View Full Version : Waterfowling 101 - getting started

Ian F.
08-30-2007, 03:59 PM
A little about me, I grew up in a waterfowling family and can’t ever remember a fall that chasing ducks wasn’t a part of. Our family connection to the “old world” is a muzzle loading shotgun that came over from Ireland with Alexander Feir in 1837.

I grew up hunting southern Ontario marshes, lakes and the great lakes, starting with puddlers then moving onto divers. Work took me through the north and so did my hunting, the lean years if you will. Then to the Maritimes where I got heavily into sea ducking (eiders, scoters, oldsquaw) along with blacks, mallards and phenomenal bluebill shoots. I’ve hunted Eider in Maine, Cans on the fabled pool 9 of the Mississippi, chased sea ducks through Washington and now find myself in BC. After what most said was their worst year ever, I can say it was my best duckin’ year ever and beyond a doubt we have some of, if not the best gunning in north America!

Waterfowling is not something I do in the fall, it’s something I do year round. I carve and compete with decoys, I build boats, I’m always looking for duck spots, watefowling is not a hobby for me, it is a lifestyle! I've been chasing birds for 23 years under license and before that as the dog for my dad and I know but the tip of the iceberg, this is what is so attractive about this game.

I believe in teaching folks to fish over giving them one, and along that vein is why I’m writing this. Shang Wheeler is credited with saying “I’m willing to help any man that is first willing to help himself” This sums up what I believe, and hopefully this little eclectic bunch of writings will be that help.

Very best,

Ian R. Feir

So where to start?

You have a least an interest in waterfowling to get this far, so I think I will start with shotguns and shooting.

Since 1996 Canada has gone non-toxic for all waterfowl, this means the days of lead are gone and one must use either steel, bismuth, tungsten or a few of the other non-tox loads available, but more about shells later.

The standard gun for waterfowling would have to be a 12ga pump, and I think saying an 870 is the one to go with would get at least ½ of the people agreeing. 12ga is the best place to start, but there are also 20ga’s and 10ga’s, worry about bigger and smaller gauges once you get started in the game, unless you are small and a 12 just isn’t fun. Steel doesn’t act like lead going down the barrel, so you need more open chokes to get the same effect, an improved cylinder with steel tends to produce a modified pattern. What this means is that if your gun has a fixed choke, and the traditional lead guns usually did, and they had full choke, you’ll have some decisions to make (risk blowing up the barrel, get a new barrel, get it opened up, or have screw in installed). Starting out, an 870 express ($350 new) chambered in 3” with screw in chokes is hard to beat.

One thing I preach is “try before you buy”! So find someone with the gun you are looking at and pay for a few rounds at the skeet field, gun fit is very important in shotgunning, quite often you don’t even realise it until you’ve been in the game awhile or someone points it out. Right is right, wrong is wrong.

I could go on about guns for a very long time, but as you may already know guns and what is good, bad and ugly is all about personal preference. Some days I love my X2 (o.k. most days), some my Spanish S x S, others my 311, 20ga, still others I want to shoot my old 870, get my point? Ask any two duck hunters what’s the best gun to buy and you’ll get 3 answers!

So you have a gun, begged, borrowed or otherwise..

What now? GO hunting! WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!

Shotguns function very differently then rifles, yet many shoot them like rifles. They have a bunch of pellets going down a smooth bore, instead of a single down a rifled bore. Targets are usually moving (read flying), and to some degree killing or not has an element of luck. To consistently hit moving targets one has to practice, practice some more and then practice some more, and more, and more!

I truly believe that the skeet field is the place to learn to shoot a shotgun, and here’s why. Skeet was set up to give practice to hunters and to emulate the most common shots in hunting. You have coming, going, crossing, singles, doubles and just about everything else. It is set up on a pattern that is the same from field to field to field, so you learn what’s right and what’s not through repetition. Sporting clays is super fun, but not the place to learn. Trap is a game based on driven pheasant, with all going away shots, it’s better then nothing but it doesn’t have the various leads that are essential to waterfowlling and bird shooting in general.

I love to see peoples faces when they first break a target by aiming 4 feet in front of it! Remember this if you are new or old to shotgunning. You have to be in front of the target to break it, plain and simple!

There is a direct correlation between practice and success in the field, shoot 20 boxes at the skeet field before the season and you’ll be in good shape. Shoot them with some instruction and an eye for improvement and you’ll be in great shape!

Simply stated we owe it to our quarry to hone our skills to make a quick clean kill, that can’t be done without practice. Shooting is a skill, a learned and practiced skill, so unless you can consistently hit 60% of the targets on a skeet field without any practice, but spend some more time busting clays!

Next we’ll talk about Scouting, but how bout some homework? Who is Shang Wheeler and why should a give a damn about him?

08-30-2007, 04:40 PM
Well said, I look forward to following this program closely.

I do believe that Shang Wheeler was a decoy carver.


08-30-2007, 08:33 PM
Carry on Ian.

I feel like I have just read a forward to a book.

08-30-2007, 08:41 PM
Good on you Ian,

When you get to the chapter about placing decoys spreads (numbers, locations, shapes, wind direction) please take lots of time. That is where I seem to err.



bc sportsman
08-30-2007, 09:00 PM
HHMMM....was a decoy carver, created both decoys for hunting as well as for display. Decoys originated in NA by Native Indians rather than in Europe.

He won the first decoy carving championship organized by Barber. His decoy for the contest was created as art rather than hunting.

I can't quite figure out why 'we should give a damn' since he didn't start the decoy tradition, wasn't the first Caucasian to take it up the practice from the Natives. His significant contribution seems to be using decoys as an art form rather than for hunting. Also, Barber was the one who apparently started the first significant decoy collection, not Wheeler.

08-31-2007, 01:11 AM
Great into Ian i will be doing alot more duck hunting this year and need all the help i can get.I hope there is a good amount of info about dogs.This is going to be great

09-03-2007, 04:39 PM
Thanks for the info Ian. Good read.

When can we expect the next "class"?

Ian F.
09-03-2007, 07:56 PM
Hopefully tomorrow, this weekend was carving decoys and fixing up the boat!

09-03-2007, 11:45 PM
thanks for doing this Ian. Looking forward to your next post. I've subscribed to this thread so as not to miss it.

09-29-2014, 11:03 PM
This makes me want to eat birds :))

Ian F.
09-30-2014, 06:34 AM
Written in 2007.....




Use the search function, this forum has a wealth of info..

Very best,


09-30-2014, 08:08 AM
Great and very informative. Someone should sticky all three threads at the top of the forum for new hunters to be able to reference in the future.

I am going to have to come by one of these days and check out your decoys. Keep up the good work.

09-30-2014, 08:16 AM
Thans Ian best post ever!

06-16-2018, 02:56 AM
Thanks, Ian!