Mike Belongia of Oconto County, Wis., created the perfect decoy cart for the waters he hunts. While it won’t work well in muddy bottoms, it works very well on firm-bottom lakes and marshes.
Belongia’s cart shows a waterfowl hunter can use his wits to solve virtually any problem when it comes to setting up in a great hunting location. The cart is made of a discarded shopping cart, steel garden fence posts and 20-inch bicycle wheels. The ingenuity of adapting everyday objects to a loftier task earned Belongia’s Ultimate Decoy Cart first place in Category 2 of the 2008 Wildfowl Boats and Blinds Contest, sponsored by Avery Outdoors.
“The Ultimate Decoy Cart allows me to set, move or pick up decoys quickly and easily,” Belongia said. “It eliminates having to haul decoys in bags and totes that always get wet and full of sand.”
Another great advantage is hunters can use both hands to set or pick up decoys, while keeping a shotgun safely at hand and in a ready position because of the Ultimate Decoy Cart’s built-in gun holder. It even solves one of modern waterfowling’s ultimate problems, which is how to easily transport a spinning-wing decoy without damage.
“My cart is environmentally friendly because it is made of 90 percent recycled materials,” he said. “Everything except the camouflage burlap was found at a recycling center or dump, yet the cart holds two-dozen decoys and can be used in a wide variety of conditions, from grassy fields to sandy beaches to open water.”
To construct the cart, Belongia used basic welding skills to attach sections of steel hat garden posts to the bottom of a shopping cart. However, anyone with a power drill could construct the cart by attaching the steel posts by drilling holes for bolts and nuts.
Belongia cut the steel posts with a welder, but they could also be cut with a power saw.The wheels of the original shopping cart are too small for use in the field, but are simply left in place rather than removing them. The cart is elevated by the addition of three bicycle wheels, one at the front center and two at the rear corners to form a tricycle.
The rear wheels are attached to flat steel pieces bent into a U-shape and welded in place, extending downward from the length of steel post welded to the shopping cart frame. At the lower ends of the flat metal pieces, holes or notches are cut to accept the threaded axles of the bicycle wheels. The axles are inserted and held in place with nuts and washers. To increase stability, short pieces of steel post are welded between the supports that hold the rear wheels of the shopping cart and the lower ends of the supports that hold the bicycle wheels.
Above the rear wheels on the steel post frame, the bottom of a rectangular bleach bottle is bolted, forming form the butt end of a gun holder. A length of 1-inch-by-4-inch board is attached to the shopping cart basket beginning at the bleach bottle bottom. At the top of the board, a clip from a fishing rod holder is attached with bolts. The clip holds the end of the gun barrel in place with the gun in an upright position.
Two lengths of steel post are welded to the front of the shopping cart to hold the forward wheel. These paired metal posts have holes drilled in them to accept the axle of a bicycle wheel.
A length of 1½-inch diameter PVC pipe is attached with muffler clamps at the front of the shopping cart basket above the framework holding the front wheel. The PVC pipe holds the support stake of a spinning-wing decoy, keeping the decoy in an upright position with the wings in place.
“The only item I purchased was a piece of camouflage burlap,” Belongia said. “It lines the inside of the cart and drapes over the outside. The burlap is held in place with plastic zip ties. It keeps decoy anchors from falling through the cart basket and becoming tangled and also reduces glare. To further eliminate shiny surfaces, I gave everything shiny a shot of black spray paint. My Ultimate Decoy Cart only cost $12 to build.”
Customized Boat and Camo System
Joe Geiger of Richmond, Va., customized and created a camouflage system for his 14-foot, 4-inch Carstens Industries Canvasback duck boat. With little effort, his camouflage system could be adapted for any small cockpit. The versatility of the system and use of easy-to-obtain materials was judged worthy of the second place award in Category 2 of the 2008 Boats and Blinds Contest. Other attributes are the addition of shell holders, swivel seats and foot rests.
“My duck hunting boat is light, fast and floats in 2 inches of water,” Geiger said. “It’s the shape of an old wooden sneak boat, but is a foam-cored fiberglass boat manufactured with an aircraft-style, resin-infusion-molding system. The camo system is inexpensive, versatile, very effective and stows under the coffin lid when the boat is on a trailer.”
First, Geiger added snap hasps to secure the coffin lid. He bolted wooden blocks to the four outside walls of the cockpit and fitted them between the lid edges. Then he bolted on snap hasps and used dog leash spring clips to hold them closed.
Next, he added shotgun shell loops. Geiger said shell box holders did not work well for his hunting because he needs to change shot sizes for small ducks, big ducks and geese.
He purchased four Nylon, 25-loop shell belts, cut off the buckles and glued them to thin plywood strips with spray adhesive, clamping them to a bench to ensure a good bond. He then glued the plywood strips to the sides of the cockpit and clamped and screwed them in place until the glue set. Camouflage netting glued between the plywood strips and interior cockpit edge holds it in place.
The camouflage netting extends from the inside cockpit edges out over the forward deck, sides and stern, with enough overhang at the stern to cover an electric trolling motor and a 3.5 hp outboard motor. Two additional sections of burlap netting were glued along the sides. These sections fold over the interior to cover the cockpit. While the initial cockpit camouflage netting was burlap, Geiger said he would switch all burlap to Nylon netting next season for greater durability.
Four sections of camouflage netting to cover the bow, stern, both sides and the cockpit were cut, fitted and sewn together before being clamped, screwed and glued in place.
Two hunter openings in the cockpit can be covered with the side netting. Geiger closes one of them when he his hunting alone, and both of them if he is hunting from the bank and wants to hide the boat. The cockpit netting tended to sag. To close the openings and solve the sagging, Geiger lashed ¼-inch plastic dowel rods to the ends of the cockpit cover netting. He ties the paired dowels together when he wants to close one or both openings.
An ⅛-inch diameter cord was sewn to the forward deck camo netting. The cord is tied to the bow eye to hold the netting while the boat is underway.
All netting extends to the waterline, where it catches any boat spray to keep hunters dry. The netting dries quickly.
“The camo system works so well, I had a raccoon step onto the bow of the boat and he never even knew I was sitting in the boat, 10 feet away,” Geiger said. “It really disappears.”
While layout boats and bench seats work well for younger hunters, Geiger said at age 70-plus, he needs a backrest. Therefore, he built a 3-inch-high, raised wooden platform from plywood and 2-inch-by-4-inch lumber for mounting two folding swivel seats to the boat’s benches. The swivel seats are bolted to platforms held to the benches with snap clips for quick installation and removal. The seats store out of the way on the cockpit floor when not in use.
“The swivel seats do make hunters sit higher,” Geiger said. “But they allow me to swing another 30 degrees when tracking a duck. I solved the concealment problem by wearing a camouflage ghillie jacket with a hood. It makes me look like a tall muskrat house. I’m much more concealed than if I were inside any square duck blind.”
The cockpit was too narrow for hunters to turn sideways for shooting with their feet inside. Therefore, Geiger added a pair of outboard foot rests, which might be the most ingenious aspects of the boat. They are made of pressure-treated patio deck boards, cut to 5½ inches by 1¼ inches by 26 inches. The foot rests have 1-inch-by-2-inch blocks that hold the footboards away from the boat to accommodate Geiger’s son-in-law’s size 14 boots. At 6 feet, 10 inches tall, Geiger’s son-in-law is proof of the effectiveness of the setup.
The foot rests are deployed on lengths of rope, with hooks under the interior cockpit combing holding them. The foot rests and ropes are secured when not in use beneath the bench seats with heavy ball bungee cords.
Geiger also mounted coffee cup holders on plywood. Geiger prefers large diameter thermal coffee mugs with lids to keep coffee hot on cold days. But no holders were available to fit the large mugs. So he bought inexpensive cup holders designed to hang from an object, cut off the hanging hooks and the bottoms so sides would open farther and tied the sides together with decoy line for a snug, but adjustable fit. The sides grip the mug. The holders are screwed to plywood attached to a gunwale or seat.
Cleats for lines used to tie the boat to vegetation were mounted at each inside corner of the interior cockpit combing. Notches for hooking decoy lines were filed in kayak paddle blades. At the end of one blade, a pair of wooden blocks was bolted to either side to allow the paddle to act as a push-pole.
“In my customized boat, two hunters can sit and shoot as comfortably as they would in a traditional duck blind,” Geiger said. “I weigh 250 pounds, so if these additions have worked for me, they would work for anyone else who hunts from a sneak-style boat.”