Learn How to Become a Better Waterfowl Hunter
- Learn to Identify Waterfowl Species
- Where to Hunt: You need to scout for, and find ducks and geese in marshes, fields and big water.
- When to Hunt: Mornings, evenings or during the day.
- How to Decoy and Call in Ducks and Geese: Knowing the basics of duck hunting will produce limits.
- Hunting Dogs: A good retriever is priceless.
- How to Cook Waterfowl: Maybe the best part of the hunt is the fine cuisine, but you need to know how to cook your ducks and geese.
- Waterfowl Hunting Gear: Having the right equipment will make a big difference.
Have questions about one of our bird hunts?
We’re here to help you book the perfect hunt, and our advice doesn’t cost you a thing.
Where to Hunt Ducks and Geese
I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true…ducks and geese are where you find them. Get away from the crowds and keep your eyes to the sky, and birds will reveal themselves. You’ll get better at it over time.
Alaska duck hunting season runs from December through January.
The waterfowl are in their full winter plumage and make beautiful trophies for collectors. The sheltered bays offer good protection for the wintering ducks, but keep in mind, this is Alaska in the middle of the winter. Come prepared for wind, rain, snow and cold. Warm layers of comfortable clothes, wool and fleece are recommended. Be sure to bring one heavy coat for sitting in skiffs or blinds.
Nebraska offers many waterfowl hunting opportunities.
With a variety of wetland habitats that ducks and geese use both during fall and spring migration, this state is blessed with exceptional hunting. The Nebraska waterfowl hunting season starts with teal in September, the light goose conservation order in February and the regular duck and goose seasons in between. Sometimes you can even get in some good upland bird hunting as well if that strikes your fancy.
Saskatchewan is home to one of the largest duck populations in Canada.
When you go to Saskatchewan waterfowl hunting, you can expect to see thousands of “honkers” filling the sky; the fields will be so covered in snow geese it will look like it just snowed, and the sandhill crane hunting is phenomenal! Plus there are high bag limits. Are you ready for a world class waterfowl hunt?!
Look no further than Wyoming waterfowl hunting.
In the cold winter months for the quality and quantity of ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes you’re looking for! If you can’t find solid populations of mallards in other states, or Canada, a Wyoming waterfowl hunt has got you covered!
When to go Waterfowl Hunting
When it comes to duck hunting, weather matters.
To make the most of your days in the field, waterfowlers need to understand weather patterns and how they affect duck and goose behavior.
Waterfowl Hunting in Stormy, Windy Weather
Normal people don’t like storms much, but duck hunters love them! When it’s windy, the birds stop feeding during the night and move more during the day, and are limited to areas protected by the wind. It’s also easier to trick those eyes because there isn’t a problem with glare and there is tons movement caused by the wind. Dress warm, stay mobile, and adapt to changing wind directions and you’ll do well.
Clear, sunny skies make for some tough hunting. The birds can go wherever they want on days like this so they are more scattered. On days like this, perfect camouflage is essential, and beware of glowing upturned faces. Patterning is extremely important, and take notes. Once you’ve determined where the birds fly during clear skies, you can intercept them on a future hunt.
When the cold is extreme, the shallow water freezes over, which concentrates the birds on remaining open water. On top of that, because the birds need more calories, they’ll fly out to feed twice a day. All good right? Well, not quite…that cold weather can be tough to deal with, and the right gear is important.
A good tactic is to work open river channels until you jump a flock of ducks, then quickly set up your decoys in strings along the edges out of the wind. Hide the boat and stand next to cover in your waders, waiting for the birds to come back. Enduring the cold is the hard part.
Hunting During Snowstorms and in the Fog
When you can’t see, neither can the ducks and geese. This makes calling even more important than in other situations. Waterfowl hunting in snow and fog can be super exciting.
Here are some tips for setting up a good decoy spread:
- Make sure your spread is visible. Simply setting a good spread in an area where ducks will see it can result in a productive hunt.
- Don’t let the water around your decoys freeze. For the ultimate solution to this problem, consider purchasing an ice eliminator such as the Ice Blaster from Higdon Decoys.
- Hunt the water for geese. When everybody else is hunting geese in the fields, set up a floating spread where there is less hunting pressure.
- Use goose decoys for duck hunting. Goose decoys are larger, and therefore easier to see in the fields. And don’t forget silhouettes, they give the illusion of movement in your spread.
- In flooded timber, spread out your dekes.
- Leave room in your spread for the birds to land.
- Coot decoys set up against the bank give the ducks confidence.
- Make your spread look real. Supplementing your spread with feeder, rester, and sleeper decoys can help create the illusion of a flock of live birds, which is what setting a spread is all about.
Basic Calls for Duck Hunting
- The Basic Quack. People use ‘qua qua qua’ when there needs to be a clean, crisp, ‘quaCK’ instead. Stick to the basics and end your quacks, and everything else is second. [listen]
- Greeting Call. A series of 5 to 7 notes in descending order at a steady even rhythm, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc. Best used when you first see ducks at a distance. [listen]
- Feeding Call. Say “tikkitukkatikka,” into the call raising and lowering the volume slightly. [listen]
- Hail Call. Use the hail call sparingly. If the ducks are coming in, forget calling. When you do use it, blow high, hard, and loud. [listen]
- Comeback Call. Use this call when the ducks don’t respond to your greeting or you want an immediate response, such as in timber. It’s more urgent sounding and faster, like Kanckanc, Kanc, Kanc, Kanc. It’s fast and hard, with 5 to 7 notes. Don’t overcomplicate it. [listen]
- Lonesome Hen Call. The lonesome hen is an often overlooked call that can be very effective, especially when ducks are call-shy. It should be spaced out, and quick, with several seconds between. If the quacks are too close together it scares the ducks. And keep in mind that the lonesome hen is somewhat low and throaty. [listen]
- Pleading Call. Many callers save the pleading call for stubborn ducks flying 75 to 200 yards above you that refuse to come in. It’s the caller’s way of literally pleading with the ducks to come into or return to the spread. [listen]
- Whistling Calls. Whistles are also a great way to get youngsters involved in hunting, because there’s no way they can mess it up. [Mallard Whistle] [Pintail Whistle] [Wigeon Whistle]
The Best Retriever Breeds
A good retriever is priceless for duck and goose hunting.
Here’s a list of the top 10 retriever breeds in no particular order.
For more than 20 years in a row now, the Labrador retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the United States. This isn’t a fluke. They are proven waterfowl and upland game hunters, great family dogs, intelligent, strong swimmers, and have an intense drive.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Wealthy owners of duck clubs that lined both shores of the Chesapeake Bay during the 19th century set the basic breed type of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Old-time sportsmen hoping to exploit this duck hunter’s paradise built a retriever well-suited to the bay’s frigid waters. The thick, oily, double coat of the Chessie is both insulating and waterproof; it repels moisture much the way a duck’s feathers do. Chessies are more emotionally complex than the usual gundog. Chessies take to training, but they have a mind of their own and can tenaciously pursue their own path. They are protective of their humans and polite, but not overtly friendly, to strangers.
The Golden Retriever is one of the most lovable of the bird dogs. This Scottish beauty is serious in the field, and obedient and fun to be around at home. A perfect family dog for the hunter who likes to hunt waterfowl. The only bad thing about them is that their popularity has diluted the gene pool, so if you’re looking for a good hunter be sure to do your research and find some proven field lines.
American Water Spaniel
The American Water Spaniel is a rare breed that was developed in the United States. They perform well in all endeavors but excel in the field as either a waterfowl retriever or upland flushing dog. The typical American Water Spaniel is happy, energetic, and eager to please. They are a great choice for the waterfowler who hunts from small boats or canoes.
Boykins were bred to hunt not only waterfowl but also wild turkeys, which is surprising when you consider the breed’s diminutive size. In addition to their work on water, they are also sometimes used by dove and quail gunners in the southern states.
Irish Water Spaniel
Sometimes called “the best kept secret of the dog world,” it is the largest of the spaniels, bred originally to be a gundog for retrieving fowl both on water and land. They have powerful endurance and bold eagerness enlivened by a clownish sense of humor, making them wonderful with families.
Flat-Coats are among the happiest of all breeds. They mature slowly; some owners say that they never grow up and act like puppies into old age. This highly energetic breed requires lots of outdoorsy exercise, making them a great choice for waterfowlers.
We realize that many of you may scoff at this one, but poodles have been retrieving wild game long before firearms were even invented. Poodles are great water dogs, and rank second in canine intelligence only behind the border collie. Even that goofy haircut was originally for hunting. The thicker coat around the head and torso worked to keep the dog’s internal organs warm in cold water and the shaved back end was designed so as not to impede the dog’s swimming.
Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retriever
While the Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever functions well as a traditional duck dog, its hunting role has varied historically. Tollers once served waterfowl hunters by running up and down the shoreline with the purpose of attracting curious waterfowl within gunning range. Tollers feature a water-repellent double coat, making them hardy in cold-water environments. This breed takes a special training hand and does not thrive when pressured or forced.
How to Cook Waterfowl
Maybe the best part of the hunt is the fine cuisine, but you need some good recipes, and know how to cook your ducks and geese.
Traditional recipes for the waterfowl hunter include simple roasted wild goose, and duck gumbo. Both of these recipes have been popular for generations. Whether you like your duck roasted, seared, grilled, or confit we have a delicious recipe for you.
Some tips for cooking waterfowl:
- Waterfowl breasts need to be rare to medium. If you overcook them, they’ll taste livery.
- Legs, thighs and wings, need to be slow cooked so that they’re tender.
- Diving ducks often need to be brined in 1/4 cup kosher salt to 1 quart of water overnight in the fridge to soften any possible fishy taste.
- Test the flavor of the fat by cutting off the “Pope’s Nose,” or tail of the duck, and render out the fat in a small frying pan. If the fat smells bad, brine the duck overnight.
Learn to Identify Ducks and Geese
Most hunters split ducks into four groups: puddle ducks (dabblers); diving ducks; sea ducks; and whistling ducks (tree ducks).
Mallard; Wood Duck; American Black Duck; Northern Pintail; American Wigeon; Gadwall; Blue-Winged Teal; Cinnamon Teal; Green-Winged Teal; Northern Shoveler
Canvasback; Greater and Lesser Scaup; Redhead; Ring-Necked Duck; Bufflehead; Common Goldeneye; Ruddy Duck; Merganser
Oldsquaw; Surf Scoter; White-winged Scoter; Common Scoter; Harlequin; Common Eider; Stellar’s Eider; Spectacled Eider; King Eider
West Indian Whistling Duck; Black-bellied Whistling Duck; Fulvous Whistling Duck
Suggested Gear List for a Waterfowl Hunt
*The gear list is an important subject matter and does require personal contact with the outfitter prior to departing from your home.
- Hunting license with required stamps, photocopy of personal ID
- Shotgun with floating gun case
- Ammunition as required by state
- Quick shotgun cleaning kit
- Decoys, various, field and floating
- Decoy bag
- Game-toting bag
- Duck Calls, Goose Calls
- Insulated, waterproof outerwear including gloves and hat
- Waterproof boots, heavyweight socks
- Wader liners
- Wader repair kit
- Chemical warmers for hands and feet
- GPS *we like the Garmin inReach
- Protective eyewear, earplugs