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The Complete Mud Motor Buyer's Guide

Simple guidelines to help eliminate buyer's remorse.

The Complete Mud Motor Buyer's Guide

Your go-to guide for bringing home your first or next mud motor for your duck hunting boat. (Photo courtesy of Excel Boats)

If you are a mud motor expert, STOP, you don’t need to read any further. All joking aside, if you are still reading this, you probably read right through my sarcasm or need some professional (and I use that term loosely) advice on the who, what, where, and when of mud motors for your duck boat. The good news is, expert and novice alike, this article aims to provide you with the critical information required to make the right choice for your needs, boat, and hunting environment.


Why do I need a mud motor?

If you are asking yourself this question, I will summarize it in three words: To Get Skinny. Mud motors, unlike conventional outboards, are designed to operate in skinny, shallow water that is thicker than a milkshake, loaded with obstructions, and choked out with vegetation. While conventional outboards are great at traversing deep water, their rigidly mounted shaft and prop stick down below the bottom of the boat’s hull making an unforeseen sandbar or log a great way to ruin your day before it starts. Mud motors on the other hand shine at getting into the water depths that trashed the shear pin or propeller of the aforementioned outboard and are designed to pivot up and down while in operation to accommodate varying water depths and thick vegetation. No, they aren’t bullet proof, but they are darn close.

While conventional outboards mounted to a deep-V hull boat are the perfect, and correct, choice for hunting lakes and deeper water, if you desire to hunt in skinny water or travel across deep water to run around in lake-edge marshes, mud motors are the only way to fly. From surface drives (A.K.A. shorttails) to old-school longtails, mud motors of all sizes with whip you up a mudshake allowing you to get into duck holes that your previously only dreamed of.

duck hunter in snow with mud motor
Getting a mud motor could be the winning ticket to some incredible backwater waterfowl hunting away from the crowds. (Photo courtesy of Backwater Inc.)

Ok, you convinced me, but what type of mud motor do I need?

If there was ever a loaded question, this is the one. While remaining brand agnostic, because all U.S. manufacturers like Go-Devil, Mud Buddy, Gator-Tail, and Pro-Drive all make exceptional products, there are some basic questions for you to answer that will help steer you in the right direction.

DON’T MISS our Best Mud Motors List!

First and foremost, where do you intend to use your mud motor? 

If the answer is shallow water only, the answer is simple, either surface drive or longtails will suffice. If you intend to hunt both shallow and deep waters, including rock-laden rivers, surface drives are your huckleberry, especially if you intend to make long runs across deep water to get into shallow water hunting areas.

What type of water are you hunting? 

Longtail mud motors are not just the original, old-school option, they do things a little differently than surface drives and are just as useful as their younger cousins. Longtails, as their name implies, have a longer shaft length that allows you, in a way, to get leverage. This longer shaft can be manipulated by the operator with ease from a standing position to help navigate shallow water, navigate around/over logs and stumps, and allow the operator to move the propeller into deeper water to gain, for lack of a better word, traction. They are also extremely durable with less moving parts than surface drives, but more cumbersome in the water, during transport, and to store due to their extended shaft. Surface drives on the other hand offer more comfort during operation and can still get into shallow, obstructed water, however they lack some of the ease of manipulation that comes with a longer shaft.

longtail mud buddy mud motor
Longtail mud motors can be more helpful to get your duck boat into the most hard to reach spots. (Photo courtesy of Mud Buddy)

Is comfort a priority?

Yeah, I know, duck hunters are all tough guys. That said, even tough guys often like creature comforts, and that is one advantage of a surface drive. Surface drives, especially on long runs are simply smoother to handle and don’t cause as much fatigue as manipulating a longtail. They are also less difficult to conceal and, simply put, less “in the way” when you are hunting due to their shorter shaft length. Oh, and surface drives are also in console drive configurations, if you are into that sort of thing.

shorttail or surface drive mud buddy mud motor
If you plan on traversing deeper water, a shorttail or surface drive mud motor might be in your best interest. (Photo courtesy of Mud Buddy)

What about mud motor engine size and configuration?

The good news here is that all mud motor manufacturers are easy to get ahold of. The owners, or their knowledgeable employees, actually pick up the phone when you call and are willing to help you select the right engine size for your boat.  With that said, a good recommendation to follow is you can always use less than what you have, but never more, meaning that bigger is almost always better.

The only time you should consider a smaller engine size than the rating of the boat is in situations where weight is an issue, both from a maneuverability standpoint and on the transom. Putting heavy weight on the transom of your boat can cause issues getting the hull on plane and/or limit the skinniness of water you can get into, especially for boats without pods.  So, unless you have pods or want to install them on your hull, Beavertail sells some pretty sweet add-on pods by the way, keep the weight of the entire mud motor in mind when making your selection. Also, just like when you buy a conventional outboard, pay careful attention to the transom height of your boat. In most cases it is either short or long, but it is important that, you know, you buy the right one.

Do you DIY?

If you are handy and want to save a few bucks, don’t overlook buying a mud motor kit. Multiple different manufacturers including Backwater Inc. and PFF Mud Motors make them in nearly every horsepower range imaginable, and with a little elbow grease, you can quickly assemble all the parts and have a mud motor that is ready to rock. Kits are available in different configurations including longtail from the aforementioned manufacturers and even surface drive from Mud Skipper that don’t require mad skills to assemble, think hand-tools, not tig welders.

longtail mud motor SWOMP kit from Backwater Inc
If you're handy with tools, don't be afraid to build your own mud motor from a DIY kit. (Photo courtesy of Backwater Inc.)

My pocketbook is light this year; is it ok buy a used mud motor?

The simple answer is absolutely, with a few caveats. Mud motors, just like conventional outboards or automobiles, contain an engine that can be mistreated or not maintained, contains parts that can be broken or damaged, and requires a mechanical system that can sparkle outside yet hide subsurface issues. Generally speaking, if you are mechanically inclined and have an idea how to go about inspecting an engine/components, buying a used mud motor is no different than buying a car from the used lot. If you are not handy, either phone a friend, or be extra diligent during your inspection. Always remember that mud motors were designed to be used in very harsh environments. This tends to get them treated like a rental car, so some extra time to inspect, hear them run, and ask about previous maintenance etc. is a good place to start.

Ok, I bought one, now what?

If you have made the plunge and now have a fresh, or used, mud motor sitting on your doorstep, get to uncrating it and mounting it on the transom. Start by following any of the manufacturer’s guidelines for break-in, mounting, and etc. Generally speaking, aside from some Zerk fittings, during-the-season maintenance is minimal. Once the hunting season is over, make sure to perform recommended yearly maintenance on the engine, plugs, and other components during the off-season so you are prepared for next year. Mud motors are extremely durable and generally way less finicky than a conventional outboard, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect them like you did your homework back in high school.

Have fun slinging a mud rooster tail with your new purchase!

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