Whether you’re a dabbler or a diehard, you need good gear to hunt ducks and geese. Several new products I’ve uncovered should measure up; in fact, a couple have been seriously field tested over the past year. Read on for what’s new in waders, jackets, socks and decoys. There’s even a review of a speedy bird cleaner for traveling hunters with too many ducks to dress when the sun goes down.
Waterfowl Wading Systems
As a kid, I hated to wear bib overalls. As a duck hunter, though, they make a lot of sense, especially if the “overalls” include a jacket integrated into the waders that is also waterproof and dry. Waterfowl Wading Systems (WWS) makes three such boot-style, all-in-one wader garments available in men’s whole sizes 7 through 13. Simply don the waders, adjust the elastic H-pattern suspenders, and lock them down with durable plastic snaps. Then reach behind to the back pocket and retrieve the jacket, slip your arms into the sleeves, and pull the jacket over your shoulders. Secure the jacket in front with Velcro fasteners, and you’re ready for the morning flight.
I tested the lightweight breathable model, which costs $179.99. Called CaddisDry, the fabric contains a proprietary coating designed to vent body moisture while keeping water at bay. This is a generous-cut chest wader (I’m six feet tall, and the wader nearly touched my chin); to determine the right size for you, check the manufacturer’s Website, which details Medium through XXLarge Stout and XLarge Tall. The boot foot has non-slip knobby soles and comes with 600 grams of Thinsulate. There’s plenty of room for layering for those cold, late-season hunts. The size 11 I tested checked in at 8 pounds—not bad when you have to hoof a half-mile through the marsh to your blind.
The WWS is also available in 3.5mm neoprene with 1,000 grams of Thinsulate in the boot foot ($149.99) and in 5mm Dura-Stretch with 1,200 grams of Thinsulate ($229.99). Extra features in each include fleece in the storm jacket, a large wool-lined hand-warmer pocket, a big-bellowed front pocket and deluxe suspenders. All three models come in Advantage Max-4 HD camo. Spokesman Mike Myers says if you can’t find a dealer in your area, the company will sell direct. Further, he expects a relief-zipper version in lightweight breathable fabric to hit the market this fall at $299.99.
Seasonal Marketing, Inc., 541-536-2726; www.waterfowlwaders.com.
Cazadora Women’s Wader from Cabela’s
Equal opportunity for lady duck hunters. Forced to wear men’s waders for generations, women now have a garment designed specifically for them, thanks to Cabela’s new Women’s Ultimate Cazadora Hunting Waders. The bob-soled, boot-foot chest waders are contoured to fit the female body and come with a lowered chest pocket for unencumbered gun mounting. Also shaped for comfort are neoprene straps that secure with a no-buckle, out-of-the-way suspender system. The outer material is Armor-FlexT, a 1,000-denier nylon weaved with Lycra to be tough, stretchable and comfortable. Knees are double-layered for added durability. The company bonds the Armor-FlexT fabric to 5mm neoprene for added stretch and comfort. This is a cold-weather wader containing 1,000 grams of Thinsulate in the feet and a chest pocket to warm cold hands, with a separate compartment for calls and shells. D rings to either side help secure accessories. Available in women’s whole sizes from 6 through 10 (see the Website for sizing help), the Cazadora Wader comes in Realtree MAX-4T and costs $179.99.
Mary Trotter, who along with her husband, Jim, trains Labs (www.ever-readyretrievers.com) and is an avid waterfowl hunter, tested this new wader and gave it an enthusiastic thumb’s up. “They are absolutely amazing,” Mary said. “Because they are form-fitted, they are totally comfortable.”
Cabela’s, Inc., 800-237-4444; www.cabelas.com.
Eider & Outlaw Jackets from Rivers West
Already own great waders? Consider two new waterfowl jackets, also in Advantage Max-4 HD, from Rivers West, developers of the acclaimed H2P Waterproof System. The Outlaw Wader Top ($79.99) comes with a waterproof/windproof upper chest and a breathable fleece bottom. Designed for 50- to-70-degree comfort, the no-frills jacket (there are no pockets) weighs a scant 1.2 pounds and has neoprene storm cuffs and a pop-up collar that snugs tight with magnets. It’s so comfortable that I recommend wearing it next to the skin. Made from 100-percent polyester, the garment is washable.
Featuring the same H2P Waterproof System, the Eider Jacket ($239.99) takes performance to a new level. Designed for cold weather (15 to 45 degrees), it has a weatherproof front zipper, a snap-off hood (with elastic drawstrings), a radial collar and a shirttail hem to deter bunching in back. The neoprene storm cuffs cinch tight with hook-and-loop closures. Pockets abound: a pair of chest-high hand-warmers; two big cargo containers (that close with magnets) in the chest area; and four mesh-lined pockets, each with a zipper. Two are cleverly located right and left along the weatherproof zipper for easy front access, another is along the lower back (think spacious game pouch), and the fourth is a small inside security pocket against the left breast.
Is the designer a hardcore waterfowler? Bet on it. If you burn through the six shells from the elastic, loop-style forearm holders (three on each sleeve), you can plunder the detachable shell bag for another box of ammo. The Eider weighs only 2-1/2 pounds. Given the company’s extended waterproof warranty (recently increased from 7 to 10 years), you may never buy another jacket for duck and goose hunting.
Rivers West, 800-683-0887; www.riverswest.com.
Premium Socks from Russell Moccasin
I hate wet socks and bet you do, too. When you’ve taken a spill on a bone-numbing day, nothing beats peeling off the sodden pair and pampering your pink, steaming feet with dry, woolen socks. Like me, then, you’ll appreciate the new Premium High-Performance Socks from the W.C. Russell Moccasin Co., maker of custom-fitted boots and shoes for more than 100 years. Until developing its own brand, the company sold (and still sells) Thorlo and X-Scent socks. Russell spokesman Doug Herge says company pro-staffers tested prototypes in all temperatures and terrains and seasons for more than two years before choosing a North Carolina manufacturer to supply its dual lineup of new offerings: the Safari and North American collections.
All models receive anti-microbial treatment to prevent odor. Materials include various blends and weights of Merino wool, polypropylene, elastic, nylon and Lycra. The Safari line, tested by professional hunters in Africa, comes in four styles: Savanna (lightweight quarter and crew height for summer), Tracker (quarter and crew for warm to cold weather), Highland (over the calf, all-weather) and Liner (mid-calf to provide more blister protection).
The Safari line should be fine for waterfowl and upland hunters, but the North American line, which I tested, is particularly suited for those pursuits. Models include Big Game (over the calf, cold to extreme cold), Caliber (over the calf, warm to cold), Trekker (crew length, warm to cool) and Topo (lightweight, all-around). After wearing the handsome Big Game (two-tone green) and Caliber (brown with black), I came away impressed. These are very comfortable, generous-cut (to the knee), footbed-cushioned socks that didn’t bunch up under my knee-high rubber boots while I toiled away in my vegetable garden. Further, they remained odor-free after hours of wicking away perspiration. These top-quality, machine-washable socks should perform well in grouse coverts and duck blinds this fall and goose pits this winter. Prices are $18.95 for the Big Game, $17.95 for the Caliber and Trekker, and $10.95 for the Topo. Sizes are women’s S through L and men’s M through XL.
Russell Moccasin Co., 920-361-2252; www.russellmoccasin.com.
Flambeau Storm Front Decoys
As a young man, I quit smoking for 18 months, just long enough for my 35-cent-per-pack daily contribution to a pickle jar to reach the price of a set of L.L. Bean coastal duck decoys. Forty years later, I still can smell the new cork upon tearing open those cardboard boxes from Freeport, Maine—and taste the Lucky Strike I fired up to celebrate.
I no longer smoke. If I did, I would need to quit for only a week to buy a six-pack of Flambeau Storm Front Decoys. That’s not only because cigarettes are so expensive these days but also because these new decoys are so reasonable: $34.99 for Classic Mallards and $39.99 for Premium Mallards, which are about 50-percent larger.
Flambeau has been making top-flight, affordable decoys for a long time, and the Storm Front collection applies slick innovations. Made from a proprietary blend of polypropylene, the tough, full-body floaters are first spray-painted and then finished by hand with U-Vision paint. This, too, is a proprietary, patent-pending technology that matches feather reflection in the full range of light—including ultraviolet—that ducks see. Further, Flambeau has developed an exclusive keel design that comes with an anchor eyelet for adjusting depth and four tie-off points to create realistic motion options. If you use strap weights, you can secure them quickly between the keel and body. At less than one pound each, the decoys are surprisingly light.
A six-pack of Premium Mallards includes five different body positions: two active drakes, one skimmer drake, one rester drake, one active hen and one rester hen. You can also order drakes-only with the three different body positions. A box of 12 Classic Mallards includes three active drakes, three semi-resting drakes and six semi-resting hens.
Other new Storm Front products are Premium Black Ducks and goose decoys in both shell and full body.
Flambeau, Inc., Outdoors Division, 800-232-3474; www.flambeauoutdoors.com.
Bird Hitch by Waterfowl Junkie
Planning to shoot many ducks this season? Traveling out of state to do it? If so, consider investing in the Bird Hitch Original Bird Breaster by Waterfowl Junkie. This simple, smart tool takes the work out of dressing large numbers of waterfowl and—because the birds’ feathered wings remain intact—provides instant species identification by customs officials or conservation officers. Further, dressed birds take up less space in the cooler or freezer.
Securing a product sample last fall, I asked my veterinarian—Dr. Steven Schmitt of Haslett, Michigan—to test it. He and other hunting-party members used the Bird Hitch to clean more than 200 ducks and geese in Michigan, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The verdict? “It’s a great tool,” Schmitt said. “Working as a team, three men can clean one bird per minute. When you’re really tired at day’s end, you’ll appreciate this product.”
The Bird Hitch is a spear-like device that attaches to your vehicle’s trailer-hitch mount. Position the bird—breast up, head toward you—on the spear point and pull it while holding the wings. The tearing process leaves two fully feathered wings and the breast with most—if not all—of the skin removed. The viscera, head and feet can then be discarded. For a YouTube demo, go to the company’s Website. Made from powder-coated steel, the Bird Hitch is strong and long lasting.
Schmitt said the product worked well on pheasants and grouse as well as all species of ducks and small- to medium-size geese such as snows and white-fronts. Unless you remove the heads and necks first, however, giant Canadas require too much pressure to separate. Price is $129.95. Accessories include a 12" to 18" Riser (to preclude having to bend over) for $49.99 and a Trailer Mount Bracket (to preclude having to unhook a trailer from your vehicle) for $29.99.
Waterfowl Junkie, Inc., 651-230-4935; www.waterfowljunkie.com.
- By: Tom Huggler