With waterfowl season quickly approaching, now’s the time for duck and goose hunters to start evaluating their equipment, and maybe pick up a few new items.

There’s certainly a lot of great new gear to choose from this year. Whether you’re shopping for a new shotgun, ultra-realistic decoys, or the latest in non-toxic ammo, waterfowlers have never had it so good. Here are some of this season’s top new picks.

Winchester’s SX4 semi-auto has an oversized bolt handle, bolt release button, and safety for easier use with gloves. Its soft-shooting gas system and thick Inflex recoil pad combine to keep heavy 12-guage magnum recoil at tolerable levels.

Waterfowlers will be most interested in the new SX4 Hybrid Hunter. It has a 3.5-inch chamber, camouflage stock and forearm, and tough Permacote finish on the receiver and barrel that resists scratches and corrosion.

Franchi’s new Affinity 3.5 also has a 3.5-inch chamber, enlarged bolt handle and bolt release button, and comes in black synthetic or camo.

The Affinity 3.5 is powered by an inertia system similar to parent company Benelli’s. However, this is the softest shooting inertia gun I’ve shot, thanks in large part to its thick, shoulder-protecting TSA recoil pad.

The gas-operated SX4 and inertia-operated Affinity 3.5 are probably the best values going currently in their respective classes. Both are extremely reliable and will cycle a wide range of loads.

In fact, I’ve found each performs better than other shotguns costing twice as much, proving you don’t have to spend a small fortune for high quality.

Carlson’s new Cremator Snow Goose choke is designed specifically for gunning high-flying spring snows. It comes in two constrictions, mid-range and long-range, or light modified and improved modified, for decoy and pass shooting.

This specialty snow goose choke has a tough white Cerakote finish. Paired with a Franchi Affinity 3.5 and Hevi-Snow BBs, the long-range Cremator proved deadly on snow geese last spring.

Speaking of Hevi-Snow, this is an all-steel load like Hevi-Steel, but is offered in 12-gauge only and just the larger steel shot sizes – 2, 1, BB, and BBB – which are more suitable for gunning geese. It also boasts higher velocities than many other steel loads - 1,500 feet per second for 3-inch shells, 1,550 fps for 3.5-inch. Most importantly, Hevi-Snow is affordable, a necessary consideration for high-volume shooting.

Non-toxic bismuth shot has been around for a couple decades, but availability has fluctuated. This year, Winchester introduced its new Xtended Range Bismuth. This load is available in 3-inch 12-gauge with number 5 shot, making it an ideal choice for both ducks and turkeys.

Xtended Range Bismuth features Winchester’s resin-like Shot-Lok buffering agent which surrounds and protects the shot. This prevents the soft bismuth pellets from fracturing, a common problem in early bismuth loads.

Kent also has some new bismuth offerings this year. Kent Bismuth Waterfowl and Upland loads are available in 12, 16, 20, and 28-gauge, and are safe for use in older shotguns that won’t tolerate steel shot.

Big Foot decoys are known for their rugged durability. Big Foot’s new B2 shells, available exclusively from Cabela’s, are large yet lightweight.

They feature flocked heads, realistic feather detail, and a bold white tail patch that is highly visible. Both sleeper and variety six-packs are offered. The latter has four different head positions.

Goose shells are nice, but bulky. So are full-body decoys.

That’s why this season I’m trying out Greenhead Gear’s hybrid 3-D silhouettes. They are sold by the dozen, which includes six uprights and six feeders.

These decoys aren’t completely flat like a traditional silhouette, which gives them their 3-D appearance. They also have flocked heads, good feather detail, and motion stakes that conveniently store in the decoy body for easy transport. Best of all, they’re compact and lightweight.

Of course, there’s a lot of other great gear out there for waterfowlers to choose from.

Half the fun of preparing for duck and goose season is assembling old equipment and acquiring new. It’s what excites retrievers, frustrates spouses, and fills garages to overflowing.

Jarrod Spilger writes an outdoor column for The Independent.

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