Waterfowling 101

Waterfowling has a longstanding tradition in Alberta, and puts some of the best meat on your table. If you’ve done it before you know just how varied and wonderful of a field experience it can be. Let’s get started!

Field Shooting

STEP 1: Mallards, pintails and geese are the primary species hunted in agricultural fields. To start, identify where birds are feeding. All it takes is a landowner map and a willingness to put some miles on your vehicle. Stay in the vicinity of large wetlands where waterfowl roost and scout early mornings and evenings.

STEP 2: Once you’ve located a field with huntable numbers of birds, track down the landowner for permission. Hunt the following morning for best results.

STEP 3: Set up your blind(s) in the field where you saw birds feeding. Commercial layout blinds are popular, but willow blinds, bale blinds and natural cover are all effective.


  • More decoys are better, but use whatever you have. Silhouette and windsock decoys are an economical way to fill out your spread. Expect birds to land into the wind, so set your blind(s) at the upwind end of a V- or U-shaped spread.
  • Calling can be helpful…but no calling is much better than poor calling.
  • If your dog is a beginning hunter, try leaving it in the vehicle until after the field hunt. Be sure though to mark the location of wounded birds that your dog can help retrieve.

Small Water

STEP 1: Start scouting. You may notice mallards landing in small wetlands—often willow-ringed—within or near to the field where they’re feeding. These wetlands are generally a couple acres or less in size and offer honey-hole shooting opportunities, both morning and afternoon.

STEP 2: Set up along the wetland margin on the upwind side. Toss out six to 18 floater decoys. These instill confidence in incoming birds while helping keep them in line with your blind.

TIPS FOR SUCCESS: Use natural cover whenever possible for your blind. Where there isn’t sufficient cover, willow blinds are best.

Lakes and Large Wetlands

STEP 1: Scout large wetlands to identify which portions birds are using. The best hunting locations are often from natural points or, if you have a boat, from islands.

STEP 2: Set up and remember birds fly into the wind. Decoys should be well-spaced, 5 to 10 metres apart, and laid out in a U or V shape. If you have enough decoys, extend the outer wing of your spread 100 metres or more downwind, as ducks love to fly up the line.

TIPS FOR SUCCESS: Wounded birds will dive and swim away surprisingly quickly on lakes, so a dog is of immense value. If you don’t have a dog, have a way to retrieve ducks. It’s considered ethical to shoot a wounded bird on the water if it looks like it might otherwise escape.

Learning to waterfowl happens by trial and error. Start with the fundamentals and pay attention to the birds. If they aren’t responding to your layout, confirm you’re well hidden. Don’t be shy about experimenting with your decoy spread.


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