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Top 10 items for your waterfowl bag this season

Waterfowlers are obsessive gear accumulators. If you're like me, you've got a garage and basement stuffed full of equipment — some essential and some nonessential. As if you needed encouragement to get more gear, here are 10 things I consider essential waterfowling equipment that you might want to try this season.

1. Shoot a semi-auto shotgun. If you don't already own one, you should consider getting one. While pumps and doubles work just fine, a semi-auto harnesses the forces of ignition to operate the action. In the process, felt recoil is spread out over a longer period of time, making magnum loads more tolerable. Semi-auto scatterguns also provide three exceptionally fast shots, which is why this action type is preferred by the majority of waterfowlers. Generally, gas guns kick a little less than recoil-operated guns, but both types provide some recoil mitigation. Top-shelf waterfowling autos include Browning's Maxus and A5, Remington's Versa Max, Beretta's A400, and Benelli's Super Vinci and Super Black Eagle II. Mid-level models include Winchester's SX3 and Franchi's Affinity and new Instinct, while affordable yet rugged autos are available from the likes of Mossberg, Stoeger, Weatherby and CZ.

2. Screw in a specialty choke. While the factory modified choke that came with your shotgun will get you by, there are a bunch of aftermarket choices out there designed specifically for waterfowling. Many were even designed for a specific load, allowing you to match your choke choice to your selected ammo. Aftermarket tubes also come in a wider variety of sizes than the improved cylinder/modified/full mainstays. constrictions like light full, improved modified, light modified, and even skeet allow further pattern customization. Individual tubes can be purchased from top-notch companies like Kick's and Comp-N-Choke, or in convenient three-packs from Carlson's, Rob Roberts or Trulock.

3. Use high-speed ammo. If you haven't already tried some of the new high-velocity waterfowl loads available, you may want to. Yes, they tend to kick more, so you might want to use an autoloader (see #1), but they also shorten lead time. Since most everyone misses from behind, that's a good thing. High-velocity offerings in the 1,600-plus-fps range are available in Kent's Fasteel, Federal's Black Cloud, Winchester's Blind Side, and Hevi-Shot's Speed Ball lines, while Remington's HyperSonic breaks the 1,700 fps barrier. Hevi-Shot's Hevi-Metal flies at a more subdued yet still speedy 1,500 fps.

4. Carry a wood duck call. If woodies frequent your blind, you'll want a wood duck call hanging around your neck. Combined with a few wood duck decoys mixed in the spread, nothing is deadlier on early-season acorn eaters. My current wood duck enticer is a Duck Commander model, a replacement for a nearly worn out Haydel's call. Both versions make realistic squeals and are easy to blow.

5. Blow a goose flute. For honkers, I use a goose flute. I've never been able to master a short reed, which requires a lot of air flow control in order to make decent sounds. A long flute is much easier to blow for beginners, plus I think it sounds a little more realistic. My go-to goose flute is a battered old Big River Long Honker, but other companies like Banded, Primos and Sean Mann also offer flutes.

6. Buy some full-bodies. While goose shells are economical and easy to set out, nothing beats a full-body decoy for realism. Last winter, I went a little crazy and ordered several models to supplement my shell spread. I've since had the enjoyment of finding a place to store them over summer. However, come fall they'll be well worth the extra money and shelf space. Brands like FA, Dakota and Hard Core offer incredible detail, and Big Foot's B2s, available in Canada, specklebelly, and new snow goose, are tops for ruggedness and ease of setup. While goose hunters have embraced them for years, full-body duck decoys are also catching on, especially for field hunts.

7. Raise the flag. If you've never used a goose flag to wave in wary honkers, you're missing out. Flagging creates movement in the spread and attracts the attention of high-flying flocks. For some reason, though, I often forget to pack my flag, which is ridiculous, because it takes up next to no room. This year, I vow to use a goose flag more. So should you.

8. Have a seat. While layout blinds are all the rage, they can be bulky to transport and difficult to set up, especially in the dark. Simplify life by packing in a folding camp stool and hide in natural vegetation. A folding stool is much more portable than a layout, plus many have a pouch beneath the seat for storing extra ammo and other small items. When tucked into cattails next to a well-used duck hole, it works just as well as any blind, provided you wear head-to-toe camo.

9. Hang some net. Along those same lines, carry a string of camo netting to break up your outline when hunting in sparse cover. You can carry a roll of netting and hang it from available branches, or use a portable net blind with integrated stakes. The most user-friendly preformatted net blind I've found is Hunter's Specialties' Backpacker.

10. Don't forget Fido. The last piece of essential equipment is a dog. Many hunters would rather leave their shotgun at home instead of their retriever. If you aren't hunting with a dog, you're missing out. Besides providing a lot of company, a good retriever will fetch ducks and geese off water and run down cripples with ease. I don't even wear waders most of the time, just a pair of rubber boots for setting out decoys in shallow water. My dog does the rest. Whether you choose a retriever, a spaniel, or one of the versatile pointing breeds, a dog is the most valuable conservation tool a hunter has. Plus, there's someone to feed donuts to and pester with a blade of grass when the shooting's slow.

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