How to Hunt Ducks

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

"If I must choose among the sports that draw me into the open, it will be duck hunting. No other sport with rod or gun holds so much of mystery and drama." -Gordon McQuarie, The Bluebills Died at Dawn

Hunters of my generation grew up believing we were heirs to a wasted legacy. By the time we were old enough to shoulder a gun, all that remained of the golden age of duck hunting were vintage tales by Gordon McQuarrie and Nash Buckingham.

Throughout our youth, drought and wetland drainage continued to take their toll on duck numbers. The number of duck hunters thinned, too. From an all-time high of 53,100 in 1977, Missouri waterfowl hunter numbers shrank to 22,500 in the early 1990s.

Then, something miraculous happened. Ducks Unlimited and other citizen conservation groups, together with state and federal agencies, restored millions of acres of wetland. When rain returned to drought-stricken nesting areas, duck numbers rebounded. Several duck species now are at or above their historic levels. Suddenly, the golden days of duck hunting are back.

Duck hunters’ ranks remain depleted, however. The sport requires specialized gear and knowledge passed from generation to generation. Once decoys were abandoned and the chain of inherited knowhow was broken, the fraternity of duck hunting couldn’t be restored to its former vigor overnight.

The following pages may not make you an expert, but they contain everything you need to know to get started. If you wonder why you should bother, I recommend reading Dabblers & Divers: A Duck Hunter’s Book, published by Ducks Unlimited and Willow Creek Press of Minocqua, Wis. It captures much of the magic of duck hunting.

Essential Gear

Any general-purpose shotgun 20 gauge or larger is practical for duck hunting. Modified or improved cylinder chokes are preferred.

Because lead shot poisons waterfowl and birds of prey, including eagles, waterfowl hunters must use ammunition with non-toxic shot. Steel is the least expensive alternative. It isn’t quite as heavy as lead, so it has a shorter effective range. However, years of experience have demonstrated that steel is effective at reasonable ranges. Other choices include bismuth/tin, tungsten/iron and tungsten polymer, all of which are ballistically superior to, but more expensive than steel.

The choice of shot size depends on type of shot, the size of the ducks you hunt and your average shot range. Experts recommend using steel shot two sizes larger than you would use if you were shooting lead shot

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