot size in #2 and a velocity of 1500 feet per second.
Once you have a few ducks in the bag, make adjustments to shot size and go with what is working best for you.
* Reference: 2009-2010 TPWD Outdoor Annual: Hunting and Fishing Regulations, General Rules, Page 66
3. Duck Decoys
Next on the list are duck decoys. For starters, go with a dozen Mallard decoys. If cost is a factor, look for a sale at the local sporting goods store. If this is still out of the question, try a dozen Teal decoys or go with a half dozen Mallard decoys.
Remember that you will have to buy anchor weights, decoy lines, and a decoy bag, and that will drive the cost of decoys up.
As a worst-case scenario, do without decoys and focus more on pass shooting opportunities. Or, partner with a hunting buddy who either has decoys already or share the cost of a dozen.
We strongly suggest a set of waders. Ducks like water; therefore, plan on wading through water to get to the ducks.
When choosing a set of waders, consider the area you plan to hunt. Hip waders work well in mud flats and shoals but are not the wader of choice when hunting lakes flooding over from recent rains.
Also, when purchasing waders, take into account the weather and temperature in your area. South Texas may not require insulated waders except for a few weeks in the season. Make do with a warm underlayer. Further north, insulated waders make for the better choice.
5. Duck Call or Mechanical Duck Decoy
Tough decision: should a duck call or a mechanical duck decoy be a basic equipment need for duck hunting?
My thoughts are: purchase both but use the mechanical duck decoy while you learn to use the duck call. Once you are proficeint, then use the duck call in combination with the mechanical duck decoy.
Early in the season a mechanical duck decoy can make the difference between success and failure. It can attract ducks from afar more consistently then a bad or ill-timed quack on a duck call that will send flocks packing.
So, we suggest buying a mechanical duck decoy, and then practice, practice, practice on learning how to use a duck call.
The next article in this series will explain how to use a duck call.
Dress in layers so you can adjust to changing weather conditions and be sure your outer wear is camouflaged or drab in color - preferably brown or olive.
If pressed for funds, stop by the Goodwill Store and look for deals in wool blend clothing and include wet weather gear to brave the rain and/or snow.
Parkas with insulated overalls are outstanding choices for cold weather but can be expensive. Therefore, we suggest the following layers below as a minimum:
- UnderArmour Cold Weather Long-Sleeve Shirt (or Long-Johns Shirt)
- "Long-Johns Pants
- Wool Socks
- Long Pants (Blue Jeans, Camo Hunting Pants, Brush Pants)
- Camo / Drab Tee-Shirt
- Camo / Drab Long-Sleeve Shirt
- Wool Gloves (trigger finger exposed)
- Camo / Drab Wool Sweater
- Camo / Drab Hoodie
- Camo / Drab Hunting Jacket (Water-Resistant or treated with Scotchgard)
- Camo / Drab Poncho or Rain Jacket.
- Headgear (Wool Watch Cap to cover ears)
- Camo Head Net
Remember to add or remove layers as weather dictates. In extreme cold, double-up where needed and pay close attention to your hands, feet, and head; keep them protected.
Recommended accessories that will come in handy while duck hunting.
- Camo / Drab 5-Gallon Bucket. Store your accessories to keep them dry and then use it to sit on while hunting.
- Duck Strap or Tote. Hang your ducks to separate them from one another and allow for a more rapid cool down to reduce spoilage.
- Leatherman Multi-Tool. Comes in handy when tightening the wing nuts on the mechanical duck decoy and doubles as many other tools.
- Hunting Vest with deep pockets to hold shotshells and other accessories.
- LED Headlamp and Flashlight
- Water and Snacks (Peanut Butter/Cheese Crackers, Power Bar, Granola Bar, etc)
- Toilet Paper ('nuff said)
- Hand Warmers
- Extra Decoy Line
- Electrical Tape and/or Duct Tape
- Aspirin and Benadryl
- Camo / Drab Bandanna
- Fluorescent Orange Vest and Hat (as required, some hunting areas require while walking in/out of a hunting area).
- Shotgun Sling for carrying your shotgun when walking in/out of the hunting area and when picking up decoys. Ducks seem to commit to your set when you are in the least likely position to shoot.
The above seems like a lot of equipment but should fit in a 5-Gallon Bucket and your Hunting Vest. Also, when walking in, anticipate carrying your Shotgun on a sling, your decoys over your shoulder in a Decoy Bag, and the 5-Gallon Bucket. If you have a mechanical decoy, carry the wings in the 5-Gallon Bucket and the decoy and its metal post in your Decoy Bag.
Be prepared to break a sweat while walking to your hunting area... that you scouted earlier (hint, hint, hint) before the season started. And remember, once you take your first duck, the work is well worth it.
But, be forewarned, duck hunting can become an obsession!
Two Suggestions Before Buying Equipment
Before buying equipment for duck hunting, we offer two suggestions: Find an area that you can hunt, and use what you already own.
Finding an area to hunt involves:
- Identifying public lands that offer duck hunting opportunities;
- Scouting them for game and learning the "lay of the land/lake/area";
- Locating walk-in access points and boat ramps and the impact of lake level changes that may affect access;
- And, understanding applicable rules and regulations for the area you plan to hunt.
- Note: Check out Chester Moore's book, "Texas Waterfowl" and the TPWD: Annual Public Hunting Permit Information and Maps booklet for information on public lands available for duck hunters.
Using what you already own means deciding if gear you already have in hand can also be used for duck hunting. Some examples are:
- Fishing Waders
- 5-Gallon Bucket
- Cold-Weather/All-Weather Hunting Gear
- Blaze Orange Vest/Hats
PS: Waterfowl Identification
One note before you hunt' be sure to learn to identify waterfowl before you hunt.
Go to local community lakes and ponds, and watch and observe them in flight.
Keep a Field Guide handy... previously we suggested checking the NPWRC Waterfowl Identification, but the link is no longer available. Better to get a Field Guide!
FAQ #3: Next Article
For our next article, we plan to answer the frequently asked question, "How do I use a Duck Call?"
Good luck and good hunting!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Add your suggestions on basic equipment needed to hunt ducks.
Lorenzo M Vasquez III from El Paso, TX on February 09, 2011:
Very informative. Great Article!!!