Waterfowl hunting, at its essence, is child’s play. You float rubber duckies, you hide in forts, you blow kazoos, you get your good clothes all muddy. The difference between adults and kids, though, is the price of their toys and the size of the shed you store them in. We looked all over SHOT for the best new waterfowl gear and found new items from guns to self-waving goose flags. Here are 14 of our favorites.
Big news for small-gauge fans is the introduction of the Super X4 in 20 gauge. The 20 has all the soft-shooting, reliable attributes of the proven SX4 gas gun, and it adds the classic Browning speed-loading feature, too; push a shell into the magazine tube and it is whisked up into the chamber. The 20-gauge SX4 has the same enlarged controls of the 12-gauge version for ease of operation. Chambered for 3-inch shells and able to cycle a wide range of ammo, the camo models make a great choice for those who want to try the challenge of hunting turkeys or waterfowl with a 20-gauge. Black-synthetic- and walnut-stocked models are also available, including a scaled-down compact version. $1070; winchesterguns.com —P.B.
Tungsten Super Shot has been a cult favorite among turkey hunting nuts for several years, but it went mainstream in a big way last spring with the introduction of Federal Heavyweight TSS. The stuff is expensive, but after dumping gobblers at 50-plus yards with TSS No. 9 shot, many hunters—myself included—wondered, “How would this stuff do on ducks?” TSS is non-toxic, but cost prohibitive for high-volume shooting. So, to keep costs down, Federal blended it with their proven Flight Stopper steel to create a new Black Cloud TSS shell that is off-the-charts effective. I used it on a DIY duck hunt in North Dakota last fall, and it flat works. I’m not a fan of shooting ducks—or anything else—at long range, but sometimes stuff happens and that third shot in the gun is often at a 50-plus-yard bird. These shells have the pellet count and ballistics to do the job at that range and probably farther. The 3-inch,1¼-ounce loads match either No. 7 or No. 9 TSS (60 percent of the shot) with BB or No. 3 steel (40 percent). At almost $38 for 10, they aren’t cheap, but they aren’t out of touch with other high-performance waterfowl loads, either. $37.95 for box of 10; federalpremium.com —W.B.
Mallards and swamps are great and all, but given the choice I’ll take divers on a big lake. For years, Mojo’s floating bluebill spinner has been the best motion-decoy complement to my long-line diver spreads because it’s anchored with a line and weight. The decoy is reliable, but not always stable in choppy water. Connecting the decoy to the float isn’t all that secure, either. Given all that, Mojo’s new Elite Series Floaters—which include a bluebill, redhead, and mallard version—seem really promising. Like all Elite Series decoys, these compartmentalize the battery and spinner motor in a housing, while the “duck” portion of the decoy is a flexible shell that goes over that housing. The new float locks onto the decoy with a half turn, and includes a removable stabilizing bar with a 14-ounce lead weight to keep it steady in rough water. Older-generation floaters used a 6-volt rechargeable battery, but the new Elite Series runs on four AAs—which I prefer—and they come remote-control ready. $140; mojooutdoors.com —W.B.
Retay’s new Masai Mara inertia semiauto comes in a 3 ½-inch waterfowl version this year. Although not yet well-known in the U.S., the Masai Mara is a very well-made Turkish gun built in a modern, high-tech factory. It has some unique features, including a trigger group that pops out with the push of a button, a removable ejector, and Retay’s own bolt design that eliminates the “Benelli click” misfire. The 3½-inch version features an enlarged bolt handle and bolt release button, and it comes in black, Bottomlands, and Max5. It’s a fairly light gun at 7¼ pounds but not unmanageable with 3½-inch shells, as I found out when I shot it at Range Day. $1,200 in black, $1,399 camo; retayusa.com
Just in time for the spring season, Winchester Xpert Snow Goose loads are already on dealer’s shelves, ready for the hunt. The new loads come in 3- and 3 ½-inch 12 gauge, in either BB or a 50-50 blend of 1s and 2s. The shells are loaded with Winchester’s Diamond Cut wad, which holds the shot together a few feet out of the muzzle before it separates, resulting in tight patterns, perfect for the days when wary flocks won’t commit and shots are long. The shells are loaded into a gray hull, so your empties won’t give away your position on the high-volume shooting days. $14-$19 per box of 20; winchester.com —P.B.
CZ is making a serious play at the American waterfowling market with the 1012, an all-new synthetic-stocked gun with an inertia-operated action (CZ calls it “gas-less”) that works with 2¾- or 3-inch shells. The gun has a 28-inch barrel, weighs 6.5 pounds, is available in five different finish options, and comes with five choke tubes. I haven’t shot it yet myself, but in my experience, CZ makes a good gun for the money. If the new 1012 proves to be a shooter, you’re looking at a very good bargain. $659; cz-usa.com —W.B.
For years, goose hunters have looked for a motion decoy that matches the effectiveness of spinners on ducks. Plenty of gadgets have come and gone in goose fields, but not many of them work as well as an old-fashioned flag on a long pole. Mojo’s new Mini Flags use that concept of slower, infrequent motion to bring life to a goose spread—without your having to do a thing. The Mini Flags are sold in packs of four, come in black and white versions, and are designed to provide random and intermittent flagging-like movement. The Mojo guys told me that the flags worked well during field tests this past fall on Canadas and snows—and that ducks really liked them, too. I think these will prove to be a hit. $140; mojooutdoors.com —W.B.
We don’t think about our decoy bags much, right up until they fall apart on us. This bag from Alps will not fail you. The sturdy bag is made from the same stout Tech Mesh that Alps uses on its outdoor chairs, and it’s a perfect fit for a decoy bag: it’s durable, it drains water, and the mesh is fine enough not to snag decoys on the way in and out of the bag. This model has a nylon top, and both a drawstring and button closure. It has extra handles, a padded back, adjustable backpack straps with D-rings in case you need to haul some more gear into the marsh, and it holds a couple dozen duck decoys. $65; alpsoutdoorz.com —P.B.
For anyone brought up hunting from a layout, a standup blind can seem large and obnoxious. The profile is definitely bigger, but I’ve shot geese and mallards from them in the middle of an open grain field, and they work. With a good backdrop—like an island shoreline or fencerow—and the right brushing job, they simply vanish. This new standup blind from Lucky Duck, called the 2×4, is built of 7/8-inch aluminum tubing, with a 900-denier outer-fabric covering. The entire thing is 10 feet long when set up and will comfortably accommodate four hunters, but you can also set up half the blind for two hunters, as a separate outer shell for the smaller version is included. In my experience, this style of blind takes two hunters about 15 minutes to snap together and brush in the dark. Broken down for transport, it takes up significantly less space in the boat or trailer than four layout blinds—and they’re a heck of a lot more comfortable to hunt from, too. $499; luckyduck.com —W.B.
For 2019, Beretta’s excellent A400 Xtreme now comes in a new Plus version, enhanced for waterfowl hunting, and the best part is, you get a bunch of new features and don’t have to pay one penny more for them. These include a stepped rib with a middle bead, a lengthened forcing cone, a recoil- and vibration-reducing rubber comb, enlarged bolt and magazine releases, and a loading port that’s been ground open for easier loading. It also has the shock-absorber-like Kick-Off recoil reducer, which does a very effective job of taming magnum recoil (the gun will shoot everything from very light target loads to 3½-inch shells). The new Xtreme Plus retains one of my favorte gadgets, too—a magazine cap that releases with a push and half a turn, like a child-proof cap. $1900; beretta.com
The Flambeau booth had a running fountain, and I peered inside to see a fine-looking greenhead mallard decoy swimming against the current. The decoy was made from a realistic carving with an accurate paint scheme—but it was the swimming motion that really grabbed my attention. The long and short of it: This decoy swims like a real duck. That’s due in large part to a “new” keel design that’s actually a throwback to the decoy keels of yesteryear. Lower profile than the usual weighted or water-filled keel, the Gunning Style keel is shaped like the skeg on an outboard motor, and that design, combined with the decoy’s rounded belly, makes these fakes ride the water more realistically. Gunning Series Decoys are foam-filled, and you can get yourself a six-pack of them that includes four drakes and two hens with four different head positions. Rumor has it a wood duck and bluebill version will be coming soon. $135; flambeauoutdoors.com —W.B.
Think of the Gunner G1 as a Yeti cooler for your dog. If you’ll pay $400 to keep your beer cold, shouldn’t you pay a little more to keep your dog safe? The G1 boasts a five-star crash rating as well as an impressive number of features to keep your retriever safe and comfortable. The roto-molded, double-wall construction provides both crash protection and insulation. The escape-proof door has backup latches, just in case, and the main latch locks to deter thieves. Window vents are designed to keep water out. The kennel features built-in tie-down rods and stout kayak-style handles, inline wheels, and elevated feet. That’s a lot of engineering, but isn’t your dog worth it? Available in four sizes, this year with the option of a Mossy Oak Bottomland door. The medium kennel can hold a pair of Labs. $430 for original kennel; $599 for new Mossy Oak version (shown); gunnerkennels.com —P.B.
Duck bums, those guides and itinerant hunters who go through shells by the case every season while watching every penny, shoot a lot of Kent Fasteel. It’s affordable, it works, and now it’s better. Fasteel 2.0 features a new primer, the CX2000, and Alliant powders that insure ignition and consistent velocities in a wide range of temperatures. In fact, Kent has even been able to achieve slightly higher velocities in their heavier 3- and 3½-inch 12-gauge Fasteel loads. The shot is plated to resist corrosion and better flow through chokes for improved patterning. Available in 2¾-, 3-, and 3½-inch 12, as well as 2¾- and 3-inch 20 gauge. $15 to $24; kentcartridge.com —P.B.
Stoeger’s affordable 3500 3½-inch inertia gun gets a waterfowl makeover for 2019, with all the features currently being bestowed on top-of-the-line guns. The result is a practical, tough shotgun that still won’t break the bank. The 3500 features a camo stock and forend and a Cerakoted barrel and receiver; it also has an enlarged bolt handle and bolt closer and a bottom port ground out for easier loading. Extended choke tubes and a paracord sling complete the package. $850; stoegerindustries.com
D.O.A.’s new Legacy Fullbody goose decoy grabbed my attention as I strode down the aisles of the SHOT Show, and that’s what decoys are supposed to do. For one thing, it’s huge (in the photo above, it’s the one on the right, next to a standard D.O.A. Rogue Series Fullbody). The handiwork of champion carver Glen Ladenberger, it is also beautifully detailed. Now owned by Beavertail, well-known makers of plastic boats, D.O.A. decoys stake their reputation on the durability of their decoys and their paint. The Legacy series geese come on D.O.A.’s stable hex-motion bases. $250 per six; explorebeavertail.com —P.B.