Mike Shea, a Field & Stream Duck Reporter, spent the past duck season hunting hard in Rhode Island. This is the equipment he used in the field. See what held up best and which items are getting an update in 2013.
Like marrying your high school sweetheart, the only shotgun I’ve ever loved was my Remington 870 Wingmaster. Heavy, with a 30-inch barrel, she swung smooth and just felt right. Then last year I shot the Franchi Affinity. Well, I wouldn’t say I divorced my 870, I just moved a younger, lighter, modern gal into the gun safe.
Essentially a dressed down M2, the Franchi’s Inertia system runs up the tube, which makes it nicely balanced, quick to point, and sleek. One of my gripes about most autoloaders is the big bulky feel, like swinging a gas-operated club, but the Affinity has none of that. Franchi will tell you she weighs a lusty 6.5 pounds, but mine is closer to 7 in Realtree MAX-4. She fits well, and held up to near daily abuse on the saltwater. Best of all, you can find one for $700 in synthetic black. For 2013 Franchi has released a Sporting version, with a nickel-plated action, and a few tweaks for the clays course. MSRP: about $1,000.
I wanted to not like Sitka. Something about $500 jackets and its wilderness “athlete” campaign turned me off. That said, my anti-elitist sentiment went right out the window the second I tried on there stuff. Sitka, without doubt, makes the best hunting apparel I’ve ever used.
I spent many, many hours in the Duck Oven Jacket – a Gore-Tex Windstopper and Primaloft wonder layer. The Windstopper isn’t the fleece-like material you’re probably used to, but a parachute-like nylon skin, with a thin layer of Primaloft baffling. The combination is exceedingly light and unbelievably warm. The first few times out I nearly sweated to death as I wore the two layers of synthetics I normally require under a fleece. Even when the water was locked up in ice, I wore the Duck Oven, pictured left, with just a t-shirt. It has extra long sleeves and thumb loops, which I really came to like, and is cut for chest waders.
In the rain and snow, I threw Sitka’s Hudson Jacket over the Duck Oven. From the zippers, to the waterproofed gasket sleeves, to the Velcro and pocket clasps, it’s one of the highest quality hunting shells around. It’s not insulated, which makes it a great early season jacket. Paired with the Duck Oven, it stood up to the coldest weather I experienced this season, including a few rare single digit days.
If you don’t want to buy two coats, Sitka is releasing the Boreal Jacket in 2013. It looks identical to the Hudson Jacket—though they smartly added hip pockets, which were missing on the original—but it’s insulated with 650-fill down. Though I haven’t used it, it will probably be warmer than the Duck Oven/Hudson combo, which is saying something. The Duck Oven runs $250; the Boreal is suggested at $600. That’s a lot of money for a jacket, but with Sitka you get what you pay for.
Waders leak. Generally I’m lucky if a pair lasts a season. LaCrosse gets special mention, because their Brush-Tuff Extreme waders have lasted me two seasons of hard hunting. The only other pair that comes close to that is an old set of Cabela’s Super Magnums, but I had to return two sets of those before getting a pair that didn’t leak in the crotch, but I digress. My one and only pair of these bomb-proof LaCrosse waders have worn well. The 5mm neoprene is fleece lined, which is nice indeed, especially if you’re in a jam and only wearing boxer shorts underneath...long story.
Most notable, above the ankle where the leg meets the boot, LaCrosse has designed a gasket-like cuff. You will either love this or hate it. On the love side, it keeps your foot firmly in the boot and because it's snug, I believe it keeps your feet warmer. On the hate side, unless you wear wader pants, which I don’t, it can jam up a pair of jeans pretty good and makes putting them on an operation. But once they’re on, they’re great. The seams are double stitched and the knees have what LaCroose calls “bi-directional facing” for reinforcement and puncture resistance. I’ve seen some complaints online that they have a leak problem near the pocket , but my pair is rock solid. My model came with an 800g boot, but this year they upped it to 1600g. At $290 they’re not cheap, but they may very well last three seasons or more.
The Field 90 is the no-nonsense workhorse of the Tri-Tronics line. About a year and a half ago, Garmin bought out Tri-Tronics and at SHOT Show 2013 they unveiled a Garmin-branded e-collar, the Delta Sport. The transmitter and receiver is much like the Tri-Tronics Sport series, and it’s priced about the same at $250. It has the standard-issue continuous and momentary jolt, along with a tone/vibration feature. There’s 18-levels of correction and the controller has an innovative LCD readout. This is the first e-collar with a bark eliminator built right in. Garmin claims the BarkLimiter technology recognizes the difference between wanted and unwanted barks. I have no idea how that works, but I know a little yappy dog I can test it on.
When these fully flocked, full-body FA decoys arrived, I opened them up, attached the stakes and spread them out on my front lawn. About half way through the dogs got outside and they went bananas. Archie, the golden, nearly tackled one, and the little dog, Taco, went berserk, barking and running in circles. They thought geese were invading. When the early season opened, the live birds proved just as fooled.
These new lesser Canada dekes look fantastic, with a great FA body carving and six postures. For 2013, they tweaked the design a bit: the neck connection between the head and body is solid-molded; they eliminated the snap-on legs, which had a tendency to come off anyway; and the stakes run up into a cone in the base of the deke, then attaches to a length of taught bungee cord. At first setup, using the stake and the bungee cord was time consuming and complicated, but as the season progressed I was able to hook them up quickly. The bungee system also adds nice motion in a strong wind. They retail for $200 per half dozen and come with a heavy-duty decoy bag.
I’m no competition caller. In fact, I usually struggle through the early season and don’t hit stride until a few weeks in. That, however, was not the case with Haydel’s new Flamin’ Bois d’ arch. (Don’t ask me how to pronounce that.)
This call features the classic Haydel’s Cajun Squeal guts in an old-school Hedge body with a double O-ring seal. The best thing about it is the sound: quiet, raspy, and controlled, which made it really effective on coastal black ducks where my big open water acrylic sent them scrambling. I found it really easy to blow, and easy to tune. It quickly became my go-to mallard, black duck call. And it’s a bargain at only $85.
I’m a boot snob. I literally own six pair of neoprene knee boots, each one for a different purpose: warm weather, cold weather, extreme cold weather, long walks, tree-stand sitting, and all around comfort. These Muck Boots, the Woody Ex Pro, are by far my favorite cold weather boot. I wore them while field hunting geese and in the tree stand during the coldest weeks of the year. They’re extremely rigid, which I like most about them, and they molded to my feet beautifully.
For 2013, Muck is updating the Woody lineup with the XpressCool Woody Sport. They claim it’s a spring/summer neoprene boot that won’t turn your foot into a tropical rain forest. It’s done by way of “four-way stretch nylon” that will supposedly keep things cool. I haven’t hunted in them yet, but if they meet the company's own claims half-way, it could be a great late snow goose/Spring turkey/early season goose item. They’ll retail for $165.
This Home Depot special will be the best $15 decoy bag you’ll ever buy. We used them for diver and sea duck spreads that routinely pushed 80 decoys, stacked over three leaf bags. It works because we long-line our decoys with 400-pound mono and bouy snaps. This way nothing tangles, even if they’re all jumbled together. If you took this same rig and put them in slotted bags, which can cost more than twice as much and always tend to be too small for foam floaters, the clips inevitably hang-up between the slots. Like when coiling line, you’re better off with a contained pile than a tight, twisted-up package.
We bungee corded these bags to the side of the boat while underway. When they’re empty they collapse into a thin foam disc, which makes a nice seat. There are drainage holes in the bottom of the bag, so it never takes on water, even when the decoys do. My main hunting partner, Tim, and I stumbled on this solution this season. Some smart company needs to come out with them in Max-4 camo. They’d make a killing.