Millions of ducks and geese come down the flyways each fall, just as they have done for eons. Likewise, thousands of waterfowl hunters lie in wait, hoping to coax a few of the magnificent birds within shotgun range. A growing number of hunters are utilizing small watercraft to assist their efforts in outsmarting migratory waterfowl. I joined that crowd years ago, and the rewards far exceed the efforts.
|Canoes make great small-water duck boats. Square sterns allow for the addition of a trolling motor.|
Many state and federal waterfowl areas consist of massive acreages dedicated to intensive management practices that entice migrating waterfowl to stop in each season to feed and rest. These areas contain shallow waters complete with abundant food supplies. Managers often gradually increase water levels as the season progresses to keep a constant supply of food available to puddle ducks and geese.
Designated wade-and-shoot areas within waterfowl management areas have become extremely popular. The downside, however, is the limitations placed on hunters. While wade-and-shoot hunts can be very rewarding, a wading waterfowler simply cannot carry many decoys or other necessities.
Areas that contain only a few inches of water and are not designated as wade-and-shoot only lend themselves to the use of small watercraft to transport man, dog, decoys and supplies. A small boat goes a long way toward improving both the ease and success of a waterfowl hunting adventure.
Recently, I was fortunate to draw a good hunting slot at Missouri's Ted Shanks Conservation Area near the Mississippi River. Only three parties total would be allowed into the huge pool. I managed to be the last to arrive at the parking lot next to our designated hunting area. Two robust young men shoved their boat off into the darkness, obviously set on getting the spot they wanted.
The other hunter, approximately my age, methodically unloaded his camo canoe and gear. I had just begun to untie and unload my 18-foot lightweight camo johnboat when David Doty walked up and introduced himself. "Would you like to hunt with me?" he asked.
Moments later we were trolling down one of the canals leading deep into the hunting area when we heard splashing and cursing up ahead. The two young lads had mounted a huge mud motor on their not-big-enough boat and had capsized in 5-feet of water. We stopped to offer assistance then continued our trip in a small, stable, two-man canoe rigged with a trolling motor. The day was done for the younger lads.
|The Stealth 1200 Duck Boat is a one piece, all inclusive duck hunting craft, complete with storage space, and holders for shells and other necessities.|
Once Doty arrived at his intended destination, we tossed out two dozen decoys, stashed the canoe and hid in knee deep water in standing corn. We enjoyed a phenomenal duck hunt, which we could not have done without the use of that 17-foot two-man canoe.
I used my shallow draft 18-foot camo johnboat a few days later. I powered it with a 5-horsepower Mercury motor and a pushpole. Hunting alone, I could carry all the decoys I wanted, cooking equipment and supplies and still have room left over to utilize the remaining space as a layout boat. The 60-gauge aluminum makes the boat light enough that I can pick it up and carry it with one hand.
Several companies made these boats in the 50s and 60s, mostly for use on small rivers. They are hard to come by, but well worth the expense if you can find one. Mine had actually been a 20-footer, but someone had a bad mishap with some river rocks. As a consequence, a two foot section of the boat was removed near the front. No problem for me. That simply made the boat lighter. I picked it up for a couple hundred dollars, stripped five coats of paint from it and painted it with camo paint. It has been happy duck hunting ever since.
Kayaks are another possibility for shallow-water duck hunters, but most are very limited on space. If a hunter wants to travel light, these easy to paddle and maneuverable crafts are the ticket. I once owned a sit-inside kayak made by Old Town. The short kayak proved very stable, and I could easily get in and out of it, even while wearing waders. I strapped a dozen decoys on the front of the boat and stashed it in cover after tossing out my decoys.
Layout boats are the absolute ultimate for shallow-water duck hunters. They have a very low profile, draw little water, and with the appropriate camo, blend completely into the surroundings. Layouts are manufactured by many companies with a host of adaptations.
Stealth makes several models of duck boats in rugged 1-piece polythene construction. These are said to be some of the toughest duck boats on the market. The twin-hull design produces amazing stability, yet the boat floats in 5-inches of water. Features include two watertight compartments, twin gun racks with shell holders, wide cockpit, contoured seats, non-skid floor, and locations for oar-locks, dog platform, decoy slot and side storage. Molded-in handles make for easy lifting.
|The author uses his Grizzly johnboat with Mercury outboard for deep channels and bigger pockets of water while waterfowl hunting.|
Sneak boats are very similar to layout boats with few differences. Pirogues are common in the south and tend to be very small one-man boats. Both are highly effective in the right situations.
Johnboats come in a vast assortment of lengths and widths. Small boats, 18-feet or less, can often be used on waterfowl areas with deeper water or canals that lead to blinds, shallow water areas or fields. Many companies produce special edition johnboats as waterfowl hunting boats. One's imagination and budget are the limiting factors when it comes to choosing one of these boats.
I have owned several duck hunting boats over the years, but my current boat has proved to be my favorite. It is a 17-foot Grizzly johnboat equipped with a 50-horsepower Mercury outboard. The boat sports lots of storage room, a gunbox, non-slip finish and comfortable seats. I bought the boat with an OD green finish, purchased a stencil kit and camoed the boat myself in three hours. Dozens told me that it wouldn't work, but I've sat in my comfortable boat seat, without a blind over the boat, and harvested ducks on a regular basis. I simply toss a few pieces of camo material around to cover the console and other shiny areas.
Choosing a duck hunting boat can be a daunting task. If you begin your search by identifying your specific needs, the type of boat necessary will materialize in your mind as you do your homework. However, if you're like me, you probably have several different waterfowl hunting styles. I own a specific boat to match each style -- canoe, kayak, sneak boat and a big johnboat. I need a pirogue to round out my fleet, but my wife says otherwise.