May 14, 2012
It's obvious aluminum boats are the toughest and offer the best utility for building the ideal blind, judging by the sheer number of aluminum crafts entered in the 2011 "Boats & Blinds" contest. Ben Morgan of Kent, Ohio, found his ideal duck boat in a 14-foot Osagian Vantage hull, a flat-bottom with rounded bow and stern. He decided to power the boat with an 8-horsepower Scavenger Backwater mud motor. In engineering and art, form always follows function, and in both of these respects, Morgan's boat blind is a beauty. Its clean lines, perfect camouflage and efficiency of operation were so outstanding his Vantage-Scavenger took third place in the "Boats & Blinds" contest.
"This boat was selected because it is mainly designed for inland swamps and other shallow water locations where we usually hunt," Morgan said. "Our goals in hunting the swamps are to be as mobile as possible, present a low profile for concealment and have an ample amount of well-organized equipment storage space."
Morgan's Vantage-Scavenger does all that, while still allowing up to three hunters and a retriever to hunt in comfort all day. A big reason Morgan selected the Vantage Osagian hull was for its shallow, 3-inch draft and generous 700-pound capacity.
The deck and lower hull sides of the boat blind were camouflaged by adding a double-layered border of Raffia grass. One-foot wide strips were glued to a border of some wooden strips, sawed to size from treated 2x4 lumber, and screwed to the hull with self-tapping screws. A second layer of strips were glued and clamped over the bottom layer of grass, using screws to join and tighten both wooden strips. The grass is placed in 1-foot wide bundles and draped down to cover the sides of the boat. The top and bottom layer of grass bundles are alternated to provide maximum coverage and concealment.
Nuts & Bolts
The blind frame is made of ¾-inch EMT (electrical conduit) welded together. The blind's side skin is made of 1/16-inch black PVC sheeting. Truck bed cargo netting is attached to the interior to hold decoys and other gear in place, and ¾-inch mesh plastic netting covers the exterior over the PVC skin. Piano hinges allow the blind frames to fold up and down.
The blind frame consists of two sections, one on each side, with both extending the length of the cockpit, and from the centerline outward to each gunwale. Each section has a rounded exterior where it joins the gunwale and has three longitudinal cross pieces at the gunwale and bend. Another longitudinal section at the outer or interior edge is cut into three sections to allow access. There are four ribs on each side frame that create three separate shooting positions. When folded down for hunting, the frames extend vertically from each gunwale of the boat up to the head height of a seated hunter. The curved outer edge on the interior of each of the blind frames provides lots of storage space. Each side of the frame has three shooting compartments. The dog sits on the bow deck.
"Having the three compartments on either side allows hunters to hunt from either side of the boat without having to turn it around," Morgan said.
Six piano hinges are attached to the boat and gunwale, with one hinge at the center of each of the six compartments. On the interior, or top end of the two frames, notched tees made from 1½-inch conduit allow the horizontal EMT sections to be removed. The notches are cut larger than the ¾-inch EMT cross sections so they can slip freely out of the tees. This allows each compartment to be opened by lifting out the outer EMT section and folding the PVC skin up or down. Because of the flexibility of the PVC, the netting and everything else covering the blind exterior folds along with the skin. The cutouts in the ends of the tees were made with a power saw. Each of the EMT sections is held in place inside the tees with equipment pins and quick clips. When all the compartments are secure and the top frame ends are pinned together, the two curved blind frames can be swung completely open in one piece, just like opening a fishing tackle box with double-roof doors.
The piano hinges are attached to the EMT lower frames with self-tapping screws. To provide rigidity, as well as create a secure connection point for the screws, the interior of the EMT was filled with a two-part epoxy in the attachment area. The piano hinges were attached to the boat by screwing them to the wooden strips that surround the cockpit.
The exterior PVC sheeting is screwed in place on the conduit frame, using self-tapping screws and the sheeting acts as a windbreak. The PVC sheeting is spray painted in camouflage colors for concealment. The elastic cargo netting is attached to the interior of the blind frames to create a storage area for decoys and other gear, whether or not the frames are folded up or down during hunting, transport and travel.
The cargo netting is installed by securing the elastic strap along the bottom of the net, clamping it between the piano hinge and the conduit. The top of the net also has an elastic strap, which is fastened to eyebolts located in each of the rib sections of the conduit frame. Zip ties were used to attach the cargo netting to the frame and the eyebolts, keeping it taut. The cargo netting stores about 30 decoys, plus flotation cushions, personal flotation devices and the motor cover.
Sections of ¾-inch square plastic netting are attached over the top of the PVC sheeting and fastened to the conduit frames with zip ties. Raffia grass is then attached to the netting with more zip ties (Morgan used more than 1,000 of them to assure the Raffia stayed in place). Ninety-degree elbows are welded to the bottom tips of each frame end, fore and aft with short pieces of conduit, extending from them toward the blind interior. These extensions come to rest on wooden strips screwed along the outside of the gunwales to prevent the blind from opening beyond perpendicular. When the frames are closed, they also rest on these extensions on top of the wood strips attached to the tops of the gunwales.
Two automotive fog lights were installed on the bow deck and one headlight was installed on the stern deck. To protect the front lights from being kicked or stepped on by hunters entering or exiting the boat, a piece of ¾-inch PVC sheeting was cut and bent to form a rigid hood, then screwed in place to cover each light.
The forward deck between the front lights was covered with camouflage neoprene, cannibalized from an old set of chest waders. The neoprene covering quieted the boat considerably and created a very comfortable, non-slip platform for the retriever to sit during hunts.
A camouflage cover was made for the mud motor by sewing together nylon fabric. Elastic was sewn around the border of the nylon and Raffia grass was attached to it by melting small holes in the nylon, so the grass could be fastened in place with zip ties. The cover is simply placed over the motor while a hunt is in progress.
Brackets for holding two telescoping push poles were installed on each side of the cockpit interior. The four brackets, two on each side, are made of sheet metal and grip the poles securely.
When the boat is under navigation, both side frames of the blind are swung open to provide access along the entire interior of the cockpit. Once the blind is situated at the hunting location, the hunters sit in the cockpit, oriented broadside to the shooting zone.
"The Vantage is so wide, there's no concern for boat stability," Morgan said. "Once the hunters are seated, the section of blind behind each hunter is folded down. If only one or two hunters are in the blind, the unused compartment or compartments' top conduit sections can remain in place to provide more concealment of the unused area. As for the blind section in front of each hunter, it can also be folded down to provide concealment to the top of each hunter's head."