It’s the most wonderful time of the year—duck season is just around the corner. Early teal season will be opening up in a month or so in many parts of the country, and then it’s a steady march toward regular duck season starting in the northern parts of the country and following the migration south.
Waterfowling can be a gear-heavy pursuit, and if you’re a duck hunter, you already own the basic necessities—shotgun, ammo, decoys, calls, clothing. But I’ve got a handful of product suggestions that you might not have considered that can make those hot-and-sweaty or cold-and-damp days afield more comfortable and enjoyable.
Thermacell or Other Bug Dope
I’ll never forget my first early-season teal hunt in south Louisiana. I was drenched in sweat in a permanent blind in the middle of a marsh. I could barely grab ammo with my wet hands, my camera lens fogged up from the humidity and my photos were ruined, and the mosquitos were like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. It was an absolute barrage of biting and swatting and buzzing in my ear, and to be honest, I’ve never been so relieved to shoot a limit and get the heck out of there. Never again will I hunt early-season birds without some serious bug protection.
Bug spray is effective, but if you’re sweating or getting wet, it can rinse off or run into your eyes and sting—and it can also damage the finish on your shotgun if you’re not careful with it. I’ve found it much easier to carry a Thermacell (or multiple, in a duck blind), which emits a sort of fog of insect repellent. Keep it on your belt or sit it next to you in the blind and let it envelop you in a cloud of protection—you can actually see bugs fly up to you and stop short of getting too close. I guarantee this will be one of the most useful duck-hunting items you own if you go out in warm weather, and you’ll love it during turkey season in the spring, too.
Floating Gun Case
Your shotgun probably has a sling on it for easy carrying, but I like a soft-sided gun case (with a long sling) for better protection on the way into the blind. A case will keep the gun from getting scratched by reeds or branches if I’m hiking in, and it’ll protect it from bumps and bangs if I need to drop it in the bottom of a boat. Even better, get a soft-sided case that floats for extra protection in case your gun goes skidding off a deck into a lake or gets dropped in the flooded timber on the hike in. They weigh next to nothing and usually have a pocket or two to hold choke tubes or whatever else you need to carry along. A floating soft-sided gun case is cheap protection and peace of mind.
I’m shocked by how many duck hunters I’ve shared a blind with who don’t wear any sort of hearing protection. I get it—you want to be able to hear birds. But all shooters should know by now just how badly shooting without hearing protection can damage their hearing (permanently), and that doesn’t just apply to the range. You need to be wearing hearing protection when you’re duck hunting.
I have tried most types of hearing pro on the market, and while I like electronic muffs for range work, I find they usually interfere with my gun mount when shooting shotguns. Plugs are the way to go for me. Electronic ones that amplify ambient noise are terrific if you’re diligent about keeping them charged or carrying fresh batteries, but they can be pricey, and you’ll need to keep careful track of them. Most of the time I just go with the cheap foam earplugs—they’re one of the more effective options on the market when worn correctly, and I can keep plenty of spares in my blind bag in case I drop one in the mud.
Hand Muff and Warmers
When the weather turns cold, the damp conditions of duck hunting can make a day in the blind very uncomfortable. Specifically, cold hands can be more than uncomfortable—they can be downright dangerous if you get cold enough that you start fumbling with ammo or the gun itself. You can wear gloves, of course, but I have never found a good glove I can successfully shoot and reload in. I just can’t get past not being able to have great finger-to-trigger contact. I’m right-handed, and the best solution I’ve found is to wear a thick-but-manageable glove on my left hand and nothing on my right hand, which I keep in a fleece muff strapped around my waist. Inside the muff are a handful of chemical hand warmers. It’s a super warm system, and I’m usually hunting in a place where I can rest my gun in a rack if the blind is big enough or hold it with my gloved left hand if I need to until birds are flying. Then my right hand comes out of the muff, toasty warm and dry, and I can shoot. I can’t recommend this muff/hand warmer combo enough for anyone who struggles with keeping their hands warm on any kind of cold-weather hunt.
There are a handful of other miscellaneous items I always have in my blind bag that make duck hunting more comfortable. Lip balm keeps my lips from cracking and bleeding on blistery days. A carrying strap makes hauling ducks out of the woods much easier. A headlamp comes in handy for hands-free decoy setting in the predawn hours. A freezer bag (not pantyhose or newspaper as you might have read elsewhere) for carefully transporting a duck I might want to have mounted. A choke tube wrench in case I need to change chokes afield. Contact solution to rinse out my contact lenses, especially when I’m hunting dry fields where it might be dusty. An extra ponytail holder to pull my hair up and out of the way. Zip ties come in handy for a million random fixes in the blind. And, of course, toilet paper.