Few outdoor activities require the amount of effort, gear, and grit needed to be routinely successful (and safe) hunting ocean dwelling and deep diving waterfowl. Mother nature makes every trip unique, but experience shows there are some things under the hunter's control. Learning from close calls to one-hour limits, here are 7 must-have things when hunting ducks on big water.
Have enough weight.
Whether for your boat or decoys, have enough weight to keep them in place during changes in tide, wind, and waves. Keeping the spread in place is just as important as it is for the boat. Keeping extra anchors on the boat can help adjust to conditions by adding more weight, or replacing line anchors lost during retrieval.
Have enough depth.
Long-lines and raft setups make deploying and retrieving dozens of decoys significantly easier. Decoys attached using 2 or 3 foot drop-lines will greatly reduce frustration on the water. It's significantly safer during four-legged retrieves, but also reduces the chances of tangles when maneuvering the boat in and around the spread.
Have enough reach.
Downed birds, decoys, and anchor lines all necessitate reaching over the gunwale. A boat rocking in near freezing water does not present the ideal scenario for efficiency or safety. Extendable decoy poles and long handle nets make everything easier.
Have enough light.
There's a lot of moving parts working open water decoy spreads and doing it in the dark can be downright dangerous. Maneuvering around long lengths of weighted lines with little light, in the chop while wearing bulky clothes, is best down slow. Bright headlamps that can withstand the water are a must and lantern-type lights on the boat can keep pathways- and potential hazards- illuminated. Beam lights are important to shine enough light at decoys already in the water.
Have enough dry boxes.
Open water waterfowling is inherently a wet endeavor. Even on the calmest of days, water is going to get in the boat when working with decoys, dogs, downed birds, and anchors. Keeping gear organized and out of the way will make things safer and keeping them dry will make the trip more tolerable.
Have enough shells.
Knocking a big water duck out of the sky does not guarantee a dead bird. They'll dive. They'll fly away. And they'll leave you wondering if you can reload fast enough to get more shots off before either scenario happens. Be prepared for finishing swatting shots, so 2 3/4" six or seven shot at close reach can save time and money.
Have enough back-up.
If you have an engine, have a paddle. If you have a radio, have extra batteries. If there is something necessary to get you home, out of trouble, or in contact with someone who can help, make sure you have a back-up item. Important items sometimes fail, but the presence of waves, decoys, and bulky clothes and gloves make dropping and bumping gear almost routine.
Most importantly, have fun. The weather, ducks, and situations aren't always in favor of the outdoorsman, but every experience can make a memory that lasts a lifetime!
We'd love to know some of the must-have's you've learned out on the water- leave us a comment below!