Holly's End-of-Season Duck Gear Review
I’m a big fan of gear reviews - both reading and writing them. I’m talking honest reviews here, and definitely not, “I took this out of the box five minutes ago and I’ve never used it, but it’s awesome!”
Here are some of the products that were new to me this year (or last year, in one case), and how they worked for me:
Lifetime (Heyday) Decoys (with a mention of Motion Duck, which isn’t new to me, but people always ask me about it)
Tanglefree Floating Wings (with a mention of the company’s Texas rigs)
You can see the price and the short thumbs up/down assessment at the top of each item, and then read on for full detail if the product (or my experience with it) interests you.
Feel free to ask follow-up questions about any of these products - comments are open to all on this post. And I’d love to hear what you tried and loved this year, and why!
Lifetime Decoys (now Heyday Outdoors)
Price: $100-150 for a six-pack of ducks
Short version: I like them because they’re light and quiet, but they have some downsides you should be aware of.
The whole story: The schtick of this decoy company is that they make super light, super quiet decoys out of hydrofoam, the same material used in Crocs (which I have grown to love). My friend Phil gave me a six-pack of wigeon that he’d gotten for review, and I liked them enough to go out and pay full price for a six-pack each of mallards and green-winged teal.
“Light” is very appealing to me because I pack all my gear out on a pack frame (which I highlighted in last year’s post-season gear write-up), and it’s freaking heavy. So is “quiet,” because I hate the sound of plastic decoys crashing against one another in transit. If I happen to be heading into a pond during shooting hours, having a quiet pack means I won’t announce myself to every duck in a one-mile radius.
These are also billed as “durable,” but one season of hunting isn’t really enough to confirm that. But there is one obvious aspect of durability: You can shoot holes in them and they’ll still float. I haven’t tested this, but it’s clearly true: The material is what makes them float, not a pocket of air in a plastic shell.
These do have downsides. They’re so light that you have to set them in the water; if you toss them, they won’t right themselves. And in high wind (23+ mph), you need to insert lead weights into the keels to keep them from tipping over. As you can imagine, lead weights do a number on the whole “light” thing. And inserting and removing the weights is a pain in the ass - took me 15 minutes to remove them from a dozen the morning I drafted this post. Putting weights back in is even more annoying, because you have to line up pins through the keels and the lead weight (often not easy), then screw a cap into the pin. If I didn’t carry these decoys on my back, I would just leave the lead weights in and be happy with my
light, quiet and durable decoys.
One other downside: I have two kinds of jerk rigs, a standard Rig ’Em Right and the fabulously overpriced Motion Duck spreader. I can put only the mallards on the spreader - the wigeon and teal are so light that the spreader frame pulls the decoys down, which looks wildly unnatural.
One upside I like a lot: You can attach your Texas rig a stainless steel eyebolt on these decoys. This is SO EASY. Dunno about you, but I always have to use a drill to enlarge the hole in plastic decoy keels to get my Texas rig clips through them.
UPSHOT: On the whole, I like these and do not regret the purchase. But as with most gear, they’re not as perfect as they seem when you place your order. But the issues I have with them may not be pertinent to you.
AND SINCE I BROUGHT IT UP: Yes, I like the Motion Duck spreader because it creates a much more natural motion than a straight-line jerk rig. But because the spreader frame drops a few inches below the surface of the water and rotates instead of going back and forth - that’s the whole point - it does not work well in water that’s full of submerged yummy duck food plants like watergrass. If you run it in water that’s full of algae, prepare to spend a lot of time cleaning that junk off.
Also, the line you use to tug the rig is VERY thin and tangles much more easily than a standard jerk rig. If you need to move the rig, don’t even think about doing it without respooling the line completely, or you will find you’ve begun a crochet project by accident. And it will wrap itself around your wader boots.
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Tanglefree Floating Wings
Price: $45 for a three-pack
Short version: You’d think they wouldn’t work because they look silly, but I love them.
The whole story: This is the most absurd hunting product I have ever loved.
Floating Wings are a floating decoy that you can hook to a Texas rig that holds up a single small blade that spins in the wind, attracting curious ducks’ attention. One side of the blade is white and the other is painted like a mallard wing, which is probably unnecessary - most blades are fine with white on one side, black on the other because you can’t make out detail when they’re spinning. The apparatus that holds up that blade is white PVC pipe and foam, which looks ridiculous.
My friend Sage brought some of these on a hunt once and I was skeptical. We didn’t have a great flight, so I didn’t get enough data to conclude whether they helped or hurt.
Then I went on a hunt with my friends Vy and Tasha. It was sunny and hella windy that day, so we had pretty good action at our spot, but the ducks were absolutely sucking in to a mobility-impaired blind to our north. What do they have in their spread? we all wondered.
When we were preparing to leave late that morning, I stood on a levee where I could finally see a bit of our neighbor’s spread. They had like six of these Floating Wings. I went home, asked Sage for a link to the product and bought two three-packs.
I make a lot of decisions this way, and as a result I have a graveyard of gadgets that seemed like a good idea the first time I saw them in action but never really worked well for how I hunt. That’s not the case with these babies - I don’t go hunting without them.
But Holly, you ask, why doesn’t that clunky white body flare ducks?
I found out one afternoon when I’d set three out in a light wind, and they got divebombed by black-necked stilts. Oh! It doesn’t matter that they don’t look like duck bodies. They could be shorebirds.
All that matters is that when they’re fluttering, they are flashy enough to attract curious ducks. If they stop fluttering, they just look like shorebirds, which will not flare a duck.
What makes these superior to the standard Windwhacker? Whackers have big blades and long poles that make them annoying to carry when you carry everything on a pack frame the way I do. And God help you if one tips over into the water while you’re hunting - you may never find it. Floating wings attach to Texas rigs so I can carry them exactly like all my other decoys and deploy them with a toss. And they float, which means - at the risk of being too obvious - they don’t sink.
On top of all that, most spinning-wing decoys - wind- or battery-powered - will flare geese, but these don’t seem to have the same effect.
Like all decoys, there are times when these are money and times when they’re not. These are so easy to carry that I always want them with me - easy enough to pull them and hide them on those rare days when the birds don’t seem to love them.
Only downside so far: One of the sticks with the spinning wing on it came out of the body of one of mine, I think when I was dragging decoys through vegetation, so take care not to make the same mistake. Other than that, these have been supremely durable, which is good, because I’m hard on my gear.
While I’m on the subject of Tanglefree: I like their Texas rigs too because the clips aren’t insanely stiff. I’m a tough old goat, but with arthritis in my hands, I don’t appreciate stiff clips and clasps.
Short version: They are well made and have survived my hard-charging season without springing a leak - halle-freaking-lujah. The boots are FABULOUS - I comfortably log many miles in them. But the fabric is a bit noisy for sneaking.
The whole story: Allow me to start this review with a tirade about the massive decline in the durability of most waders at a time when prices have been skyrocketing. Ages ago, I helped Cabela’s design some neoprene women’s waders, and the last prototype they sent me during the design process lasted eleven seasons. Not taking credit; just sayin’.
Now it’s completely normal for next-gen breathable waders to leak on the first wearing, and become completely porous after just one season. Such was the case with my last pair of waders, a women’s wader that fit so beautifully. But I got little pinpoint leaks in the first season, soggy socks and leggings the next, and an inch of water in my boots the next. The amount of Aquaseal I had to keep smearing all over them was reminiscent of that South Park episode where the Internet dies (and if you have to look that up, allow me to warn you this is a very vulgar reference).
Basically, pretty much every duck hunter I know either plunks down $150 for hella cheap waders knowing they’re just for one season, or they drop a grand on Sitka, Simms or Chene. God help you if you spend $350-$450 on waders and hope to get more than one season out of them. This latter category is an embarrassment - the industry needs to get its shit together.
So, by the time I realized my waders were in truly unacceptable shape this season, Sitka’s inventory of waders was down to boot sizes way too big for me. I checked out Simms and wasn’t sold on the camo pattern. Silly, perhaps. But they’re made for fishing, not hunting.
I found out about Chene when my friend Vy sent me an article on Chene’s website about why waders are so leaky these days. Score points for understanding that waders are supposed to be waterproof.
I checked out their selection and was pleased to see a really wide selection of boot sizes offered - men’s 6 to 14 - most of them in stock, even though it was mid-season.
I also liked that you could choose for both boot size and body size. I have big feet, and with standard women's waders (of which there are very few options), that means it will be assumed that I also have a huge body, which means I’m enveloped in clouds of annoying material.
The only problem with Chene’s body sizes are that they’re determined by chest measurement, which is a man thing. For women, hip measurement is often the one that matters most. So I emailed them, and here’s where it gets good: I got to talk to a real person on the phone - Ashly Pitt. She had a friend whose body size is similar to mine try on waders to see which man size worked best.
She also counseled me, as a men’s size 8.5, to go DOWN a boot size, not up one. Wader companies ALWAYS tell people who are half sizes to size up. And it ALWAYS feels like you’re wearing big clompy clown shoes - not great for long walks through the marsh.
Ashly told me if these didn’t fit, I wouldn’t get a refund, but I could trade them in for a pair that fit better.
Well, they fit. I could immediately tell these were going to be the most comfortable wader boots I’d ever worn (and I was right). The beautiful thing about them is that sucking mud does NOT pull them off my feet, which is good, because I walk through a lot of sucking mud.
And as I mentioned above, they don’t leak, despite the fact that I walk for miles in them and squat in the water to hide when I have to, which can put some strain on seams and boots. This is the most important thing when you’re putting down that kind of money. The only real question is whether I’ll get a decade out of them, which is pretty much what I expect for the price.
Here are my other comments on them:
Straps: They use hooks, not bulky buckles that get in the way of your gun mount. Bravo!
Pockets: There are zippered handwarmer pockets and zippered center pockets for shells and such. Love them all.
Body size: I’m 5’8” and on the slim side these days. I got a medium and they’re long enough that the top of the waders are just about up to my armpits when I have them cinched up comfortably (i.e., no sagging crotch). It’s fine, but it’s about an inch away from being uncomfortable.
Fabric: It’s on the noisier side, which means I have to go really slow when I’m jump shooting or sneaking. Hank has Sitka waders and their fabric is quieter. My last waders were quieter, too. But they were also completely porous, and I’ll take noisy and dry over quiet and porous any day. If all you do is sneak on ducks, this may be an issue for you. But it’s not a deal-breaker for me, and I doubt it would be for most people.
Front zipper: Meh. I know it adds cost and I’m not sure it’s worth it, even though I have a Tinkle Belle that allows me to pee standing up. It’s not enough just to unzip them; you still have to at least lower them from your shoulder a bit (I’m told other waders with zippers have the same issue). I also find the zipper adds stiffness to the chest that I’d rather not have. Finally, I wonder if the base of the zipper will be the first spot to go due to the stress of tugging that zipper up every time you put them on. But it might not matter because…
Lifetime warranty: Repairs due to defects in the product are covered by warranty.
Kinglink Universal Cell Phone Lanyard
Short version: An indispensable tool for keeping easy access to your phone, albeit not perfect.
The whole story: I don’t like spending a ton of time texting and any time TALKING on my phone while I’m hunting. When I hunt, I hunt, and every second you’re fussing with your phone, you could be missing shooting opportunities.
But I do like taking photos from time to time, and I always use my hunting map app (Basemap). I record my tracks so I can later mark good spots, I look at terrain to see if there are places I want to explore or boundaries I need to be aware of, and if I lose a decoy or something, it’s easy to backtrack and find it.
The biggest fear I’ve always had is dropping my phone when a bird comes in and losing it in the water. Keeping it on a lanyard solves that problem: Drop your phone and it will be hanging from your neck, just like it was before you picked it up. I literally did just that on closing day.
This lanyard works with a phone case, so it’s really easy to use (click over to the Amazon page and you’ll see how it works). It’s adjustable, which is nice, though I’ve had this one for a little over 10 months and it now tends to adjust itself to the longest length - the little adjustment clasp loses strength to hold a heavy phone. But the little loop you hook the lanyard to has held up fine - that’s the important part.
Sitka Women’s Hudson Jacket
Short version: Sitka waterproofness, performance and durability you would expect. Unless you have a long neck, as many women do.
The whole story: My last duck jacket was made by Girls with Guns, and I loved it: It was attractive, warm and functional. When the zippers started giving out, I gave it to a new hunter as starter gear and decided it was time to buy a Sitka jacket, as GWG no longer made a duck jacket. That was in 2021.
This was my second season hunting with it, but my first season in which I often hunted in rain. This means I finally needed to put the hood up. Unfortunately, instead of making a longer hood that could accommodate long necks (common in women) and voluminous hairstyles, and be cinched down for women who had neither, Sitka made a jacket with a short hood that can neither be extended nor removed.
Wearing a short hood is miserable. For me, it lifts the jacket about an inch and a half off my shoulders, which makes it very hard to turn my head without pulling the otherwise very comfortable jacket every which way. So I leave the hood down, which means rain reaches my neck and shoulders, and wicks all the way down whatever shirts I’m wearing. Then I shiver uncontrollably. Even the light rain I hunted in on closing day made me shiver so much that my muscles were still sore days later. That means the weather in which this jacket is supposed to be its most valuable is when it’s at its most useless, for me.
I thought about cutting the hood off to eliminate extra fabric that’s useless to me, but I often give away my used gear, and mutilating it would decrease its utility to someone else. So I contacted Sitka to see if they could alter it - add some of their proprietary fabric and tape the seam to maintain waterproofness. They declined.
If you don’t have a long neck or big hair, it’s a great jacket for these reasons:
Comfort: It’s warm. The fabric on the shoulder blades is made for mobility, which is comfy (unless you have a hood problem). It’s absolutely waterproof, so you’re only going to get wet in the places where the fabric ends, like your wrists, or in my case, my neck.
Pockets: It’s got low-front cargo pockets, center-front handwarmer pockets, two high-front zipped center-access pockets, and one zipped inner pocket. I use all of them and appreciate the ability to spread out my small items (tissues, ear plugs, handwarmers, gun multi-tool, car keys, etc.) so I always know where to find them.
Call lanyards: Folks seem to be of two minds about the built-in call lanyards. I like them. There are times when they’re a bit too short, which makes it hard to turn your head when you’re calling. But I have way fewer problems with them than I do with a lanyard that hangs around my neck. The fact that your calls hang on two straps keeps them separated a little better than hanging them on a lanyard. Only downside: On a day when you don’t need a jacket at all - which happens here in Cali - you have to move your calls to a lanyard.
UPSHOT: If I can find someone to alter this jacket, I’ll keep it. If not, I’ll go off in search again for a women’s duck jacket that works for me.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Now that you’ve had a season with your gear, what do you like, and why? And what do you regret buying?
Good stuff... but did I read that right? $1100 for waders? Holy sheep shit!
No new gear reviews from me this year...
Spent most of my deer season in 30+ year old Cabela's "polar fleece" gear. It hasn't been available for ages in the catalog, which doesn't surprise me. Seriously, how can you keep selling stuff if the stuff you sell lasts the better part of a lifetime? It's not quite as waterproof as it once was, and the bibs fit a little more snugly than they did all those years ago... but it's quiet and comfortable.
Pretty much the same story for duck gear.
My waders are the same (Cabela's?) 3mm neoprene stockingfoot waders I bought in 1996, my first season hunting in CA, after I realized that the heavy duty Hodgeman canvas waders were way too hot for hiking all the way across the refuge. They busted brush at Delevan, crawled through cockleburrs at Grizzly Island, and slogged through the Mendota mud for the whole time I hunted in CA. They were still solid and dry while I was standing up to my chest in the Northeast Cape Fear a couple weeks ago.
I've still got a couple Rubbermaid totes full of clothing and gear that was sent for review back in the day. As I recall, most of it was pretty decent. I did really like the Predator camo pattern when it came out. I do sort of miss getting new stuff to play with, but I don't think my honest reviews were always what the manufacturers and marketing teams wanted to see. I'm glad to see you're still giving it to us straight.
I have a dozen of the same decoys (HeyDey/Lifetime). They are Texas rigged and I have hand flocked the drakes. I like them very much except for one feature - when you lift them out of the water to attach to the clip for hauling them home, they have about a half cup of trapped water that can pour back over your hands if you are not careful. One of the main benefits of Texas rigged decoys is being able to keep your hands dry when picking up the decoys, so having 4 oz of water poured over them is not great. Minor issue, I know for what appears to be a very good product.