January 12, 2021
Water and cold weather don’t mix—unless you’re a waterfowl hunter. Then you rejoice when the temperature drops and can’t wait to get your gear wet. Having stuff that holds up to the rigors of hunting ducks and geese is key to success. Even for waterfowlers, water and cold air mix well only when hunters are comfortable and their gear is working like it should. The following products will help you enjoy those cold mornings and focus on the birds—which don’t mind the weather one bit.
Browning BPS Field Composite
It’s been a staple of the Browning line for more than 40 years, but this season the BPS takes on a slightly different form with a redesigned stock for improved ergonomics. The new composite stock has a straight heel section that can be trimmed to shorten the length of pull by as much as 3/4 inch; the Inflex recoil pad re-attaches with a flush fit. In addition, the trigger guard is enlarged to better accommodate a finger inside a glove. Things that remain the same: bottom ejection and a tang safety, which make the BPS ambidextrous, along with a steel receiver and double action bars. The BPS Field Composite is available in 12 and 20 gauge with black and Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades finishes.
$659.99-779.99 | browning.com
Franchi Affinity 3.5 Elite
Here’s a magnum goose-pounder that feels almost as nimble as a grouse gun. The Affinity 3.5 Elite with its 28-inch barrel weighs about 7 pounds, and its trim receiver and fore-end help you get the gun moving quickly. At the heart of the gun lies an Inertia Driven action, while the exterior surfaces of the receiver and barrel are treated with burnt bronze Cerakote to resist corrosion. The chrome-lined barrel has a lengthened forcing cone to improve patterns and comes with three extended choke tubes designated by distance to the ducks: Close, Mid and Long-Range. An enlarged bolt handle and bolt-release button ease operation on cold, wet days. Franchi’s TSA recoil pad not only tames the thump from heavy loads, but also permits length-of-pull adjustments. In addition, hunters can tweak drop and cast with the included shim kit.
$1,419 | franchiusa.com
Mossberg Maverick 88 Field
Want an affordable pump gun for hunting flooded timber or tree-lined riverbanks? The Maverick 88 Field will set you back only about $250, and it comes with a Mossy Oak Treestand finish on its synthetic stock and fore-end. You won’t find any frills on the 3-inch-chambered Maverick—in fact, it comes with just one choke tube, modified—but you will get dual extractors, twin action bars and an anti-jam shell elevator for reliable cycling. If you’re thinking this would make a good first shotgun for a young waterfowler, check out the 20-gauge youth version with a 13-inch length of pull and 22-inch barrel. It weighs just 5 1/4 pounds.
$259 | mossberg.com
Browning Wicked Wing Waterfowl
Building on the success of Browning BXD Waterfowl, the Wicked Wing line borrows its predecessor’s aerodynamically stabilized wad system that keeps the shot column tightly stacked longer and then releases it in a controlled manner. Wicked Wing adds proprietary, round steel shot treated for corrosion resistance. The result is consistently denser patterns farther downrange. Wicked Wing is available in two 12-gauge loads: 1 1/4 ounces of No. 2 and 1 1/4 ounces of No. 4 shot at a muzzle velocity of 1,450 fps.
$10.49-12.49 per 25 rounds | browningammo.com
Federal Black Cloud TSS 20-Gauge
Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) and Federal FliteStopper steel pellets combine in a blended load that produces dense patterns at extended ranges. The payload consists of 60 percent No. 9 TSS pellets, which have an 18-gram/cubic-centimeter density—more than double the density of steel and 56 percent denser than lead. The remainder is No. 3 FliteStopper steel with a raised cutting edge encircling the exterior of each pellet for improved wound channels. Federal packs the pellets in its FliteControl Flex wad, which opens from the rear to control the release of the payload for improved patterns. The 1-ounce load’s muzzle velocity is listed at 1,350 fps.
$38.99 per 10 rounds | federalpremium.com
Federal Speed-Shok Sea Duck
The thick plumage of coastal waterfowl such as eiders and scoters can soak up a lot of steel, so Federal developed a heavy, 3-inch Speed-Shok load with 1 1/4 ounces of shot to maximize hits. Speed-Shok Sea Duck is loaded with No. 2, 3 and 4 ball-bearing-grade steel pellets at a muzzle velocity of 1,450 fps. The company’s high-performance Catalyst primer provides consistent ignition in freezing conditions, while a faster-burning, cleaner propellant leaves less fouling in the barrel and action.
$16.99 per 25 rounds | federalpremium.com
Fiocchi Arkansas Duck
The brand may be best known for its target and upland loads, but Fiocchi also offers nearly 40 products for waterfowl hunters as well, including Flyway, Golden Goose, Golden Waterfowl and Speed Steel. The Arkansas Duck line includes 12-gauge, 1 1/5-ounce loads of No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 zinc-plated steel shot, all with a muzzle velocity of 1,550 fps. As its name suggests, Arkansas Duck is particularly well-suited for flooded timber and other situations where birds quickly drop into the decoys. With its U.S. headquarters located in southern Missouri and a facility near Little Rock, Ark., Fiocchi has much experience in creating an economical load tailored for those kinds of setups.
$15.99-$19.99 per 25 rounds | fiocchiusa.com
If you’re looking for a load with more lethality than standard steel but don’t want to pay a premium price, Hevi-Hammer is an attractive option. Hevi-Shot layers high-density bismuth pellets over steel in the Hevi-Hammer; the bismuth accounts for 15 percent of the payload. Bismuth pellets, which have a density of 9.8 grams/cubic centimeter compared to steel shot’s 7.8, increase Hevi-Hammer’s lethal range by up to 41 percent according to Hevi-Shot’s ballistic studies. Hevi-Hammer is available in 12-gauge loads of 1 1/4 ounces of No. 2, 3 and 4 shot with a muzzle velocity of 1,500 fps, and 20-gauge loads of 1 ounce of No. 2 and 3 shot with a muzzle velocity of 1,350 fps.
$21.99 per 25 rounds | hevishot.com
Duck Commander CDTimber
The tone board in the CDTimber is cut down at a 45-degree angle, making it ideal for blowing hard to produce loud hen mallard hails. But the CDTimber also has a wide range and requires less pressure than Duck Commander’s earlier “cut down” calls, which allows hunters to play it soft when pressured birds need coaxing. The double-reed, friction-fit call is covered in a Realtree Timber finish.
$39.99 | duckcommander.com
Zink Green Head Rocker
An evolved version of Zink’s popular PH-2, this double-reed acrylic features a Z-cut tone channel that prevents reed lock. As a result, the Green Head Rocker is easy to blow, runs smoothly and produces improved low-end sounds with more volume. Zink includes extra reeds with the call, packaged in a hard case for safe transport in a blind bag. The Green Head Rocker is available in six colors, and while that probably won’t help you kill more ducks, the shades will definitely get noticed by your buddies.
$149.99 | zinkcalls.com
Primos Bottomland Wench
Patented tone ridges and tuning ditches on the sounding board of the Wench keep the reed from sticking or freezing, and they also give the call raspy highs and lows. The call’s internal components are molded from graphite to best conduct sound, while the polycarbonate barrel helps raise the volume. A tuning hole in the bell allows the caller to vary pitch. The Wench’s reed-relocation system ensures the call is reassembled correctly after taking it apart for cleaning, which is vital for consistent sound.
$20.99 | primos.com
FOR THE DOG
Drake Neoprene Dog Vest
Your retriever gets wet so you don’t have to, so keep him warm by giving him a layer of neoprene. Drake’s vest is constructed from 3.5 mm neoprene with heavy-duty stitching at the seams for durability. Reinforced chest areas offer added protection from logs, rocks and ice. Built-in assist handles help with loading your dog into a boat or the back of a truck. The vest comes in five sizes, and the neck, leg and back openings are trimmable for a custom fit. A 2-inch-wide, full-length hook-and-loop closure keeps the vest in place. It’s available in Mossy Oak Bottomland, Realtree Max-5 and Realtree Timber patterns.
$54.99 | drakewaterfowl.com
ALPS Timber Dog Stand
Give your four-legged partner a dry place to sit in flooded timber by securing this platform to a tree. The lower bar of the aluminum frame is adjustable so the stand sits level when attached to a tree trunk. A ratchet strap and the frame’s angled teeth ensure it won’t slip. The 28-by-18-inch Tech Mesh platform allows water to drain away from the dog and prevents puddling. The stand weighs about 7 1/2 pounds and comes with a shoulder strap for carry.
$99.99 | alpsbrands.com
CLOTHING AND WADERS
LaCrosse Insulated Alpha Swampfox
Insulated breathable waders often get the nod during cold weather because they’re easier to layer under than most neoprene options. The Alpha Swampfox has 1,000 grams of Thinsulate Ultra in the boot and 120 grams of lofted insulation integrated into the entire upper. If a warm front comes through, roll down the upper and secure it with the belt to convert the Alpha Swampfox into pant waders. The upper is made from abrasion-resistant nylon with double-stitched and taped seams for insurance against leaks. LaCrosse’s Active Fit boot design keeps your foot in place while moving but goes on and comes off without a struggle. The low-lug Swamp Tuff outsole sheds mud and debris to maintain traction in the slop.
$370 | lacrossefootwear.com
Huntworth Youth Insulated, Waterproof Glove
Young hunters grow out of gear fast, but they still need good clothing that will keep them comfy. Leave it to Huntworth to offer a feature-packed glove for kids with a price of less than $20. Beneath the Tricot shell covered in the company’s Hidd’n camo pattern is a waterproof, breathable Hydrashield barrier, 40 grams of Thinsulate and a synthetic fleece lining. A textured palm and fingertips ensure a good grip, while the spandex trigger finger allows unrestricted safety and trigger manipulation.
Hard Core Finisher Xtreme Wading Jacket
Waterfowl hunters experience weather at its worst, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Terrible weather often means excellent hunting—but only if you’re warm and dry enough to enjoy it. The Finisher Xtreme uses two levels of PrimaLoft insulation—133 grams in the body and 100 grams in the sleeves—to keep you toasty without unnecessary bulk. Plus, its waterproof and breathable polyester-spandex shell stretches as you move so your swing won’t stop short. Abrasion-resistant overlay panels on the sleeves and tail add durability to those high-wear areas. The articulated hood is adjustable, and with eight exterior pockets (including two fleece-lined handwarmers) and five interior pockets, this wading jacket provides plenty of places to stow shells and other items.
Avery Heritage Messenger Bag
Whether you’re going light to stay mobile while jump-shooting or just want to pare down your gear for more room in the blind, the Heritage Messenger Bag keeps the essentials close at hand. Its shoulder strap is adjustable to accommodate extra layers without binding and allows you to wear the bag across your back or chest. The cinch-top main compartment is large enough for a box of shells and an extra pair of gloves, while seven zippered accessory pockets help keep calls, choke tubes and other assorted must-haves organized. The bag is constructed of water-resistant, 900-denier DuraMax fabric.
$59.99 | banded.com
TETRA Waterfowl AlphaShield
Waterfowl hunters have a difficult relationship with hearing-protection devices. They want their ears protected from damaging shotgun blasts, but they also want to hear the sounds they care about while in the blind. Few devices, passive or electronic, have truly met these desires, so few hunters have worn them. Many now deal with accumulated hearing loss as a result.
The new TETRA Waterfowl AlphaShield is a set of electronic in-ear hearing-protection devices designed to address these challenges. Unlike other devices, the AlphaShield isolates and keys in on the sounds hunters most desire to hear, allowing them to pass through naturally or amplified. At the same time, the AlphaShield blocks harmful sounds, such as shotgun blasts.
Last season I tested the Waterfowl AlphaShield on duck hunts in Kentucky, Tennessee and Kansas. During those hunts, I was consistently impressed with the devices’ sound enhancement and protective capabilities, as well as their comfortable fit in the ear.
At the heart of the Waterfowl AlphaShield is a high-end integrated circuit, or microchip, similar to those found in premium hearing-aid technology. This sophisticated chip gives the audiologists behind TETRA the ability to program the devices at levels previously unseen among most hearing-protection products.
Founders Bill Dickinson and David Gnewikow, both audiologists and avid hunters, have done extensive testing to determine the specific frequencies that occur with sounds critical to waterfowlers—whistling wings and the sound of duck calls, for example. They’ve done the same for noises hunters don’t wish to hear—things like wind interference (which plagues many electronic devices) and shotgun blasts.
Then, through a process the company terms Specialized Target Optimization (STO), the devices are programmed to key in on certain target sounds and either amplify them, allow them to pass through naturally, reduce them or block them completely. Low sounds like whistling wings are amplified, while loud calling (which can prove damaging over extended time) is reduced without distortion. Meanwhile, AlphaShield Compression technology mutes loud blasts. It’s an impressive amount of programming for something roughly the size of a hunter’s thumb.
The Waterfowl AlphaShield has a few different volume settings as well as a ClearComm mode, which focuses on amplifying human speech. It’s perfect for chatting after the hunt or for general use if you already have hearing loss.
After hunting with the Waterfowl AlphaShield last winter and then again in September during the teal opener, I can say all of this technology works. The AlphaShield cut off damaging muzzle blasts almost instantly, and the sealed silicone and foam tips offered additional protection. More impressive than that, however, was the STO technology, which TETRA also calls “pursuit-based hearing.” As many waterfowlers know, the sounds of the hunt represent one of the most enjoyable parts of being afield. Whether it’s good-natured ribbing from blind mates, a drake mallard’s raspy notes as he circles overhead or your own calling undistorted, these sounds can be the difference between a fun and successful hunt or a disappointing one. In my experience, the Waterfowl AlphaShield’s targeted programming delivers these sounds to the hunter in a way that’s unrivaled among current electronic devices.
With any hearing protection device, fit is also essential, and the AlphaShield doesn’t disappoint here either. The devices are remarkably comfortable—far more so than large muffs that can also impede proper shotgun mounting. In fact, on several occasions during my hunting, I forgot I was even wearing them. I can think of no higher praise regarding comfort.
The Waterfowl AlphaShield operates on commonly available size 10 hearing-aid batteries. The set comes in a waterproof case with two smaller, pocket-sized cases as well as several silicone and medical-grade memory-foam tips. Yes, these devices are expensive, but if you’re serious about protecting your hearing while still enjoying all the sounds of the hunt, the Waterfowl AlphaShield is a worthy investment.—Drew Warden
$699 | tetrahearing.com