Duck hunting is the practice of hunting ducks for food and sport. commercial hunting is mostly prohibited, and duck hunting is primarily an outdoor sporting activity.
Many types of ducks and geese share the same habitats and are hunted using the same methods. It is not uncommon to take several different species of waterfowl in the same outing.
Wild ducks have been hunted for food, down, and feathers worldwide since prehistoric times. Ducks, geese, and swans appear in European cave paintings from the last Ice Age, and murals in Ancient Egyptian tombs show men in hunting blinds capturing swimming ducks in a trap.
By the turn of the century, commercial hunting and loss of habitat lead to a decline in duck and goose populations in North America. The Lacey Act of 1900, which outlawed transport of poached game across state lines, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which prohibited the possession of migratory birds without permission (such as a hunting license), marked the dawn of the modern conservation movement.
In 1934 the US government passed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, better known as the Federal Duck Stamp Act. This program required hunters to purchase a special stamp, in addition to a regular hunting license. Revenues from the program provided the majority of funding for duck conservation for many decades and funded the purchase of 4.5 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge land for waterfowl habitat since the program’s inception.
Duck hunting season is generally in the winter and fall. At this time of the year, the birds have finished raising their young and are migrating to warmer areas. There are three elements used by almost all duck hunters: a shotgun, a hunting blind, and decoys. The decoys are used to lure the birds within range, and the blind conceals the hunter. Once the birds are within range, the hunters stand up in the blind and shoot the birds before they are frightened off.
The most commonly used guns are 12 gauge shotguns. In many areas, buckshot and larger shot is illegal to use for taking migratory birds. Ten, 16, and 20 gauge shotguns are also used. Taking birds with a rifle is illegal due to the inherent danger of shooting long-range bullets into the air.
Duck hunting with lead shot, along with the use of lead sinkers in angling, has been identified as a major cause of lead poisoning in waterfowl, which often feed off the bottom of lakes and wetlands where lead shot collects. In the United States all shot used for ducks must not contain any lead. Steel is the cheapest alternative to lead but steel has a much less effective range than lead because of its lower density. 30 to 40 yards is considered the maximum effective range for duck hunting.
Although steel is the most used shot, many hunters do not like its shooting properties. Steel is less dense than lead, therefore, its effective range is decreased due to a faster decrease in velocity. Many companies have improved steel shot by increasing muzzle-velocity and making more consistent ‘shot’ or pellets. Within recent years, several companies have created ‘heavier than lead’ non-toxic shot out of Tungsten, Bismuth or other elements with a density similar or greater to lead. These shells have more consistent patterns and greater range than steel shot.
Originally, a duck call was a very simple woodwind instrument. It had a barrel, a sounding board and a reed. Hunters would grunt into the call while saying “hut”, “quit” or “ut”. With the improvement of calls and calling techniques the best callers are able to use no voice. The most prevalent and hunted duck in the United States, the mallard, makes the well known “quack” sound many associate with ducks. Other species make many different sounds, ranging from high-pitched whistles to very low, grunt-like quacks. There are calls for almost all species of ducks. Pintails, teal, wood ducks, diving ducks and other ducks including the calls of both the male, or drake and the female, or hen.
In many species, the call of the drake is different from that of the hen. Mallard drakes make a lower pitch, longer quack than the hen mallard. This call is often used while feeding and when a mallard drake is landing. The quack of a mallard drake requires voice and is replicated by humming into a special whistle-like call. This whistle is often called a 6-in-1 whistle, due to the fact that it can replicate six different duck species sounds.
In teal, the drakes make a call of short bursts of a high pitch whistle. The “teet! (pause) teet! (pause) teet!-teet!” or any other order of repetition. This call can be made by blowing short bursts of air into the “6-in-1” whistle.
The majority of duck sounds people have heard and are familiar with comes from females, or hen, mallards. Hen mallards are very vocal and this is probably why the number one call for duck hunting in North America is a hen mallard call.
There are numerous types of structures that qualify as duck blinds. Blinds can be temporary or permanent. They are very effective at concealing hunters and making their movements un-noticed. For hunting over water, the types of blinds are almost unlimited. Many of these permanent blinds look like a small shack with an opening that faces the water and a portion of the sky.
Often creating a temporary, natural blind as a method of concealment is a hunter’s best bet. This is done by using native grasses or vegetation and natural material and simply hiding in a tree, clump of grass or a shrub. More sophisticated natural blinds may have large logs or branches leaned together or tied together using rope. Temporary blinds are common in protected and public areas where a permanent blind is not allowed. Temporary blinds can be very simple and usually require a three dimensional enclosure to conceal hunters from circling flocks.
With the growing popularity of boats in duck hunting, many have chosen to use boat blinds. Boat blinds are used to conceal a hunter when hunting out of a boat.
Duck season takes place in the fall and winter where the weather can be harsh. Waterproof clothing is critical to duck hunting. Most duck hunters hunt over water, and they stand in water or in a boat. In order to stand in the water and stay dry the hunter must wear waders. Waders are waterproof pants that have attached boots and are completely waterproof. Typical waders are chest high, but waist high and knee high waders are sometimes used in shallow water. Duck hunting can be a very cold sport and the hunter must be well insulated from the cold. Ducks also have great vision which requires the hunters clothing to be well camouflaged.
Duck hunters often use a dog to retrieve downed birds. Most often hunters use retrievers, and sometimes spaniels. The use of a dog provides a number of advantages. As duck hunting often takes place in cold wet locations, the use of a dog frees the hunter from having to wade into cold water to retrieve the bird. This can be dangerous for the hunter, but is managed by a trained dog easily. It also allows for the recovery of wounded birds that might otherwise escape.
Duck hunting is highly regulated. Hunters are required to obtain a hunting license and face limits on the number of birds that can be taken in a day (bag limits) and the total number of birds a hunter can possess (possession limits).
In the United States, hunters must also purchase a federal duck stamp and often a state stamp. It is illegal to shoot ducks from a motor vehicle, a moving boat, or to shoot sitting or swimming ducks. Many practices that were once common in commercial duck hunting before the turn of the century are now prohibited. In most areas, shotguns that can hold more than two or three shells must be modified to reduce their magazine size. Legal hunting is done “in-season” only. It is also considered good sportsmanship to make every attempt to retrieve dead or injured waterfowl the hunter has shot.
Many states require hunters, including duck hunters, to complete hunter safety courses before they can obtain a license.