duck hunter holding a mallard

Guns, Decoys, and More | A Guide to Duck Hunting Gear Essentials

For many who love the outdoors, duck hunting is a simple pleasure in life; one that brings friends and family together and offers a unique connection to nature.

However, duck hunting is neither the simplest, nor the most affordable type of hunting. Game laws can change, and there are dozens of species with different habits, behaviors, and seasons to consider.

To make sure you’re adequately prepared for your next duck hunt, here’s a guide on the essential gear you need to get started.

The Types Of Ducks

Before getting into the duck hunting gear you need, it helps to understand what you’re getting yourself into.

mandarin duck

There are over 100 types of ducks, but most can be grouped into one of three categories: diver ducks, puddle (or “dabbler”) ducks, and perching ducks. You can find each in the United States, but each has distinct behaviors to consider when selecting hunting gear.

Diver Ducks

hooded merganser duck

Diver ducks are adept at diving and swimming underwater. These birds are often found in larger open bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and seas.

Built for life on the water, diver ducks have a unique way of taking flight. They run across the water’s surface and gradually ascend into the sky, much like an airplane during takeoff. You’ll need more firepower and precision to take down a diver duck.

Some diver ducks you might encounter include:

  • Goldeneye
  • Black scoter
  • Canvasback
  • Hooded merganser

Puddle Ducks

Puddle ducks have a more direct flight path than diver ducks, taking off with their wings flapping and gaining altitude quickly.

mallard duck walking

Puddle ducks (or, “dabbler ducks”) tend to stay closer to shore and shallower bodies of water, and it’s common to see them walking around on the ground (like the ones you might feed at the park).

Puddle ducks are also known for being quite sociable; they often form large flocks which will fly together in the same direction. This can make them easier to hit than diver ducks.

Some common puddle ducks you may come across include:

  • Mallard
  • Teal
  • Widgeon
  • Pintail
  • Northern shoveler



Perching Ducks

wood duck perching on fence

Perching ducks tend to nest in holes in trees. They have sharp claws, which aid in their ability to perch as well as long tails that aid in their ability to stop suddenly to perch.

Some types of Perching ducks include: 

  • Wood Duck (Woodie)
  • Muscovy

(source: University of Nebraska Lincoln)

Duck Hunting Gear: What You Need to Know

Unlike most other types of hunting gear, which are more versatile, duck hunting gear is specifically for duck hunting. As you grow your passion for duck hunting and hunt in different locations, you’ll find you need jackets, waders, decoys (plus rigs and bags), calls, and other gear that’s specifically designed for duck hunting.


Choosing a duck hunting shotgun will be the most important decision you make when shopping for gear.

In general, 12 gauge shotguns are the best for hunting ducks. Since you’ll likely take shots from further out, 12 gauges offer the extra power you need to make a clean kill.

Some of the best guns for duck hunting are:

  • Remington 870. The Remington 870 is a reliable and affordable pump-action shotgun that has been around since the 1950s. While you have to reload every time you take a shot, this makes it less likely to jam or fail. The 870 is available in 12 and 20 gauge models as well as .410 bore.
  • Benelli Super Black Eagle III: The Benelli Super Black Eagle III, a semi-automatic shotgun designed for hunting, is popular among avid duck hunters due to its reliability, accuracy, and durability. With a recoil reduction system to minimize felt recoil and various configurations like different barrel lengths and finishes, this versatile shotgun is available in both 12 and 20 gauge.
  • Beretta A400 Xtreme: The Beretta A400 Xtreme is another semi-automatic shotgun. Its main differentiator is its innovative gas-operating system that reduces felt recoil, increases reliability, and offers multiple configurations like varying barrel lengths and finishes.



Hunting ducks requires lead-free, non-toxic ammo. The two most common types are steel and bismuth. Steel is cheaper but has a shorter range, while bismuth offers increased accuracy and penetration power. Many types of ammo contain a blend of steel and bismuth.

The Apex Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Habitat Blend is a good ammo choice for duck hunting — it’s a unique 12 Gauge mix composed of S3 steel and Tungsten Super Shot (TSS). The TSS/S3 Steel version unites the Apex S3 Steel with the well-known impact strength and carrying power of TSS.



duck decoys at sunrise

When it comes to duck decoys, go with realism and quality.

Duck decoys come in many shapes, sizes, and colors and range from hand-carved wooden decoys to plastic decoys that are more affordable. If you want to get the most out of your hunt, it’s best to use decoys that have realistic features, are sturdy, offer movement to your decoy setup, and do not reflect light.

Durability is another critical consideration when shopping for decoys. With the exception of diver hunters, you probably aren’t shooting your decoys. However, you should consider how the ones you purchase will hold up to regular hunting conditions; that is, whether they’ll crack in freezing winter temperatures or chip their paint when being packed and unpacked.

If you’re hunting diver ducks, you’ll use diver decoys, which float on the surface of the water with their heads down, simulating a flock of birds diving beneath the surface for food.

When considering a decoy setup for duck hunting, you’ll need at least 12 decoys per person, although as few as six may be acceptable in smaller water areas.

In more expansive areas, such as ponds and lakes, more is always better.



man with duck call

A call is an important tool for any duck hunter, because it can help lure ducks in or create a sense of comfort and security.

Calls come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles that produce different sounds. Considering the different types of ducks, one of the best calls to go with is the Buck Gardner 6 -in-1 whistle.



duck hunter wading in water

Although the exact clothing you’ll need depends on where you’re hunting and the weather conditions, there are some basic must-haves every duck hunter should consider:

  • Waders: These waterproof boots keep your feet and legs dry while you’re in the water. Some models come with built-in insulation, which is essential for colder weather.
  • Jacket: Duck hunting jackets are designed to provide ample warmth and dryness even in the wettest conditions. They often feature multiple pockets for storing gear.
  • Gloves: Good gloves are essential to any duck hunting outfit, as they will help keep your hands warm and dry even in wet conditions. Neoprene gloves are a great option for colder weather.
  • Hat: A good-fitting hat, such as a hunting beanie or cap, is essential for keeping your head warm and protected from wind and rain. Ideally, it should also provide camouflage so you can blend in with your surroundings.


Final Thoughts On Duck Hunting Gear Essentials

mallards duck hunting

Duck hunting is a challenging yet rewarding sport, and having the right gear can make all the difference. The most important pieces of duck hunting gear are your gun and ammo, but don’t forget about the other essentials like decoys, calls, and clothing.

Hunting ducks combines the patience required for deer hunting, the interactivity of hunting turkey, and the action and precision of bird hunting, all in one.

Taking the time to find the right gear for your duck hunting trips will pay off in the long run.

man holding duck hunting shotgun

Choosing The Best Duck Hunting Shotgun | 3 Things To Consider

No worse feeling exists in the sport of waterfowl hunting than pulling up to dust a flock of mallards and then… your gun misfires.

I’ve been in that frustrating situation before and I don’t want you to experience the pain I did. 

So, how exactly can you keep this from happening?

Well, it begins with the firearm you select. I’m not here to push one brand over another, but rather to help you find the gun and gauge that best fits you so you can go with it.

What exactly is shotgun “fit?” Scroll down and watch the video near the end of the article to find out!

Does price matter?

I’ve hunted with guys who bought the latest and greatest shotgun on the market only to watch them miss every duck that decoyed. I’ve also hunted with guys who were shooting a “pawn shop special” and they absolutely slaughtered every duck within a mile radius.

So, what was the difference?

dead geese and duck

At the end of the hunt, you want a shotgun that has performed as expected, hopefully resulting in a successful harvest.

Well, one group of guys thought the expensive gun would make them a good shot. The other group knew they needed a gun that they were extremely comfortable shooting in several different conditions.

Simply put, the best shotgun is the one you are most comfortable using.

But how do you figure that out?

Which type of shotgun fits your hunting style?

There are three main types of shotguns. The most popular is the semi-auto, followed by the pump-action, and the over-under. They all come in different gauges and all are solid choices when it comes to waterfowl hunting. I have personally hunted with all three for at least one season each. As I hunted with each, I found there are pros and cons to all.

I prefer to hunt with a 12-gauge shotgun, regardless of the type of shotgun I am shooting. But, enough about me, let’s look at three critical factors in determining the best shotgun for ducks and waterfowl.

The three criteria I used to determine the best type of duck hunting shotgun are as follows:

  • Dependability: How unlikely it is to malfunction in different weather conditions?
  • Ruggedness: How much abuse can it take from being tossed in the back of a truck and dragged through mud all season long?
  • Amount of birds in the blind: That should be pretty self-explanatory. If I was able to shoot more birds with it, I hunted with the firearm more often!

The Most Dependable Shotgun

As far as dependability goes, an over-under is going to fire every time the trigger is pulled. A pump-action is going to fire basically every time, as well. The weather conditions are not prone to affect the firing capabilities of an over-under or pump-action.

The semi-automatic shotgun is a different story.

shotgun and decoy

Part of having a dependable gun is knowing it won’t jam or misfire.

As long as they are clean and lightly oiled in warm conditions, a semi-automatic works great! However, in my experience, when the cold weather hits, semi-auto shotguns tend to become finicky.

So, if you’ve ever wondered “how long do ducks live?” Well, a lot longer than you’d like, if your gun won’t fire dependably in the cold weather!

So, when I need a gun that is dependable, I hunt with a pump-action or an over-under. 

The Most Rugged Shotgun

Ruggedness, once again, goes to an over-under or a pump-action. The over-under has so few moving parts that make it such a rugged gun. Now, this does not apply if your over-under is a gun that only comes out of the gun safe to get oiled and then gently placed back in its place. 

12 gauge shotgun shells

Shotgun types come in different gauges… my personal favorite is the 12-gauge.

The over-under I used was as basic as they are made, perfect for the tough conditions I hunt. A pump-action has a few more moving parts, but in my experience hunting with one, they are just as rugged as an over-under.

The semi-auto shotguns I hunted with were not as rugged as I had hoped they would be, but in recent years semi-auto shotguns have made tremendous strides in ruggedness. 

The Deadliest Shotgun

The most critical factor is the number of birds the firearm helps bring down cleanly.

The semi-auto shotguns are outstanding when I need to fire off all three shots quickly, but I have a tendency to rush my shot. That is my fault, not the firearm!

When hunting with a pump-action, I am forced to slow down just enough to be much more accurate and add more birds to my limit.

semi automatic shotgun and black lab

Semi-automatic shotguns give you the ability to fire 3 shots rapidly, but may also lead the shooter to rush the shot.

The over-under shotgun I hunted with drastically fell short because it lacked the third shot I was familiar with. My friend, Jason Cruise, claims the third shot is a wasted shot more often than not.

I would disagree.

Yes, many times by the third shot, the birds are out of range. However, when the ducks are back-flapping in your face, that third shot is a huge advantage. Every hunt I am on, I will consistently shoot all three shells in a single volley. When I hunted with my over-under, I desperately missed having that third shot. 

So, what exactly is “shotgun fit” and how do you get the right fit for you? Check out this video to find out.

And, the best shotgun type is…

As I mentioned above, all three shotgun types have their pros and cons. However the one that stands out the most is the 12 gauge pump-action shotgun.

The pump-action shotgun is a workhorse. It is not anything fancy but it consistently gets the job done. Time after time, adding birds to the limit. No matter the weather conditions, a pump-action shotgun will deliver what it promises… three shells. 

Why the Pump-Action Shotgun is the Best

The reasons I choose to hunt with a pump-action shotgun over the other two styles are because a pump-action is typically more dependable than a semi-auto, it is extremely rugged, and I shoot more birds with a pump-action than an over-under. 

I admit I am extremely tough on my gear. So, I need a firearm that will hold up to the abuse, enduring throughout the season.

A pump-action shotgun does this for me more consistently than the other two styles. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t bring my other guns on a shoot or two during the season.

I love shooting my semi-auto when the weather permits and my over-under has become my turkey hunting shotgun. 

Whether you are just getting into duck hunting or waterfowl hunting has been a lifestyle for a while now, a pump-action shotgun is a tool that won’t let you down.

Before purchasing any firearm, do your research. I would recommend not only reading the online reviews, but also getting your hands on the gun you intend to buy prior to buying it. This ensures that it fits you well and you are more than comfortable handling it.

Buying a firearm is a big purchase, don’t rush into it. Take your time and choose the best shotgun for you

*All photos used by permission from Brad Alan