From a one-man blind to top-tier waders to a remarkable semi-auto shotshell shooter, Haugen’s arsenal of duck gear is perfect for any hardcore waterfowl hunter.
by Scott Haugen
With duck season winding down, I look back at my notes, noticing what gear I liked and didn’t like. This is when I decide what gear I’ll keep using next season and what I’ll give to the kids in the neighborhood.
I won’t slam gear I don’t like because it may have been a faulty piece or didn’t work in my specific applications; you just won’t read about it. I base my decisions on extensive testing. This season, I went on over 75 duck hunts in multiple states. Last season was over 100 hunts, as was the season before that. I’m not a writer who gets a piece of gear, goes on one hunt, and writes about how great it is. That’s unfair to readers relying on extensive field testing and comprehensive reports.
I use a lot of gear on many hunts and pay close attention to performance. With that in mind, here’s the gear I’ve used, love, and will keep using. Mind you, these are firsthand accounts of what I like and why.
Browning Maxus II
I hunted in nice weather one-day last season. It was a wet, cold, foggy season with so much ice. I slogged through swamps, mud, flooded fields, sloughs, creeks, rivers, lakes and saltwater. In all of these conditions, my Browning Maxus II delivered. Whether I’m shooting steel, bismuth, tungsten, or blends, I shoot Browning’s factory full choke. My dad shoots the same gun but prefers their modified choke. At times, the action can get bogged down. This means frequent cleaning, but that’s easy, and a shot of lubricant in the field always got me through. I’ve shot a lot of guns and trust the Maxus II to keep working and throwing consistent patterns wherever I am. If I had one all-around duck gun to choose, this is it.
I think I’ve shot every brand of pure bismuth on the market, and Kent’s is the best performing in my gun with my choke selection. The first divers I shot with it as they ran across the water for liftoff opened my eyes. The tight pattern killed two redheads with two shots out to 50 yards. The performance was like nothing I’d seen with other bismuth brands. I cut open one of Kent’s #5 bismuth loads and saw the consistent shot sizing and how round the pellets were, like nothing I’d seen in other pure bismuth loads I’d inspected. Kent bismuth held together and didn’t fragment in my gun and accounted for scores of birds last season and a number of geese. This is the only pure bismuth load I’ve shot with confidence. I burned through over two cases of it this season.
B&P Steel Blend
I love a good steel blend load and enjoy mixing bigger pellets with smaller ones, but not too small. Enter Baschieri & Pellagri’s Dual Steel Magnum. When my 83-year-old father shot this load, he stuck with it all season, and rightly so, since he killed seven ducks in eight shots the first time he was shooting it. The load features #2 steel stacked atop #3 zinc-plated steel. I shot this load a lot and was surprised with its ability to kill at long range, in high winds, and with conviction, drop fat, thick-feathered, late-season birds. The 100 percent biodegradable wad performs perfectly.
MOmarsh InvisiMan Blind
I hunt alone a lot and love one-person, low-profile blinds. I usually make my own from simple materials, but when a couple of buddies said I needed to try the InvisiMan, I took their word for it. The first morning I used it, ducks circled directly overhead multiple times before dropping into the decoys. These were late-season, educated birds. They didn’t flare once. My hunting buddy picked up an InvisiMan, and we shared multiple hunts with them. They replaced our layout and A-frame blinds on various hunts. Sturdy, durable, and easy to pack and set up, these are some of the best blinds I’ve ever hunted.
I don’t call a lot, but when I do, I want the sounds to be pure, and Slayer Calls delivers. Their Ranger is my favorite double reed call because it’s crisp and loud, noticeably turning the heads of distant ducks in harsh weather conditions at extreme distances. I use the Ranger to get their attention, then let the decoys do the rest.
I also hunt a lot of wigeon and pintails, and Slayer’s Whistler’s Mother call is tops, producing crisp tunes that carry. This season, I compared it side-by-side with three other calls on numerous hunts and every time, my buddies said Whistler’s Mother sounded the best to them. I did this in a range of conditions and various habitats, and obviously, my buddies didn’t know which brand of call I was blowing or when. Whistler’s Mother also mimics drake mallard and wood duck sounds and has brought in both species for me.
Sitka Delta Waders
I’m sure I’m the last duck hunter to try Sitka’s Delta Waders. I wore them on over 30 hunts this season and instantly fell in love with them. The boots are the most comfortable I’ve worn in a wader and are easy to get in and out of. The legs aren’t baggy, making wading in rivers, through thick vegetation, and deep water simple and safe. The front zipper, pockets, and suspenders are efficient, comfortable, and perform flawlessly. I’ve worn many brands of waders, some great, but if I had to choose one set to take into battle, Sitka’s Delta Waders would be it.
The first time I slipped into AVES’ Stratum 50 Half-Zip Hoodie, I thought, “Man, this would be nice if it had pockets.” It did — five pockets, to be exact. I saw the zipper chest pocket; it was obvious. The other four were made so well — no loose parts sticking out — I simply overlooked them. I hate bulky, loose-fitting hunting clothes, especially when duck hunting. The ergonomic fit and performance of every AVES clothing I wore last season greatly impressed me. From that lightweight hoodie, which works great as a standalone garment in nice weather, blocks the wind, and layers ideally in the late season, to their Drifter jacket and pants. AVES is a new level of gear every serious waterfowl hunter should check out.
Sitka Full Choke Pack
I have a new favorite blind pack. Sitka’s Full Choke Pack went on over 60 waterfowl hunts with me this season. It endured the harshest downpours, keeping everything inside perfectly dry, including over $4K in camera gear I took on most hunts. The fact the zippers and straps held up to what I put them through amazed me. I love the backpack-style blind bag as it’s way more comfortable and efficient than an over-the-shoulder, one-strap blind bag. With it on, I could carry my small, homemade, one-person blind and decoys, keeping me mobile and able to reach the X in one trip.
I have two pudelpointers who love duck hunting. They’re a narrow-waisted, deep-chested breed, and finding a good waterfowl vest that fits them is challenging. I got this vest for Kona, my big male pudelpointer who tips the scales at 63 lbs. He’s thin-skinned and muscular. With its six multi-directional velcro fastening points, I adjusted the VersaVest to fit his unique build securely. It took a while, but once I figured it out and put it on Kona, and he took off running through the field, I knew we had a good thing. After the first duck hunt with it, I immediately ordered a VersaVest for Echo, my 44-pound female. The dogs logged over 50 hunts in the VersaVests, and there was no rubbing under the legs, chest, or neck. The rubberized chest panel is sturdy and protects against thick brush, submerged sticks, and more. The paracord handle and metal leash loop are sturdy and well-placed. The 5mm rubberized Neoprene and water-repellent coated poly fabric keeps dogs warm and helps them float in water. The best thing is that it can be adjusted anytime to fit your dog’s body, even as it ages. I even made adjustments throughout the season as my dogs lost weight and will re-adjust for spring and summer training as they put a pound back on.
Note: Scott Haugen has been a waterfowl hunter for 48 years. Learn more about his many books at www.scotthaugen.com and follow his adventures on Instagram and Facebook.