A city-dwelling hunter who does not have a solid-gold connection -- or some solid gold -- will probably find the pursuit of waterfowl priced beyond his reach. Private land is virtually all closed or leased, and public land requires either a lot of expensive equipment or an expensive guide.
There is an exception. Sneakboating (on the upland rivers, along the marshy margins of Chesapeake Bay and behind the barrier islands on the ocean side of the Delmarva Peninsula) is cheap, productive and a lot more fun than huddling in a freezing blind. It can be done for little more than the price of a license, gas and shotgun shells, assuming you already have camping equipment and a canoe or jonboat.
Sneakboating is hunting , as opposed to hiding. It requires hard paddling, quick reactions, good waterfowl identification and fine shooting if birds are to be brought home, but an exciting and aesthetic experience is all but guaranteed whether a shot is fired or not. (Anyone who could regard a day's float as wasted because he didn't kill anything ought to seek work in an abattoir.)
Just like it sounds, sneakboating is the art of drifting down upon sitting birds. The quieter the approach, the closer the birds will be when they take to the air. In marsh, tall grass may screen the boat, but upriver birds normally will see the hunters long before they are seen. Still, they often will sit until the boat is well within range.
The basic equipment is a boat -- a canoe is far and away the best, whether for upriver rapids or saltwater marsh -- a shotgun and clothing that will keep you from freezing to death if you fall in. Capsizes should be very rare, even with a novice in the canoe, but the safe thing to do is assume you'll get ducked and dress accordingly. In waterfowl season this means either several layers of wool and a water-repellant overall or a wetsuit. If shelter is more than a few minutes away, a change of clothing in a waterproof bag is vital.
It is possible but stupid to go solo. Two in the boat lets one gun while the other paddles; in the time it takes to drop a paddle and pick up a gun the birds are gone. And the boat is far less tippy when the hunter in the stern is using the paddle as a stabilizer.
Better yet is two pairs of hunters in two canoes. There is both safety and efficiency in numbers. On upland rivers it means both banks can be covered at the same time. In tidal marsh it allows one canoe to wait downwind while the other works to flush birds from the cuts and guts. And if one pair capsizes, the others are there to help.
The ideal tool for this type of hunting would be a paddle that shoots or a gun that swims. It can be frustrating on days when the birds are especially flighty or are somewhere else. However, once you develop a feel for the technique, and a sense of where the birds gather and how they flush and fly, your game bag should bulge.
In the marsh it's relatively simple hunting and very difficult bird identification. The birds are around the bends of the narrow tideways, and will normally flush fairly close. The problem is to be sure the bird is legal before you shoot, and it would be well to go with an experienced birder, because of the variety of the birds found in marsh.
Along the upland rivers the situation is reversed. Any duck that flushes will likely be legal, but getting a reasonable shot may seem almost impossible some days. The birds will flush hundreds of yards away or while you're in the middle of a rapid with both hunters paddling hard. On the other hand, a duck you down while slewing sideways through Class III whitewater is a duck you will never forget.
Upriver ducking (the odd goose may also be found) requires considerable patience. The hunters should drift at the pace of the river, the bow man keeping his gun always at the ready and the stern man paddling only as necessary to control the canoe.
If birds are spotted before they flush, and the riverbank affords enough cover, all should halt while one gunner stalks the flock, walking inland and swinging wide so as to come on them from downriver and flush them back toward the other hunters.
In fact, all likely spots, especially oxbow cutoffs and backwaters, should be stalked whether birds are seen or not. It takes time; hunters should progress about half as fast as the river runs. Along one short stretch of the upper Potomac this fall a lone hunter, moving slowly and stalking both banks, took more birds in one day than a party of four hunters had shot in two days while sweeping twice that length of river.
The canoe of choice is one of the rubber-and-fabric types such as the ABS-Royalex, which are not only incredibly light and tough but do not dent, scrape or ring like a gong when you hit a rock or drop your paddle. Most outfitters rent them.
Because in winter a wet man may be a dead man, it would be wise to wear a wetsuit or practice sneakboating in the marsh during the early railbird season, when the weather is warm enough that a dunking is unlikely to have serious consequences. For upland river practice, there is dove and squirrel hunting along the banks. The proportion of posted land along riverbanks is much lower than along the roads.
Virginia for the past several years has had a four-day October season designed to give hunters a chance at the local wood ducks before they migrate south. It ranks with the finest waterfowling to be found in the world, especially when the season coincides with the turning of the leaves.
Perhaps because of the care and effort involved, few hunters seem to take advantage of the early woodie season; one party had a whole branch of the Shenandoah to themselves for three days. The lack of predator pressure on the birds (once they get past the duckling stage, when turtles gobble them like peanuts) was reflected in the condition of some of the dozen taken. One's bill was so deformed it could barely eat, another was missing a third of its left wing and another had no breast feathers.