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Duck hunting is easily the most gear intensive hunting you can participate in. Boats, guns, calls, decoys, blinds, waders, and hunting leases can leave even the thickest wallets empty. The good news is many high priced versions of these items can be substituted with less expensive options. There are several cost saving measures duck hunters can utilize.
We are all part of the largest hunting lease in the world. Public hunting land in the United States is measured in millions of acres. In my home state of Wisconsin alone, there are over five million acres of public hunting land. Of course, there are millions of people with access to this land. Finding a place you can hunt in peace takes a little work.
Get a map of public hunting grounds. Many states publish a map with all state and federal public areas. However, county properties are often just as good if not better. Once you’ve found a few potential hunting spots in your area, check out an aerial map on a site such as Google maps. I’ve often found small, out of the way ponds and backwater sloughs by looking at aerial maps. I would have never found many of my favorite hunting spots without these maps. The more out of the way and difficult to get to the better. Generally, the less pressure a body of water gets, the more birds it will hold. Some of these places will require you to work a little harder and a little longer to get to them, but the hunting will be worth it.
Where you hunt will have a lot to do with your boat. For the truly low budget hunter, a boat really isn’t necessary, especially for hunting public areas. You can simply walk in to your chosen spot with a bag of decoys and set up. I purchased a kayak a few years ago and find myself using it more and more for duck hunting. I slide my gun between my legs and pull a decoy bag behind me. I picked up the kayak on sale for $250 and can hunt all the small rivers and marshes in my area. It’s easy to store and a lot of fun for summer excursions as well.
When it comes to guns, the choices are limited only by the size of your checking account. Gorgeous over-unders and camo clad semi automatics grace the covers of magazines. Those guns typically start at around $800 and work their way up from there. However, a pump shotgun will do just fine.
The Remington 870 has probably killed more ducks in the last 25 years than any other gun. The Wingmaster model is a work of art in it’s own right. The 870 Express isn’t as pretty but has legendary reliability and all the features an aspiring duck hunter needs. You can pick up a brand new one for around $350 and used 870s usually sell for around $250 depending on the condition. My first shotgun was a Mossberg 500. This is another very reliable gun you can pick up for about $300.
Decoys are another considerable expense. Most duck hunters are going to want a couple dozen to get started. Sure, you can spend $100 a dozen on some nice super magnum decoys but it’s not necessary. Flambeau, Greenhead Gear, and a handful of other companies offer affordable decoys for as little as $25 a dozen.
A good portion of my faux flock is made up of Flambeau water keel decoys I purchased for $20 a dozen. Sporting good stores charge $7 or $8 for decoy line. You can buy the same stuff at a craft store for a dollar or two. It’s called braided nylon at the craft store. Personally, I think it’s worth it to buy decoy anchors. But I do know a few guys who made their own by filling plastic cups with quick set concrete. Seems like a lot of work to save $5.
If there is one thing you should spend money on as a duck hunter, it is waders. In the South, 3 mil neoprene with 400 grams of Thinsulate in the boot will do the trick for most hunters. For flooded timber hunters who will be standing in the water, sturdier neoprene and a little more insulation will be beneficial. If you hunt in northern states, buy 5 mil waders with at least 800 grams of Thinsulate in the boots. During early season hunts you can pull down the chest section and wear them as waist waders. I have rarely been too hot while duck hunting in Wisconsin but I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone home cold. Insulation is good!
As far as blinds are concerned, I don’t use them when hunting water. I used to hunt out of a boat blind but it was a hassle and I’m convinced birds would flare because of the blind no matter what I did to make it blend into the surroundings. I prefer to tuck into some cover and hunt from there. It’s easier to hide a person than a boat. I usually tie off the kayak upstream or if the cover is thick enough, just push it into the brush.
Calls are a lot like guns. You can buy an expensive one, but a moderately priced call will kill just as many ducks. Many of the high end calls are marketed toward competition callers. Even high end call companies will make less expensive “meat calls” for hunters. I’ve purchased my last few calls from regional call makers rather than going through a national company. In my experience these guys take a little extra care in what they are doing and it’s nice to be able to call the guy who made it instead of talking to someone in customer service. The last Winglock Call I bought cost me $35. If that is still a bit steep for you, Primos makes a serviceable entry level call that retails for $10-$15.
One of the best strategies for saving money on hunting gear is to co-op equipment. Maybe you have a boat and your neighbor has decoys. Hunt together and you're both well equipped. Most established hunters have backup guns and many are more than happy to lend out their spare shotgun if it helps recruit a fellow duck hunter. Sometimes all you need to do is ask.