Waterfowl Buyer’s Guide 2017/2018 Season

Brad Fitzpatrick

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waterfowl, waterfowl hunting, hunging gear, new gear

It’s difficult to find a group of hunters who are more passionate about their favorite pastime than waterfowl hunters. Each year as the annual southward waterfowl migration begins you’ll find duck and goose hunters knee-deep in swamps, lying prone in layout blinds and braving the big water chasing divers. They don’t fear inclement weather. In fact, waterfowlers welcome bitter winter winds and whiteout conditions. There’s very little these hunters won’t endure if they have birds on their brain — which they do most of the year.

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For that reason, waterfowlers demand the absolute best gear — guns, loads, decoys, calls, and waders that can survive the harshest conditions. This year’s new crop of duck and goose hunting equipment is built for the worst. Here’s a rundown of the best new waterfowl products to hit the market.

Banded Redzone Uninsulated Breathable Waders

Banded Redzone Uninsulated Breathable Waders utilizes the brand’s revolutionary Super Hydrophobic Evaporative Development System (SHEDS) fabric, which is comprised of waterproof, breathable laminate. The resulting waders are durable, lightweight, breathable and allow for more comfortable, natural movement than almost any competing wader on the market today. The seams are taped and the knees are reinforced with 900D fabric to prevent rips and damage that could lead to leaks and ruin a hunt. The 1000 gram Thinsulate boots are comfortable and don’t rub, and key movement areas on the waders are articulated so they are comfortable and don’t limit your range of motion. I used these waders on an early-season teal hunt in Texas and found they do indeed provide a level of comfort and flexibility of movement that is rare among waders. MSRPs start at $299.99. www.banded.com

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Photo courtesy of Banded

Zink Calls Greenhead Rocker Calls

Zink’s PH-2 calls are popular with serious duck hunters because they allow you to mimic natural calls in a variety of different weather conditions. The new Greenhead Rocker builds on the success of the PH-2 by offering more volume, better low-end calling and a “duckier” repertoire — translation, you can bring in call-shy birds by accurately imitating a full-range of calls with this new double-reed design. But the Greenhead Rocker hasn’t sacrificed the PH-2’s ease of use or durability. These calls have an MSRP of $140 and come with a hard case, extra reeds and an instructional DVD with keys and tips to help you coax more birds to the blind. www.zinkcalls.com

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Photo courtesy of Zink Calls

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Signature Products Group Browning Neoprene Dog Vest

SPG’s new Browning vest is made from 3mm neoprene for added warmth on the coldest days. In addition, there’s a flexible chest protection plate, which is essential to help protect your four-legged companion against stumps, rocks, and other hazards that lie just below the surface of the water. Heavy-duty bar-tacked stitching means this vest will hold up, and easy-to-adjust hook-and-eye closures make it easy to properly fit the vest to your dog. There’s a sturdy, easy-to-reach grab handle on the top of the vest and the exterior is covered with Realtree MAX-5 camo for added concealment. This is a great vest for hunting throughout the season and it will help protect your dog when the conditions and elements are at their worst. MSRP is $34.99. www.spgoutdoors.com

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Photo courtesy of SPG

Avery Heritage Jacket

For those who prefer a more traditional look but don’t want to sacrifice warmth and durability the new Avery Heritage Jacket is a great option. 8-oz. waxed cotton construction makes this hunting coat warm and helps protect you from the worst elements and there’s a waterproof head to help protect your face and keep you hidden from passing birds. Heavy-duty YKK zippers ensure a tight closure through years of hard use and a three-button placket offers additional protection for really nasty weather. The upper chest pockets are fleece-lined to keep your hands warm when you aren’t shooting, and there are commodious side bellows pockets with shell loops which allow you to make quick reloads when required. If you prefer the look and feel of a classic waterfowl garment this is a great option. MSRPs start at $199.99. www.averyoutdoors.com

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Photo courtesy of Avery

Benelli Super Black Eagle 3

Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 2 was widely considered one of the best waterfowl guns on the market, but the brand has added a few upgrades to make the SBE3 even better. It still utilizes the time-tested Benelli Inertia-Driven action, which utilizes just three moving parts and doesn’t rely on vented gas or pistons for operation. A new oversized bolt handle and safety are easier to use when wearing gloves, which is a real benefit to waterfowl hunters. The stock features Benelli’s Combtech and Comfort Tech 3 design that greatly reduces the effects of recoil, even when shooting heavy 3 ½” shells. A beveled loading port, redesigned carrier, and a new two-piece carrier latch make it easier to load shells quickly without getting fingers pinched in the process. There are several camo options available including Gore Optifade Timber, Mossy Oak Bottomland, and Realtree MAX-5 as well as an all-black version. One thing that hasn’t changed about the new SBE3 is its high level of dependability, a Benelli hallmark. MSRPs start at $1,899. www.benelliusa.com

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Photo courtesy of Benelli

Browning BXD Waterfowl Loads

Browning may be best known for their firearms, but the brand’s new non-toxic BXD waterfowl load is affordable and very effective. One key element that sets the BXD load apart is its aerodynamically stabilized wad. Petals at the rear of the wad actually stabilize its flight path and this, in turn, allows for better down-range patterns (the “XD” in BXD stands for Extended-Distance). Round, even steel shot provides excellent lethality and high velocities help retain energy at longer ranges. The 3 ½” 12-gauge reaches 1,500 fps while the 3″ version travels at 1,450. There’s also a new 20-gauge one-ounce load, which attains 1,300 feet per second, which makes perfect for small to medium-sized ducks. Prices run about $20 per box of 25 before mail-in rebates. www.browningammo.com

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Photo courtesy of Browning

Final Approach X-Land’r Layout Blind

Since Final Approach dropped the X-Land’r layout blind from their lineup customers have been begging for its return, and now you have it. The newest version of the X-Land’r is lightweight (12 lbs.) and folds up quickly and easily so you won’t waste valuable time before shooting light piecing together your blind. The low-profile design makes it easy to stay concealed and out of sight, even in low cover. There’s zippered storage under the backrest for carrying additional gear like flags and decoys to and from the field, and the sturdy straps make it simple and comfortable to move these blinds. They are available in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades and Realtree MAX-5 camo as well as solid brown, and the best part is that the X-Land’r is backed by one of the best limited lifetime warranties in the business — if the folks at Final Approach can’t fix a broken blind they’ll replace it. MSRP starting at $279.95. www.fabrand.com

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Photo courtesy of Final Approach

Browning A5 Wicked Wings

Browning brought back the recoil-operated A5 a few years ago and hunters were impressed with the latest humpback. This year, Browning is launching what is certainly one of the coolest shotguns in its long history, the A5 Wicked Wings. At its heart, this gun is pure A5, which means it’s powered by the reliable Kinematic Drive system, it utilizes Invector DS choke tubes, has a recoil-absorbing Inflex II recoil pad and offers the lengthened sight radius that all A5s have shared going back to the early twentieth century. What makes this gun stand out is its Cerakote Burnt Bronze finish with special detailing, an oversized bolt knob, and bolt release, and very cool extended Invector DS tubes that look like waterfowl bands — complete with the coordinates of Browning’s headquarters. There are a number of camo stock options including, among others, Browning’s ATACS-AU and Mossy Oak Bottomlands. The Wicked Wings A5 is available in 12 gauge with either a 3 or 3 ½” chamber and barrels ranging from 26″ to 30″. MSRP is $1,829.99-$1,979.99. www.browning.com

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Photo courtesy of Browning

Federal Premium Black Cloud FLITECONTROL FLEX Loads

Black Cloud non-toxic loads have been popular with waterfowlers for a decade now, and the newest version of these duck and goose loads are equipped with high-tech FLITECONTROL FLEX wads with rear petals and vertical side slits that help produce an even, dense pattern even at long ranges. Each shell has a payload consisting of 40 percent FLITESTOPPER steel pellets and 60 percent Premium round steel pellets for clean kills and fewer cripples. Catalyst lead-free primers and proprietary temperature-stable, clean-burning propellants help reduce residue and a black nickel head reduces corrosion. There are a number of different loads from which to choose ranging from one-ounce 20-gauge loads to 1 5/8 oz. 10-gauge. MSRPs range from $24.95 to $36.95 per box of 25. www.federalpremium.com

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Photo courtesy of Federal Premium

GHG Fully Flocked Floating Decoys

Every serious waterfowler knows decoys can either make birds commit or flare in the last seconds before the shot. For that reason, GHG is offering their new Fully Flocked Floating decoys which offer a realistic look all the way down to feather texturing. The non-glare design and extreme realism make these ideal decoys for a variety of different situations, and they are available in mallard, pintail, and black duck design in packs of six for $99.99. Don’t underestimate the importance of good decoys when waterfowling — birds will only come within range if your spread is believable. The new Fully Flocked Floating decoys from GHG offer the realism you need to bring in more birds and limit more quickly. www.averyoutdoors.com

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Photo courtesy of GHG

Winchester SX4

Winchester followed up in the success of their popular SX3 shotgun with the launch of the new SX4, their next generation of gas-operated semiauto shotguns. The SX4 utilizes the same Active Valve gas system found in the SX3 (if it isn’t broken why fix it?) and Quadra-Vent ports for cleaner operation. New features include an oversized bolt handle, bolt release, and safety and an oversized trigger guard for easier access with gloved hands. Next-generation stock spacers and Inflex pad help offer a perfect fit while reducing felt recoil and new ergonomics in the pistol grip and forearm make this gun swing comfortably and handle like a dream. Molded plastics in areas like the trigger guard are less expensive and more robust than the aluminum used on the SX3, so not only is the SX4 even tougher than the previous model it’s also less expensive. MSRPs start at $799.99, which makes this gun an incredible deal especially considering the quality. How good is it? I’ve used the SX4 hunting Canada geese in Manitoba and teal in Texas and I can attest to the fact that these guns can handle serious abuse without flinching. If you’re in the market for a new duck and goose gun this one needs to be on your shortlist.

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Photo courtesy of Winchester