Hunting Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Duck Hunting

28. Duck Hunting 1

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You love to go hunting and it’s time to expand your skills. Maybe you’re interested in duck hunting and you’ve never been hunting before. It can be difficult to know where you should get started when you want to go duck hunting, but we’ll eliminate that difficulty today. We’ll show you how to legally hunt, what you should do while hunting, the gear you’ll need, and how to figure out what ducks are legal to hunt and which are not.

Are you ready for a fun experience? Then let’s get you ready for duck hunting season today.

How to Get a Duck Hunting License


Many hunting licenses for ducks and other migratory birds tend to be an annual license. They are issued with a specific end date that corresponds with the annual period set by law for the license. Because of this, it is important to know when the end of your duck hunting year is because you don’t receive a 12 month license. You receive an annual license that expires at the same time every year. If it expires on June 30, as it does in Louisiana, then purchasing it on May 1 doesn’t make much sense.

You’ll also need to be HIP [Harvest Information Program] Certified before a duck hunting license will be issued to you. Although the hunting licenses in the US are issued on a state-by-state basis, the HIP Certification is issued through a Federal Program. It can be obtained free of charge in most jurisdictions and is available from a local Wildlife Service Agent. You can learn more about HIP from the US Fish and Wildlife Service by visiting their website today.

You’ll also find that most jurisdictions will have resident and non-resident duck hunting licenses that are issued. In Louisiana, a resident hunting license is just $5.50, but for non-residents it is $25.00. For all migratory birds, it is $29 per day.

It is also necessary to obtain a hunting safety certification in most jurisdictions unless you are active military, a veteran, or hold POST certification through law enforcement training. Each state is a little different on what is actually required, so be sure to check on this requirement while applying for your duck hunting license.

How to Identify Legal Ducks for Hunting

Ducks are unique for hunters because their availability for hunting is based on local population levels at the time of the season. A duck species that was available for hunting last year may not be available for hunting this year. In any given season, there are going to be ducks that are considered to be off-limits. Even if you accidentally shoot the wrong species, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble with the local wildlife service.

Because of this, it is important to make sure you know what the hunting regulations are for ducks in your region. Some states even have different quotas available in different areas of the state. This is why it is important to know what you’re looking at when hunting ducks so you can identify the correct species.

Ducks Unlimited has a helpful guide to help you identify many of the common species of duck that are open to hunting at various times throughout the year. Sounds are also available to help you recognize the species before you fire so you’re able to collect the correct duck.

How to Find the Right Spot for Duck Hunting

28. Duck Hunting 2

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If you ask 100 different duck hunters what the best spot is for duck hunting, you’ll get 100 different answers. Finding the right spot often depends on the type of duck you’re hunting. Diving ducks generally require you to be positioned closer to a water source. Dabbling ducks and whistling ducks generally require you to stay camouflaged within shooting range, but further away from the water, to avoid being spooked.

With that being said, the moment you shoot at a duck is the moment you’re going to be forced to move your spot. Ducks are smart and they stop coming back to the places where they lose some of their friends or hear loud noises. Once you’ve found one good spot, expand your hunting grounds to other spots so you can make the most of your hunting license.

Always make sure you have permission to hunt on the land. If you’re using a lodge’s land or are participating in an outfitter’s tour, it is important to make sure they have a reputable history. Be mobile, be patient, and make sure you have the best duck hunting gear possible for your surroundings. Those are going to be the 3 keys that unlock your success.

How to Find the Best Duck Hunting Gear

Because duck hunting is a sport that is highly regulated, you’ll be spending a decent amount of cash just for the privilege of going hunting. Investing in the best duck hunting gear just makes sense because you’ll want the best chance possible to cash-in on the investment you’ve made. Here are some of the basics that you’ll want.

  • Waders. A good set of duck hunting waders will typically reach your chest, although hip waders will work in an emergency. Duck hunting typically requires you to sit in a wet environment, so use the chest waders to stay dry.
  • Decoys. Ducks are highly social birds. If they see some potential friends to visit, there’s a good chance they’ll make a stop. As long as the decoy looks realistic, you’ll be able to see results from your hunting venture.
  • Firearms. 3 inch magnums with a 12 gauge chamber is a solid standard for duck hunting. Get steel shells. Avoid shooting at ducks that are outside of your effective range because you’ll just scare them away and waste your ammunition. Patience is your friend.
  • Camouflage. Your clothing should match your surroundings. Check to see what orange camo laws exist in your jurisdiction. A facemask is a must-have for duck hunting.
  • Duck Calls. A decoy is good, but a decoy with a duck call is even better. Make sure you practice using it before going out for a day of hunting so you don’t scare the ducks away by using some bad duck language. 

Duck hunting with a dog can be a lot of fun. Some jurisdictions may charge you an additional fee for bringing a dog along. Although not necessary, having a dog along to retrieve a duck can be extremely useful – especially if the duck is in deep water and you don’t have a boat. Speaking of boats… you might want to have one of those along as well. Check for boat launching fees and other licensing regulations if you do use a boat before hunting to avoid unnecessary complications. 

How to Make Sure you have a successful hunting experience.

28. Duck Hunting 3

Source: Flickr.

The reason why many duck hunters come home empty-handed is because they stick out like a sore thumb. Ducks are very good at noticing environmental differentials and wild ducks aren’t going to stick around to see if a crazy human wants to feed them some bread or something. Some even believe that ducks can see color differentials better than humans. 

This means you’ll want some sort of roof cover in addition to your clothing camouflage. The best duck hunting gear in this category will have a cover that is made from the same materials as the field where you’re hunting. You may need to harvest grass, twigs, or small shrubs to create your hunting habitat to fool the birds to create a successful duck blind. 

It’s also important to remember that most duck flocks are going to circle an area a few times before they commit to settling in for a landing. Be patient during this process and allow them to land. Stay camouflaged to avoid having the ducks go on the defensive and fly away. 

How to Dress Your Duck Quickly

Once you’ve got your duck, you’ve got to be able to do something with them. Most hunters follow a technique that is called “breasting.” This basically means that you cut up the belly of the duck to remove the breast meat on each side of the bird. Once you’ve done this, you can freeze the meat until you’re ready to eat it – but frozen duck meat can be very difficult to render the fat and can be overly chewy.

For this reason, some hunters prefer to just gut the bird, pluck it, and then cook it whole. This process tends to be a little messier, but it avoids the difficult textures from the other storage method.

Some regions may also have processing centers which will accept your ducks. Although this increases your fees, the end result is a professional cut of duck meat that you can store or cook as you prefer.

6 Ways You Can Improve Your Duck Calling

Your ability to use a duck call will make or break your hunting experience. If you blow a good call, then the ducks will come in quickly and you’ll be able to have a successful run. If you blow it poorly, then the ducks are just going to laugh at you and keep a safe distance. Here is how you can work to improve your calls before you head outside.

  1. Invest into a solid duck call. Double reed duck calls are typically considered the best in the industry, but new modern designs can also bring success. Find a design that makes you comfortable and then start practicing. 
  1. Don’t call too much. Would you want to hang around someone who never stopped talking? Ducks feel the same way. If you call too much, then the ducks are going to stay away. Think of a duck call as a tool. 
  1. Use the duck call properly. You don’t want to use your duck call when your targets are already circling your area. Read the ducks to see if they’re being hesitant or are confused. Use the duck call to help them decide to stick around. Try to call when the ducks are moving their heads from side to side a lot for the best results. 
  1. Finish the call. Most ducks respond well to a 5-7 note greeting call. Be softer with your call when the ducks are closer to you and louder when further away. This may require you to invest into multiple duck calls for best results. Make sure you change up your call as well so you don’t drive them away with a monotonous sequence. 
  1. Spend time with your duck call. A lot of hunters keep buying duck calls because they think they’ll find a solution that makes them the Pied Piper of duck hunting. There isn’t a magic duck call. You’ve got to master each one to make it work and not every duck will respond to it even if you hit the call perfectly. 
  1. Maintain your duck call. If you’re using a plastic duck call, then soak it overnight before hunting in some liquid soap and water to remove stuck particles that can affect the call. Follow all manufacturers’ instructions to maintain reeds and other components. Even the best duck calls require retuning after a couple years. 

In Conclusion

The best duck hunting gear will help to keep you camouflaged. The right duck call can turn hesitation into action. Being able to identify the right species of duck can help you make sure you stay out of trouble while hunting. Duck hunting is highly regulated for a reason: these birds are important to our environmental infrastructure. You’ve got to be on your game to have a successful hunting experience.

By following this guide, you’ll be able to take your first steps forward toward becoming a duck hunting master. It takes skill, patience, and practice with your decoys and calls and that takes time to develop. Invest in yourself as much as you’ll invest into the permits to go duck hunting and you’ll see why so many hunters are addicted to this sport.

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