Over the years my favorite outdoor pastimes have changed a few times, and they may well alter again, but for the last decade waterfowling of any and all styles offers me the greatest thrill, the most satisfaction, and untold insight into ducks and geese. One fact repeats itself again and again every autumn, whether you’re popping shells at puddle ducks from a pond, gunning geese from a grain field, or shooting sea ducks from a stony shoreline, there’s often one useful, sometimes essential, item misplaced, forgotten, or just plain gone.
Perhaps that important accessory is in the truck, back in the boat, or still at home, but it’s not on hand in one of your many multi-sized camo clothing pockets where it should be. Yes, the trip can go on without an extra set of dry gloves, a second duck call, fresh batteries for the head lamp, extra anchor line, and a multi tool, but likely not as smoothly. About five years ago, I purchased a new piece of waterfowling gear that has virtually eliminated the problem of forgotten or overlooked duck and goose gunning paraphernalia. It’s called a blind bag, and it’s a real boon to outdoorsmen who regularly travel near and far to hunt.
What’s your bag?
A multitude of companies manufacture gear bags in a mind-boggling array of sizes, shapes, styles, and colors, so selecting just the right one can take a bit of investigation. There are blind bags, pit bags, guides’ bags, mud bags, field bags, floating hunting bags, rucksacks, accessory cases, backpacks, and a dozen other combinations or names.
Each hunter will have to make a personal selection involving personal preferences, but allow me to suggest a few guidelines: compact, camo, convenient, and compartments are prime considerations. Too large and the blind bag becomes a burden rather than a benefit, while too small limits the amount of accessories to be packed along. I currently use an Avery blind bag that’s 17 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 10 inches in height. It’s very suitable and accessible with two side pockets for shell boxes, an expandable front pouch pocket, and inner compartments and a zipper pouch. I wouldn’t suggest going one inch smaller to the average waterfowl gunner, and my uppermost size with regard to capacity and carry comfort would be 20 by 12 by 12 inches.
Water-repellent fabric is a must and a waterproof bottom and inner flotation a plus. Flotation foam padding takes up storage space, but if a loaded bag with hundreds of dollars of equipment is dropped from the boat or blind into fresh or salt water, the gear won’t be ruined. Many gear bags guarantee to float with as many as 12 boxes of shotgun shells on board and that’s quite a feat. As added incentive, foam adds protection for delicate equipment such as a GPS, rangefinder, camera, cell phone, or hand-carved calls from being banged about during travel. Select a tote with a comfortable nonslip shoulder strap as well as a set of wide carry handles that encompass and support the bag from the bottom and up each side. Camo patterns are a personal choice but try to pick colors that fit grain fields, seashore ledges, and shoreline duck blinds, not too dark or light. Mossy oak shadow grass has proven a great color combo for all my waterfowl exploits.
I’ve found that a hand strap or shoulder field bag fits my needs better than a duffel bag, knapsack, or briefcase style carryall with regard to ease of access, storage space, and carry comfort. Velcro closures over zipper pockets ensure dryness and security while quick-release buckle snaps provide bag stability and prevent accidental flap or pocket opening. Some gunning bags have adjustable straps to secure a shotgun in place during travel and others sport a set of shell loops on the outside for quick access to extra shot shells in the blind or boat. Each carryall bag offers a variety of different extras and individual features, so sportsmen need to peruse a wide selection. But once a final choice is made, packed up, and used, you’ll never go waterfowling again without it.
Once a blind bag is purchased, the diligent chore of selecting and packing all the right accessories begins. Ammunition and calls with lanyards are first up. I’ve found that packing boxes of shells in each zippered end pocket offers ease of access and balances the tote when carried. My inventory of two duck calls and three goose calls is stored in either the long front bellows pockets or an inside elastic mesh enclosure to protect them from banging about and to prevent debris from getting into the reeds. While three Canada goose calls may seem excessive I prefer the choice of a regular reed, a short reed and a flute style call, and sometimes I even add a snow goose call and duck whistle just in case the need arises. Such is the reward of a roomy, well-organized waterfowling bag.
Not every hunter wants or needs the same ditties in their satchel, but here are a few essentials most sports should carry. A selection of choke tubes with a choke tube wrench, universal style if possible, and a tiny tube of thread grease. Most days a modified will fill the bill, but on outings when the birds are right in your face, it’s nice to be able to change to an improved cylinder. A half-dozen chemical hand warmers make late-season hunts more endurable. It’s always easier to hit a target when you can actually feel the safety and trigger with your fingers.
A set of compact binoculars allow a hunter to scan the sky for distant flocks of ducks or geese as well as check on hunting partners set up in another location of the same field or pond. They are also a great asset in keeping track of downed birds that sail, run or swim after being hit. This is where another set of items in my blind bag often came into play – a set of small camo-colored two-way radios. My Motorola handhelds are very compact but will reach out more than two miles, allowing me to keep in contact with buddies in another blind or boat or direct a friend pursuing a downed bird as I keep track with my binoculars.
Another odd but useful electronic device found in my bag of gunning goodies is a Nikon rangefinder, camo-colored, 4-by-4-inch in size, and accurate out to 600 yards. Its uses include checking the distance between the hunters and the farthest decoys, and for self-satisfaction and safety’s sake knowing just how far we are from any road, farm machinery, and buildings. Just in case someone makes a truly remarkable long shot, a rangefinder will discern the exact distance to be bragged about in the tall tales to follow. In that same vein, memorable hunts are important, as are close friends and fall scenery, so I never travel afield without at least one camera in my gear bag. Compact digital cameras are so lightweight and take such crisp images that can be computer generated and enhanced, it’s a shame not to pack one on every outing.
One of my blind-bag compartments holds a small but powerful flashlight and extra batteries, mostly as a backup for the LED headlamp packed in the same nook. Headlamps are great hands-free light sources for setting out decoys before dawn, cleaning birds at dusk and a dozen other dimly lit chores. A multi-tool, folding saw and folding knife take up another niche in my bag. From cleaning game birds to constructing a makeshift blind to repairing a gun or outboard motor, this trio of tools is tops. Repairing decoys and their lines and weights is often a necessity, too, so along with my cutlery and multi-tool I carry a coil each of decoy line and parachute cord.
At least a dozen long plastic cable ties, 8-16-inches, are part of my ditty bag, also. They can be used to build or repair blinds, boats, and other gear, used as straps to carry out ducks and geese as well, and have several other outdoor purposes. If one isn’t long enough, two can be joined to form the length needed. Small but versatile cable ties hold items firmly, then can be clipped free and carried home to the trash in a pants pocket. Since we are talking about building blinds and fixing decoys with tools and sharp objects, I also have a small first aid kit in my blind bag. Some gauze, tape, a few sizes of bandage strips, a tube of antiseptic, and some antihistamine and headache tablets come in handy on some outings.
Since waterfowling is generally a wet, cold, or dirty pastime – often all three – packing a few extra items of clothing is often wise. Two lightweight camouflage face masks and a set of light camo gloves are always in the bag, but so are an extra pair of wool gloves for cold mornings and a set of neoprene gloves for dry comfort handling wet decoys or on rainy day hunts. A fleece stocking hat that covers my ears, a neck gaiter, and a wool head and facemask go along for really crisp days. Lining the bottom of the large compartment of my blind bag is a camo hand muff with a waist strap. Put two hand warmers inside and it will keep bare hands toasty until it’s time to pull them out to call or shoot. The muff also serves as a bit of a buffer at the bottom of the bag to pad and protect other gear, and a few items, like extra gloves, hats, and hand warmers, can actually be stored inside the muff.
Some sportsmen opt for an extra pair of stockings in their pack, just in case. In larger model blind bags it’s often possible to store one of those packable rain jackets and pants of fully waterproof, lightweight material. Even if it’s not wet weather, they break the wind and keep you warm on cold, breezy days. For those that field hunt during deer or moose season, an orange hat or easily foldable orange vest should be in the bag and worn during dawn and dusk setup and pickup to assure safety.
Select a blind bag with sturdy stitching, strong, easy-to-manipulate zippers, rugged handles, and multiple storage compartments. Organize it properly and discerningly, and forgotten, misplaced waterfowling gear will be a problem of the past. In fact, you may find that your waterfowling bag is so convenient that a similar setup for upland birds or big game seems like a perfect idea. Accessory bags are like having a mini supply closet along in the field and everything is right at your fingertips. I can’t help but remember that old ’70s slang, “What’s your bag, man?” Now I’d have a sensible answer.
Outdoor feature writer Bill Graves can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com