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Author: Frank Ross
The right gear for seaducks can mean the difference between a great day and a miserable day.
Like all waterfowl ventures, hunting sea ducks involves lots of water and damp air that can permeate lesser gear and leave an unprepared hunter huddling in a shivering heap. Fortunately, I was forewarned and forearmed with the right gear when I set out on an early December sea duck hunt in Maine.
Lots of layers and well-insulated waders were the watchwords that I received, and I am thankful for having received them. The problem is that everyone's body handles cold differently, based on individual body types and circulatory performance. While, there are some general guidelines, you need to access your own individual needs before packing for such an expedition.
I'm thin, mostly, and have suffered from poor circulation in the extremities for my entire life. My hands and feet are the first to announce that I have prepared poorly, when temperatures start to drop. Consequently, I usually throw in more gear than the average guy, but the theory behind layering is that if you have on too much you can always shed when it gets warm.
For starters, I began with a base layer of Cabela's Polar Expedition-Weight Polartec® Power Dry long underwear. Power Dry is the best base layer garment that I have ever used, bar none. Power Dry is exceptionally effective at wicking away moisture, and the high-loft pillar fiber, combined with air space does a fantastic job of trapping air and keeping it warm.
Just in case of really severe weather, I threw in a Polartec® stretch Zip Top. To me, this garment is like a safety net, and if it's too warm, the zippered neck can be opened to quickly vent moisture and additional heat. On hunts where I am going to be sitting for long periods of time, I often wear this piece and keep the zipper down until I get into position. That way I can vent the heat buildup of travel and walking to my spot, and batten down the hatch to maintain my heat during inactive periods.
Next, I wore Cabela's heavyweight Moleskin Chamois Insulated Shirts. While noise wasn't a factor for sea ducks, the softness of chamois just feels good on cold days. These quilted shirts provide just the type of warmth that will handle any cold day, and keep your body's core temperature up to par.
I topped off my clothing with a heavy-duty insulated hooded coat. The hood proved very useful on the boat trips out and back, not to mention one day when the wind was blowing at our back and pouring down my collar.
We used a boat to transport our party to the rock islands, used to position our decoys in the flight paths. Once on site, we spent the morning close to the surf. To get into the boat, without bottoming it out on the rocks, a little wading was necessary, but most of the wet came on the trips across open water. Salt spray from the bow breaking waves was quickly caught by the wind and hurled across the gunnels and everyone inside. It didn't take long to appreciate the value of both waders and a waterproof coat.
I took along Cabela's Dry-Plus® Warrior wader with 1000 grams of Thinsulate™ mainly because I had them. While they're great for the area I normally hunt in, under these damp conditions, a little more would have been better. While we were sitting on the rocks, the Mainers were quick to point out the magic number for Maine, 1600. Shawn Prince, a DU volunteer that accompanied me on the hunt was emphatic, he only wears Cabela's SuperMag®1600 waders.
Since I was committed, the next day I put a Grabber MYCOAL chemical heat pack on the bottom of each sock and the problem was solved. These packs have a handy adhesive coating that keeps them from moving around and becoming uncomfortably bunched under weight. While I have had disappointing results with heat packs in other tight boots, with the waders, there is enough air to fire them up nicely, and for the rest of the trip my toes were toasty warm.
It didn't take long, in the pre-dawn darkness to realize the distinct advantage of having hands-free lighting. With a gun to carry, shell bag, and of course a coffee cup, there aren't enough hands to use a flashlight easily. Being veterans of many such expeditions, the guys we were hunting with all had Streamlight Trident headlamps, which are great for maintaining mobility and night vision as well. This headlamp has a green option LED with unique 3-way lightings that offer the combination of a high-powered xenon bulb and two, 100,000-hour green LEDs. The green lights minimize pupil dilation, and when more power is needed a bright white beam is ideal for probing the darkness. This feature was used constantly during our trips out, looking for submerged rocks that are all too common along this coast. Operated on three AAA batteries, it has a useful life of 150 hours on a single LED and the tilting head adjusts 90 degrees.
The next item on any waterfowl gear list is gloves. I took a pair of Cabela's Dry-Plus® Revolution™ Fleece Gloves and the newly designed WINDSTOPPER® Scent Control® Super Glomitt. While I was confident that the gloves would do the trick for the expected weather, I always like to be prepared for the unexpected. When it gets really cold, I prefer the added advantage of having my fingers inside a glomitt with an additional heat pack. On this trip it proved to be a good strategy, on the coldest day.
Another handy item for sea duck hunts is a facemask. On the trip out and back the wind can be pretty stiff and bow spray on the face turns to ice quickly.
The Revolution™ Fleece gloves have a shell fabric that is as warm and quiet as traditional fleece, but the low nap is an advantage for avoiding burs and other vegetation that tend to attach themselves to anything fuzzy. With a full leather palm and fingers, these gloves have excellent flexibility, durability and grip well even when damp. The real kicker for this trip was the 100% waterproof Dry-Plus® membrane. After three days of exposure to a very wet environment the inside was totally dry. Another distinct advantage of this fabric is its ability to let the moisture of perspiration escape.
On the second day of my sea duck hunt, (which turned out to be the coldest), the temps bottomed out, and I spent four hours in relative inactivity. About two hours into the day I reached for the Super Glomitt and fired up a heat pack. The improvement was dramatic and quick. Inside of ten minutes I had fingers again. Unlike traditional bare-fingered glomitts, this model has an inner glove made from W.L. Gore's WINDSTOPPER® Scent Control® fabric, covered with a waterproof, ultra-brush camo mitten. Inside, the mitten is layered with 150-gram Thinsulate™ Supreme insulation.
On the backside of the glomitt, zippered heat pack pockets are perfect for inserting a little chemical boost, and not having to worry about it becoming too hot. Another unique feature of these glomitts is the addition of magnets to hold back the mitten when it's flipped back. The thumbs also flip back for better gripping of small items and are retained by magnets as well.
With this lineup of gear, the only problem I had was running out of time. Next time I'll plan on putting more days on the list as well. Three days of sea duck hunting only call for three more.
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