I recently flipped through an online antique waterfowl hunting page with vintage equipment for sale and remembered owning most of the equipment – when it was new.
I started pondering the terms, “antique” or “vintage” and how it applied to decoys, guns ammunition, waterfowl calls and me. Many of these products were on shelves of sporting goods or hardware stores when I started hunting in the 1960s.
Then I started doing the math and realized my duck hunting career started 50 years ago. So, hunters who had hunted 50 years when I started would have been in their blinds about 1910. Some could have ridden up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt or eventually sank on the R.M.S. Lusitania or the Titanic. Most were likely called up in 1917 for World War I and the realization struck that I should probably check on signing up for Medicare or whatever it’s called these days.
Some younger hunters even claim that they want to go “retro,” a word that didn’t exist when my equipment was manufactured. So, all of this “retro” input conjured up the idea to write a column about equipment from the old days, from the 1960s to the 1980s, especially since a good percentage of today’s waterfowl hunters weren’t yet born.
Here are some of the “antique” waterfowling products from my younger days:
SHOTGUNS: Shotgun chokes have changed with the addition of choke tubes. Back in the day we had poly chokes on the end of each barrel and you could turn the cylinder to full, modified or improved cylinder in seconds. The trick was landing on the right setting in the dark. A bluewing teal hit with lead No. 6 shot from a full-choke setting would explode before your eyes with not much breast left for the grill. Some claim the poly chokes made the barrel heavier, but wooden stocks were heavier too and helped balanced the gun.
Many shotguns were made with designed barrel chokes. For example, a barrel might be permanently bored for improved cylinder, modified or full choke. Then a trademark of more expensive “Gentleman’s” shotguns.
Shotgun barrels were made in lengths, especially before choke tubes. For example, a 26-inch improved cylinder of modified barrel might be used for quail, pheasants and ducks. A longer full-choke barrel was manufactured for wild turkey and geese.
Several companies manufactured a long-barreled goose gun, which was very awkward to handle and shoot. Savage, Marlin and other companies had bolt-action shotguns with 36-inch barrels and generally chambered for 12- or 10-gauge shells. The majority were bolt action shotguns with a bottom clip that held three shells. The 10-gauge goose gun I shot at age 14 unceremoniously knocked me on my butt.
SHELLS: Steel shot replaced lead shot in the late 1980s. The switch to steel was made because spent lead pellets accidentally ingested while feeding in marshes annually killed millions of waterfowl from lead poisoning.
Many classic double-barrel shotguns were hung over the mantle in favor of guns made for steel shot discharges. Lead shot was claimed to be less damaging to a barrel over time compared to steel.
The difference is that lead shot was more effective at killing ducks or geese, especially at longer ranges. The norm was No. 5 or No. 6-lead shot for ducks and No. 2 or BB-sized lead shot for geese. Brave souls shot 3 or 3 1/2-inch shells that packed more smokeless powder and thus more punch.
DECOYS: Today decoys are much better than versions from the old days, but waterfowl have more hunting pressure and are quickly educated.
I bought my first Victor D-9 mallard decoys in 1973, on sale for $39.95 a dozen from a TG&Y store. They were color molded and worked well enough to pull in ducks. The G-3 Decoy Company started producing more realistic-looking decoys in the late 1970s. They were considerably more expensive than my first purchase by about $50 a dozen. Most sets were mixed with different duck decoys, new and old because you could get deals from the newspaper or estate sales. A set might have included plastic, wood, cork or papier-mâché versions.
Goose decoys were mixed too. We used silhouette wooden decoys painted to look like geese. They were generally mixed with a few full-bodied decoys. Some made goose decoys from tires cut in half with wooden heads that were painted to look like geese. These make-shift decoys were effective in those days. Eventually the big plastic decoys changed and magnum-sized duck and goose decoys became popular, about the middle 1980s.
CALLS: Acrylic calls are common in most blinds today and for good reason, they are effective. Wood and plastic calls in the 1960s into the ‘80s worked well and were cheap.
Companies like Olt, Lohman, Faulks, Herters, Marshland and other companies sold calls from $10 to $30 for their upper-end versions. Today collectors are paying several hundred dollars for some of these calls.
The softer sounds of wooden duck calls still occasionally pull ducks that have listened to the louder acrylics across several states.
CLOTHING: Modern camouflage clothing and ball caps are very effective. In the old days we wore Jon-E-Style hats and canvas colored jackets. Someone got the bright idea that duck hunters wore dark red plaid flannel shirts in the blinds. I think this was used in calendar photos and it caught on. I wonder how many ducks and geese it spooked?
Clothing is warmer now. I would not trade anything from the old days for my modern Avery waterfowl parkas. The advent of Thinsulate and other amazing long underwear changed winter waterfowl hunting from freezing to comfortable.
Today most waterfowl hunters own a good pair of waders. Back in the day few did except for those who could afford them – and that was not us. We had uninsulated rubber boots with thick, itchy wool socks.
FINALLY: Check your antique pages and you will likely find some of the items mentioned in this article about goose and duck hunting items from my younger days and remember someday you will find your current hunting items on an antique page. It’s inevitable!
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.