Decoy SunriseDuck hunting in the salt marshes, bays and estuaries provides a taste of a different kind of wilderness. While lakes and marshes across the country have similarities, only where the salt water meets the fresh is the hunting this diverse and challenging.

The waterfowl of the salt marsh vary beyond mallards and standard puddle ducks. Just the species available could fill a book. On a typical hunt mallards, widgeon, pintails and teal are just the beginning. Scaup (bluebills), canvasbacks, redheads, bufflehead and scoters are always possible, and even the more exotic divers such as oldsquaw and eiders if you are in the far north. Giant migrating flocks are a common sight. Populations come and go though, based on the weather and migrations so scouting is a must.

The challenges of the salt marsh mostly revolve around tide changes. The majority of tidal hunting requires a boat which weeds out many beginners. Even with a boat the tide can leave you high and dry or stranded if care isn’t taken. Small channels that can easily be crossed on foot at low tide can make treacherous situations in a half hour with the tide running in! It is well to be aware of the tides and hazards. Each year there are hunting tragedies, most of which can be avoided by using good judgment and proper equipment (never use an undersized boat for your situation).

Retrieving tough divers, such as scaup when wounded, requires quick gunning, boating and dog skills. Prompt action must be taken or birds will be lost.

The rewards besides the variety are astounding: seals, sea lions, even whale sightings have been known. The sunrise and salt air are usually dramatic. There is something in the sea that calls to adventurers, fishermen and hunters alike. The potential for success and the need for rough and ready self sufficiency highlight the high drama of ducks in the salt marsh.