Thursday, January 30, 2014

Duck Gear. Part 1: The Necessities...

This will be a small series to talk about and review what did and did not work for me through this duck hunting season. Enjoy.

1. The Gun!

Duck hunters love to reiterate after a bad hunt, "Well you can't shoot ducks from the bed", none more is true except for "You can't shoot ducks without a shotgun". When I was gun shopping I talked to a number of gun nut buddies and quickly got narrowed down to the classic Remington 870 or Benelli Nova. As much as i'd love to be shooting a beautiful semi-auto, a pump was gonna be a better choice technically and financially. 
I chose the Benelli mainly because I like the matte black aesthetics and simplicity of the gun. This gun will also chamber any 12 gauge shell from 2 3/4" - 3 1/2".  It can go from a dove hunt, to a duck blind, to a rabbit run and back to a goose field with no problems. There is not a whole lot to say about a gun that fired cleanly and reliably, despite operator error. Not flicking off the safety as a flock of teal are approaching or forgetting to discharge a spent shell when going for a follow up shot. I'm glad a lot of those rookie mistakes are now mostly in the past. My advice for any new shotgun owners would be to talk to friends and family and buy the best shotgun you can afford. Just remember this, 12 gauge, 28" barrel, and put a damn strap on it!

2. The Bag
Every gun needs to be transported safely from the home to the field. If you are hunting anywhere near or over water , your gun bag needs to serve a few purposes. It needs to protect the firearm from damage and debris, make it easy to carry and keep it afloat in case of emergency. Being somewhat of a dry bag junkie, I fell in love with the LL Bean Waterproof Shotgun Case. It's perfect for me. The bag has a roll-top closure, a fully padded and waterproof lining and will fit a shotgun perfectly. I need no pockets or extras on my gun case. Just a handle and a shoulder strap. All other accessories will go into my blind bag. 

3. Fowl Weather gear
 Stop into any post hunt food joint and you will quickly realize that RealTree's Max-4 camo is king of the duck hunters attire. The first line of defense against the wind and weather is a pair of waders. My Frogg Togg Hellbenders were performing admirably but I knew I needed something tougher. Trudging through ice and swamp was going to be tough on a relatively lightweight pair of fishing waders. My research landed me upon a pair of Lacrosse Alpha Swampfox waders. The knees and butt are reinforced with Cordura fabric which is a big plus for me. Kneeling in the marsh or sitting on cypress knees is rough on anything but the toughest fabrics. I love these waders for a few reasons.

They are convertible! Early teal season will be hot and a full chest wader is not ideal. The suspenders are removable and the top folds down into pants. I had to take off about 10" of fabric on the belt and sew it back up to fit me. I really like the versatility of these waders. The drawtabs on the side will help cinch the pant legs down and control some bulkiness.

The boots are insulated with 600grams of Thinsulate. That's just warm enough. For an early season wader these will work perfectly. I tested these for two straight days of trudging through ice to get to the duck hole. A pair of super thick socks and some toe warmers will keep you warm enough in the freeze. Believe me.
I have a gripe about the top though. The elasticord around the chest doesn't do much for a skinny guy in a big set of waders. These waders are made one size fits all. A lot of big boys tend to hunt so they had to size accordingly. It's a small complaint but the top doesn't want to stay up very easily. Making the chest pocket and shoulder fit a little bit awkward throughout a days hunt. I will do a bit of modification on this but no sure how yet. One thing I'd like to see is a hand warmer pouch behind the chest pocket, but a separate belt will have to do when the weather turns cold and nasty.

Overall, the quality of these waders is top notch. Well thought out and versatile. It is impossible to make a pair of waders fit everyone that may want to slink into them. There are a few small tweaks I will be sewing onto these to fit my needs. I already have one rip in them so they are broken in. Another season of abuse will be the real test of these waders, but i'm happy with them as of now.

These are the bare essentials you need to start duck hunting besides a box of shells or two. Without these things you will not be invited on ANY duck hunt!! The next chapter will cover the rest of the necessary gear to be a self sufficient hunter. From decoys to calls and bags. Now catch those end of season sales and wait patiently for teal season. Eight months and counting...