The Return of the Gearhead-Waterfowl Edition

Aaaaaand we’re back.
After an interminable summer of heat, dry conditions, and no hunting, I am glad to announce that I am once again ready to write about chasing animals.  To those of you who emailed during the period when my blog productivity (or blogtivity, as I call it) was basically non-existent, I thank you again for your dedication.  I’m going to honour a couple of requests right off the hop here by answering those of you who were asking about my choices and recommendations (a concept that still doesn’t fit quite right with me) for duck and goose hunting equipment.
My list of waterfowling paraphernalia is not quite as extensive as my turkey hunting gear, but slightly more detailed than my list of deer hunting equipment.  So as not to offend, please do not use my dedication to buying equipment as an indicator of my dedication to respective branches of hunting.  For example, I don’t own a pair of waders, but please don’t think me a waterfowling neophyte for that reason…trust me I’ve been after ducks and geese for a long time; just in fields instead of swamps.  As with the turkey hunting versions of this institution, I’m not sponsored by any of the brands I buy, and do not take my endorsement of any equipment or gear as a guarantee that it will work for you or that you’ll even like it.
I use the same Remington 870 for waterfowl as I do for turkey hunting.  The only changes are in choke and load.  I remove my turkey choke and go back to the modified choke that it came with.  I also make the switch over to steel shot.  Since the lead shot ban took effect (1999 in Canada, I believe?) I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of loads.  The past couple of years I’ve used Federal Black Cloud 3 inch BB for Canada geese and plain old 3 inch Federal steel #2 for ducks.  For a few years prior to that I used 3 inch Kent Fasteel exclusively in BB and #2 for geese and ducks respectively with no problems at all.  Before that I had a brief flirtation with Hevi-Shot (when it was still a Remington-affiliated product to give you an idea on how long ago that was) and they were the most effective shotgun shells I’ve ever purchased…they were just cripplingly expensive on an unemployed university student’s budget.  Maybe if I had a sponsorship deal I could go back to using them.  Shameless, I know.  I use 3 inch because that’s the biggest shell my gun will hold; I’m not even going to get involved in the debate over shot size, because reams of paper has been written about it; some if it legitimately scientific, some other purely speculative.  All I’ll say is this.  Shoot the biggest shell that you can effectively handle the recoil on and still be reasonably accurate with.  I like BB over BBB or T because I’m a fan of pellet count (the same reason, coincidentally, that I use #6 instead of #4 in my turkey gun).  If you, however, define yourself and your worthiness as a hunter by how big a shell and pellet size you can spray around the marsh…then I guess you’ve probably already scoffed at this and went onto the next section.

Waterfowl hunting in general is a multi-seasonal pursuit.  Some days are pure bluebird, others downright sleety and nasty.  The vast majority of days fall in between those two extremes so for me versatility is key.   I have a three-in-one coat from Remington in Realtree AP camo that I use interchangeably for turkey and waterfowl hunting.  It takes me through the whole run of waterfowl season.  When it is hot during the early September resident goose hunting, I can wear a t-shirt and the light outer shell or put on a camo long sleeve t-shirt and leave the coat at home altogether.  Into October and November, I can choose to layer with the shell and insulating liner of the coat, or I can go with more base layers and wear just the shell again.  It all depends on how cold, rainy, windy, sunny, or snowy things are looking to get.  In December, I go with both the insulating liner and the outer shell and layer appropriately.  It has plenty of pockets for licenses, shells, knives, and the other accoutrements that a waterfowler is known to have on hand (Mars bars and Gatorade anyone?!).
I hunt fields almost exclusively so I don’t own anything that would resemble a wader (hip or chest) and I own exactly zero neoprene.  Sorry, but I can’t give you any insight into that type of gear.  That said, one of my closest hunting buddies got a retriever last year, so hitting the marsh may be in order now that we have a reliable means of recovering anything we may happen to shoot.  This may be just the excuse I need to get some waders.
Since I lack waders, and since I generally prefer to stay as dry as possible (I can hear the masochistic camp of hardcore foul-weather hunters decrying me as a fraud as I write this) I wear camo pants and rubber boots.  I have long-espoused the merits of the Welly and I don’t intend to change.   That said I do need a new pair because my faithful rubber boots of the last four years gave up the ghost late into turkey season this past spring.  I may go with another pair of Bone Dry boots from Redhead, then again I might not.  It all depends on what tickles my fancy on that day.  My advice here (as with all footwear from hunting boots to bedroom slippers) is to get a pair that is light, warm, and fits properly.  Do not (as I have in the past) show up wearing your thin cotton dress socks and start trying on boots thinking they’ll fit you when the season rolls around.  Bring the heaviest socks you would wear hunting to the fitting and get it right.  Blisters from improperly fitted boots ruin a day of hunting faster than almost anything else.
In terms of other clothes, I like to be comfortable and not at all stylish.  A moisture-wicking base layer (usually a retired soccer shirt of mine), a wind-breaking middle layer and a wool, or other natural fiber top layer would be what I have on from mid-October onward.  Early in the season I usually just have a micro-fiber long-sleeved camo shirt on.
I do my fair share of the calling when I’m hunting so for this reason I do wear a mesh camo facemask, but I almost never wear gloves.  I don’t use a lot of back pressure when I call (more on that below) so I’ve found I have more call control with my bare hands.  Unless it is really, really cold, I won’t have gloves on.  I also find that the best way to make sure you’re making the right sounds on a goose or duck call is to be able to watch the birds all the way in, so that’s why I have the mesh facemask.  I can blow through it into the call with no problem, and I can watch for the subtle changes in the bird’s flight that may tip me off on when to change up on a sound or keep pouring it on.  If the shine of the sun on a human face is like a flashing beacon to you at a distance, imagine what it is to a duck.  If you can’t or won’t wear a facemask, please keep your head down so that the birds don’t flare off for the rest of us.
Much like when I’m turkey hunting, I love to do some calling.  Unlike when I’m turkey hunting I do not have a vast number of calls.  I have one goose call, and (now) one duck call.  I used to have two duck calls, but my two year old son claimed one for his own, and I don’t have the heart to take it away from him when I go on a hunting trip.  My duck call is a Buck Gardner Fowl Mouth II, and it is just a nice polycarbonate duck call that does everything I need it to.  It hails nicely, is good and responsive for when I need to get soft and raspy, and does a feed chuckle easily and realistically.  It has been out on some very cold days and has not frozen stuck on me once, and to top it off it was really well-priced.  I’m not a contest caller for ducks, so I don’t need anything other than an effective “meat” call, which is what I have.
My goose call on the other hand (and if you’ve been following this blog, you already know this) is a Tim Grounds hand-turned, custom-tuned acrylic Super Mag and some would define it as an expensive, competition-caliber short reed goose call.  That may be true, but luckily, it is also a dandy, durable, all-purpose hunting call that has led more than one goose to the stew pot or the sausage grinder.  I have and will continue to sporadically compete in goose-calling contests so it is nice to have a good-sounding call to start with, but it does take some practice and commitment to get reasonably proficient with it.
What can I say…it is not a call for everyone, but it should be.  I have a couple of hunting buddies who can run it okay, but it does take a fair amount of air to get it breaking over crisply, and I have it set up a little stiff.  A lot of manufacturers are going with the tag-line of ‘easy-blowing’ goose calls which is fine, but since there’s nothing soft or subtle about anything I do, I like having to huff some wind to get a call singing.  I also use a lot of back pressure when I’m doing moans and murmurs so a stiffer reed suits that too.  I learned the short reed basics on some cheaper mass-produced polycarbonate short reed calls, but in those days (as now) I’m always over-blowing them and squealing them, so the Super Mag just works for my style now.  Other than mechanics it also just sounds darn good.  The top end of the call is almost cackling-goose high, which is good for really reaching out to geese on windy days or when they just don’t want to respond to flagging (more on that in the next section), the reed, with effort and practice, breaks over quickly so you can lay double clucks or even ‘hiccup clucks’ on top of each other rapidly to sound like multiple geese, and the bottom end is just dirty, nasty, and lethal.  I have not blown a call that does moans and murmurs as well as this one does.  Period.  Geese just seem to respond to it, which is good, because I shoot so badly that if they didn’t give me a close look I would never kill a single one of them.  I sent it off for a tune up recently and Tim & Hunter Grounds (both World Goose Calling Champions) were great to deal with, they did a fine job on the tuning, and got it back to me very quickly.  Customer service excellence and just good, down to earth guys to deal with throughout the whole thing; can’t argue with that.
There are other top brands of goose calls out there including calls by Sean Mann, Fred Zink, Buck Gardner, GK Calls, and Foiles just to name a few (there are literally dozens out there).  I’ve tried all of those named above and the Tim Grounds Super Mag suited me best.  As I’ve said before with calling, as with almost everything else I mention in the Gearhead posts, you need to shop around and try them out to get one that you are satisfied with.  Then practice until your wife threatens to leave you (she’ll come back, really.)
My calls hang on a lanyard that I won in an online contest back in 2006.  I don’t think the company exists anymore, but I seem to recall them being called Black Dog or something to that effect.  It is a durable lanyard made from braided parachute cord with five call drops on it.  I used to fill them all out, now not so much.
I have a flag that I started using just last season, and it is pretty good I must admit.  Not the ‘magic bullet’ that some would have you believe, but certainly effective at getting a flock’s attention from distances that a call just won’t reach.  Remember though, all the flagging and calling is wasted if you don’t sit still and stay covered up when the birds are within the last 100 yards. 
To that end, this year may be the first year I hit the fields with a layout blind.  Once again, I’m sure I’m late to this party but then again, my group was killing a stack of geese every year without the aid of layout blinds so why would I spend the money.  This year, some other friends who hunt closer to me basically require them for me to come along (their fields lack ditches and tall grass) so I’m going to break down and drop the cash.  The positives are well documented; low-profile, portable (although I don’t have a truck so fitting one of these into a family sedan or worse, a commuter compact, should be an interesting feat of engineering) and versatile in that they can be ‘grassed-up’ to almost disappear into the background.  Some negatives though do exist, so just consider the following.  If you are a senior with limited mobility, or someone who is not physically able to do a sit up (or like me, selectively lazy) you may not like these.   Also, the interior space may not accommodate you if you are of above average height or, uh, robustness.  Once again, best to try out some models before you drop the cash.
We have a ‘community’ approach to decoys, and I personally do not own any.  We usually pile together some shells and full-body duck and goose decoys into a truck bed, get to the field, un-pile them in some sort of pattern, hunt over them and then pile them back in a truck bed.  It has worked so far.  If you are looking for sophisticated decoy placement strategy (and this could be a whole other post) my advice is this.  Put the decoys out close enough together so that they look realistic, but not so close that they look nervous.  Do not face them all in the same direction (ducks and geese tend to do this naturally when they are alarmed or about to get up and leave), and whenever possible, try to make them look like flocks you’ve naturally observed in the wild before.  All this other stuff about prevailing winds, landing zones, arrowhead patterns, X-patterns, J-hooks, and horseshoes…that is all beyond my ken.  I do not have a MOJO decoy, but I secretly lust after one.
So there you have it, my return to more productive blogging in the form of a Gearhead post that really tells you nothing of value.  Hope you like it, and I promise, the future holds more lunacy, lies, groundless conjecture, and Taboo’s of the Day.

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