Waterfowl Hunting The Georgia Coast

From sea ducks off the beaches to divers in the sounds, the coastline offers some of the best waterfowl hunting Georgia has to offer.

Capt. David Newlin | December 1, 2020

It was a dark, cold 30-degree December morning as we were motored across St. Catherines Sound looking for the small red blinking light on a channel marker. We were headed to the ocean side of St. Catherines Island in the predawn black, the taste and scent of the salt hitting our faces.

The ride wasn’t near as long as it seemed in the cold air, and soon we were about a mile offshore with 100 decoys floating around the boat as we watched for surf scoters flying between the waves. By 10:30 we were back inshore with six scoters, three bufflehead, two scaup and a canvasback. That’s a good morning of duck hunting, and while it’s not easy, it’s not an uncommon result along the Georgia coast.

Every year in November thousands of ducks head south through coastal Georgia’s salt waters. There are brave souls who venture out to hunt ducks on the salt waters—there is nothing easy about successfully hunting coastal ducks. I guided duck hunters almost every day of the season for 23 years on the Georgia coastal waters. Here I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned, and hopefully give you some information to help point you in the right direction for a successful coastal duck hunting trip.

We have two totally different areas to hunt ducks in. Sea duck hunting out to a couple miles offshore of the barrier islands, or hunting the sounds and miles of marshes and rivers along the coast.

Hunting sea ducks requires proper planning, equipment and a strong priority for safety. The author has guided and hunted the salt for decades, and he says plainly, “Don’t die for a duck.”

Sea Ducks Off The Beaches

Sea duck hunting requires a very different set up than your usual freshwater rig. You must have a sturdy boat capable of handling the rough water you can encounter. I have used an 18-foot G3 with a handle drive 40 horsepower for my ocean hunts. I would not try it with a boat smaller than that. A good boat blind is also a necessity.

You need to rig decoys where you can put them out and pick them up quickly. Rigging decoys in a line using 1/4-inch rope with a concrete block on both ends works well. I usually try to rig 25 decoys on a rope that is 35 yards, with 20 feet on each end for the concrete blocks. This also helps trying to figure out shooting ranges on the open water. Sea ducks are not picky about what color a decoy is. If you don’t own 100 decoys, a couple strings of Clorox jugs painted flat black mixed in with decoys will work to fill out a decoy spread.

Place four strings of decoys in an X pattern, with the boat in the center of the X. A couple of wind-powered spinning decoys placed just above the boat blind always seems to help. I took a couple of Winduck mallard spinning decoys and painted them black and placed them on an 8-foot piece of conduit. These spinners are powered by the wind, and as little as 5 mph wind will get them moving. Saltwater kills most of the battery-operated decoys in a couple of trips.

All of the Georgia beaches can hold scoters, scaup and buffleheads. Look for areas that have the least amount of current.

Watch the weather if you are considering a sea duck hunt. The ocean can get ugly real quick in the winter. The perfect weather is a light westerly wind. A northeast wind 15 or stronger is an absolute stay-out-of-the-ocean day in a duck hunting boat. If the weather is questionable, hunt in the sounds. Don’t die for a duck.

All of the beaches can hold scoters, scaup and buffleheads. I have shot a lot of ducks offshore of Wassaw, Ossabaw and St. Catherines. Look for areas that have the least amount of current. The ends of the islands usually have hard running currents. I usually hunt in 10 to 15 feet of water between 1/2 to 2 miles off the beaches, close to the middle of the islands.

Most of the sea ducks fly very low just a few feet off the surface. They can slip up on you real quickly. Shoot the heaviest shells your shoulder can handle. I always like the 3 1/2-inch Kent Fasteell shotgun shells in precision-plated No. 1 steel. A crippled sea duck can be almost impossible to retrieve, as they are all great swimmers and divers.

Scouting is an absolute must to learn where the ducks are, not to mention you need to know how to navigate in the dark. One day 10,000 scoters and scaup will be in one place, and three days later they are all gone.

Don’t try to hunt in areas that shrimp boats are working hard—they are not watching for duck hunters.

Quick Tips For Coastal Duck Hunting

• Don’t hesitate to pick up and move at 8 in the morning if you see ducks going into a certain area.

• Access on the coast is good, with a lot of public ramps and marinas. Sometimes leaving your boat overnight at a marina is a simple access solution.

• Leave plenty of room between other hunters. Usually staying a couple miles apart is no problem.

• Leave your dog at home. Diving ducks, swift currents and heavy decoy weights spell death to a dog. Hunting near the banks, oyster shells will cut a dog’s feet to shreds.

• A hand-held GPS can be a great help.

• A real good quality waterproof spotlight is a must.

• Leave a good ‘flight plan’ with someone dependable. A lot of areas of the coast do not have cell phone service.

• Fog can make navigating a real nightmare.

Inshore Ducks On The Coast

Duck hunting the inshore waters is much safer, but it is not much easier. The same decoy setup with decoys on a line works well inshore, too. I usually rig up a couple dozen decoys in pairs with a 16-oz. sinker. Throw these out between your strings of decoys, and it makes a setup that works. I usually like between 75 to 100 decoys. There are a few places where you can hunt on the riverbanks, but most places you need a good boat blind.

On the Georgia coast we deal with big tides from 6 to 10 feet. Check your tide charts. When the tide is 9 feet or higher, you are usually better off staying home. Many hunting spots are like fishing drops—they are good on certain tide stages. Low tide in the middle of the morning is my favorite hunting tide. Scouting on the different tide stages is necessary to consistently killing coastal ducks. If you find feeding ducks at 3 p.m., they will probably return in the morning.

I have hunted all over the sounds of Ossabaw, St. Catherines and Sapelo. In Ossabaw the areas around Raccoon Keys Island, the big mud flat in the sound just west of the mouth of Bradley River, and the mouth of the Ogeechee River have been good. In St. Catherines I have killed ducks all over the area. On a nasty northeast wind, if you can safely get there, the mouth of Walburg Creek will fill up with birds coming off the ocean. In Sapelo Sound the area around the Mud River has been real good. There are a lot of big, shallow mud flats there. The ramp near Pelican Point works to get to that area.

Some of the rivers will get a lot of ducks in them. Red breasted mergansers will show up in big numbers miles up the rivers. Find a good sharp point, and put out the decoys. Just know that you won’t figure these places out in a single trip.


Last week I saw several thousand scoters and scaup off the front of Ossabaw. Some birds are in the sound. Usually it is around Christmas before a lot of birds show up inside.

With most of the ducks we kill—including red breasted mergansers and hooded mergansers—make more than great cat food. I will skin the breast and cut it off in two pieces. Make a marinade of Worcestershire, lemon juice, butter and a little Texas Pete hot sauce. Soak the duck parts for a couple hours, cook on the grill to about medium, and they will get eaten.

One final word of caution—be super careful. Wear a flotation device when duck hunting. Coastal duck hunting is tough, and it can be dangerous. Personally, I have quit duck guiding and have almost left the duck hunting to the younger generations.

Good luck and be safe.

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  1. Dilynseth on November 17, 2023 at 10:23 am

    This was a great read and I appreciate your insight. I go to FLA to chase my divers but will definitely be going down to the GA coast after reading this. Thank you for all the insight!

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