Tweeds and Wellingtons and shotguns
February 20, 2017 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I have a sudden desire to bag some ducks and cook them. I have no experience hunting. I have never even handled a firearm before. How do I make this happen?

I've discussed the idea with some friends who are all enthusiastic. They have taken a firearms safety course, and one of them has experience plucking ducks and chickens. No one owns weapons.

I would like to find somewhere that we can go to, rent the necessary equipment, and have a guide help us out with the actual bird hunting (ducks are not a necessity - if we can get pheasants or other game fowl that's fine). We would then head to a lodge or AirBnB with a well-appointed kitchen and cook them ourselves - we do not need cooking classes or a chef to supervise us.

We all live just outside Boston, so somewhere in New England, upstate New York, or even Canada would be fine. Timeline is completely open at this point - I'm guessing this would be an activity for next fall, so at this point I want to get my ducks in a row (ha!).

So, first - what if any training or prep do we need to do for an outing like this? Second - can you recommend a lodge or an outfitter than can do what we're looking for? I am happy to organize lodging separately if it will ensure we get the cooking part right, so if there's a good guide service that will help us get the birds then I can figure out housing from there.
posted by backseatpilot to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Here are the MA regs. Check state by state.

Regarding firearms practice/training you would need to use a shotgun, so don't go someplace where they only do handguns or rifles.
posted by Hypatia at 9:41 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

See if you can find somewhere that teaches skeet and trap shooting. Perfect prep for what you would like to do and you'll meet people who duck hunt.

And if you make this with a fresh duck, you will be very, very pleased.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:01 AM on February 20, 2017

You're looking for a game farm or game preserve. Sometimes called hunting farms or hunting preserves as well. The season is open until March 31 for upland game (pheasant/quail and such) so there is still time before next season.

Here's one that is in Massachusetts. I am certain there are others, so hopefully this can help you search. You can also contact a local NAVHDA chapter - they will have some recommendations.

Some outiftters will have everything you need - dogs, guns, lodging etc. Some will be more basic - just a private field with good habitat. In some states, they are allowed to operate year round, in others they must abide by the hunting seasons. The game is usually farm raised and released for the hunt. Don't feel too bad about it - Pheasant are an invasive species, anyway. All of the farms I have been to have been full service - they'll place the birds, help you manage the dogs (if you rent them - and hunting with dogs is amazing if you've never done it) and they'll dress, them for legal transport. If you have questions, just ask.

Hope this helps - and above all, be safe.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:31 AM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might try shooting some clays first, to see if it's really what you expect. Shooting a moving target with a shotgun is not an intuitive process. Some people pick it up quickly; others (e.g. me) take a long time. If you're the latter, you could go your entire first hunt without hitting a target, and that would be kind of a bummer. Especially if you're willing to wait until next fall, hone your shooting skills on clay pigeons first so that you're less likely to come back empty-handed.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:36 AM on February 20, 2017

You'll need a hunting license and likely a firearms or hunter safety course in your state. So start with your local fish and game or fish and wildlife agency's hunter information number. They can answer alllll of your questions and often run low cost training programs to boot.
posted by fshgrl at 11:28 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

You'll need a hunting license and likely a firearms or hunter safety course in your state.

This varies by state. For example - WI bird hunting preserve regulations:
A person hunting approved species of birds on a bird hunting preserve does not need a hunting license or stamp and is not subject to closed season restrictions or bag limits unless hunting mallards (see section on Mallard Ducks).
That being said - I recommend getting a license anyway. The state uses the money for habitat and enforcement and to judge how popular the activity is.

Any game preserve of farm you work with will know what you will need to hunt there and can help get you sorted.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:47 AM on February 20, 2017

So, first - what if any training or prep do we need to do for an outing like this?

As others have mentioned, at a minimum you need to have taken hunter safety. I would also recommend some time at a shoooting range that you can rent guns and just spend some time shooting and getting used to handling a firearm. You don't need to become rambo, but you'll be far safer for having had some practice handling guns. Buy your own hearing and eye protection and make sure you use it - At least for practice if not in the field.

For bird hunting practice, you'll be looking for trap or skeet shooting. There are differences between them, but the big idea is to shoot a shotgun at a flying clay pigeon as practice for shooting a moving bird. Sporting clays are even better practice (and a lot more fun, IMO) - if you can find a place near you. But start on trap/skeet and then graduate up. You'll want to spend a few afternoons doing this. You should be able to rent a shotgun for this - all the place I've shot at had rentals. Shotguns aren't super expensive, though, and if you can buy your own and practice with it, your life will be a bit easier.

There are two gauges of shotgun generally used - 20ga and 12ga. The 12 is bigger, has a longer range and makes a bigger boom. The 20 is smaller. You will generally find them in two types of action - break action and pump action. A break action will require manual reloading after every shot (or two, if it is a double barrel). The pump action is what you see in the movies - move the pump back and forward and it ejects the spent shell and loads a new one.

For upland bird (Grouse/quail/pheasant) 20ga is fine - especially if you are using dogs - because you can get closer to them before flushing. With a 12ga, you need to let them get farther out or you just make a cloud of feathers - and that requires a bit more discipline. A 20ga is also lighter and walking across a field with a 14lb gun gets tiresome after a while.

For waterfowl, I prefer a 12ga. You'll be in a blind, usually, and fowl tend to be larger than upland birds.

If I could only have one shotgun, I'd have a 20ga break action over/under. Simple to use, simple to operate, and if you can't hit with two shots, you shouldn't be shooting. Also super easy to make safe - just break the action open. It's what I bought for my wife as a wedding present.

The other main difference is the type of ammo. You'll use smaller shot (4-8) for upland birds than waterfowl (2-4), as a rule. Bigger shot travels farther and makes bigger holes. Smaller shot makes a bigger pattern of smaller holes and doesn't reach as far. You should, if you can, do some skeet shooting with a variety just so you get a feel for the differences.

As far as clothing - again state laws vary. Usually for small game and fowl a blaze orange hat and vest are the minimum required. Some states only require a hat. I usually wear several layers of orange so I can stay comfortable and stay safe. You can usually rent/borrow some blaze, but I really recommend just getting your own - it can be inexpensive. Also, I have to recommend again, buy some hearing and eye protection that you find comfortable.

The last thing you need to do is learn the laws for where you'll be at, and learn to identify your game. There's a difference between a pigeon and a grouse, for example. Granted, on a game farm, you're not likely to run into the wrong species, but birds go where birds go and you don't want to bust a hen pheasant just because you didn't look sharply. You can usually find the small game, waterfowl, or bird hunting guide(s) on the state website.

Have fun. And if you can hunt pheasant with dogs, I can't recommend it enough. A bird dog on birds will meet or exceed your RDA of happiness. It can be an amazing thing to watch.

My 1000th answer!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:52 PM on February 20, 2017 [14 favorites]

Seconding (almost) everything in Pogo's answer, particularly the part about watching a bird dog work--it's incredibly satisfying hunting upland birds behind a gun dog.

So the question is if you're more interested in bagging a bird or eating well. Game preserves are great for having a high probability of hitting game (and the reality is you will almost certainly take home something if you pay to put out enough birds). But pen raised pheasants taste are basically colorful chickens. If you want a little flavor, go after wild pheasants; if you'd like more flavor go after wild ducks (grouse have extra flavor but are not a first-timers bird--they are hard hunting).

If you want to go with wild birds, decide if you want to hunt pheasant or waterfowl. I'm a pheasant guy--walking through a field with the dogs and chatting with friends at 930 in the morning is great. Laying out decoys at 4 am, breaking ice on the lake and then lying in a blind waiting to see if birds fly overhead is not a ton of fun in my books. Again, though, if you are focused on eating, ducks just taste so much better than pheasant.

If you go with pheasants, come to pheasant country. I know the Dakotas and Western Minnesota. You can get good guides--this is one I've hunted with and he's great. Wild birds are wild and no one can guarantee a bird but having seen his land and his dogs, I'd be shocked if you didn't see multiple birds--we limited out. You can also go for more of a high-end, lodge experience but it's pricey and you probably won't end up cooking your own birds.

I don't hunt ducks much but you can go further South and West and probably see birds. You can also do doves in the South, but again, that's not my thing.

Another alternative is to go to a Ducks Unlimited or Pheasants Forever meeting (joining is like $40/year and is spent on conservation--great cause). If you offer to pay for shells, gas, and breakfast and are willing to set decoys, you can probably find someone to take you duck hunting and let you have access to most of the expensive gear. It's not a guide and that person's going to expect that you have your license squared away and know gun safety--don't let them down. Also, keep in mind that you'll probably need to have your own gun and waders. Make sure you let people know you're a novice and that you aren't interested in their honey hole hunting spots and folks are generally welcoming.

A couple of expansions on Pogo's great answer above. First, completely agree on break action 20 gauge. I only let new guys I take hunting shoot that type of gun. It's safe, low recoil, and fun to shoot. But that Browning, while a great gun, is expensive. If you want bare bones, entry level, check out Stoeger Condor--it's not a great gun, it's not even a good gun, but it goes bang reliably when you pull the trigger. It's also really cheap. I'd suggest going for a CZ--a step up in quality and if you give up hunting, it's not so expensive, you'll hate yourself (particularly if you buy used and re-sell afterward) But if you stick with hunting, it's still a good gun (I hunt more with my CZ SxS then more expensive guns in my cabinet). The other point to expand is on ammo. While shot size is different for the different game birds, the big difference is materials. Upland game (depending on state and where you're hunting) can still be hunted with cheap lead shot. But ducks, geese, or other migratory birds HAVE to be hunted with steel shot (or more expensive alternatives). You cannot even have lead shot in your possession when hunting migratory waterfowl. It's a federal law and they take it seriously.

As to your license you may not need a hunter safety course--depends on your state and age. Your license requirements will depend on where, what and when you' are hunting. You should certainly know firearms safety and feel comfortable with a gun--whether you learn that better in a class or from youtube is up to you, as long as you meet the legal requirements.

Finally, a warning--I could have written your question four years ago--no gear, no experience, just a desire to go hunting and eat what I killed. I now have a gun dog, a gun cabinet with multiple long guns, and have put about 30k miles on my car for hunting. It's a great activity, but it can get very addictive and very expensive.

Sorry for the long reply, but man I love upland hunting...just looking at my Brittany and waiting for Fall.
posted by limagringo at 6:48 PM on February 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is great information, thanks. Definitely not the "buy the $5 license and borrow a rod" experience like fishing!

I found the basic hunter education courses that Mass Fish and Wildlife teaches, and I'll start calling around the local gun clubs to see if they do intro sessions for non-members.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:33 AM on February 21, 2017

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