While many hunters give up early morning hunts in chilly, rainy weather as they age, there's at least one couple that will continue hunting for a long time.
Gene and Linda Van Vleet of Casper, Wyo., are still avid waterfowl hunters, in part due to their duck boat creation that caters to comfort.
Their simple yet effective design can be adapted for any johnboat using commercially available materials. Their ideas were so imaginative that their "Grandpa and Grandma's Duck Boat" received honorable mention in the 2010 Boats and Blinds Contest.
"The boat is a Crestliner, 18 feet long and 40 inches wide," Gene Van Vleet said. "It has a 65-horsepower Mercury jet tiller outboard motor. I purchased a Northern Flight Blind from Cabela's. It worked great, but we were cramped inside it.
"For two years, we put the blind on the boat after we were done fishing to get ready to hunt waterfowl. Then we bought a Lund boat for fishing so we could use the Crestliner for just hunting."
A dedicated duck boat was now a front-burner project. Gene removed the old camouflage trappings and began making modifications to turn the Cabela's blind into a permanent fixture.
"I added some square tubing to lengthen and widen the existing frame," he said. "I wanted to rig a blind that we could sit up straight inside without the camo hanging all over our backs or heads. My goal was to make it weatherproof and comfortable."
On the left (port) side, Gene attached square tubing to raise the upright 10 inches longer than the right (starboard) side. He bent some 1-inch square tubing at the corners and put a pin in each end to allow the uprights to pivot.
The right side of the blind has a section that pivots overhead to form a roof, attached to the uprights of the right frame at each end with two pins. An elongated U-shape, the roof support swings upward, with the long part of the frame extending across the rear of the blind to hold the blind fabric taut along the back. The roof support and right and left upright blind sections lie flat in transit, then swing open on the pivot pins into an upright position for hunting. The forward deck, which has a triangular configuration, remains open for hunter and dog boarding.
Once the blind sections are in the upright position, they are held up by lengths of 2½-inch-diameter conduit, in the same manner that slippery windows can be held open with a piece of broom handle. The conduit pieces are attached with clip pins at the top and fastened at the bottom with T-bolts that penetrate the side rails. Once erect, the blind sides extend straight up from the boat. The blind is lowered and folds back toward the interior of the boat by removing the conduit supports.
"On the right upright, I fastened a ¼-inch camo rope to the center of the bar," Gene said. "It runs through an eyebolt on the left bar. By pulling the rope from my seat position and holding the rope with a small clamp, the front wall of the blind can be raised or lowered. When we are ready to shoot, I release the clamp and the front wall falls down so we can shoot sitting or standing up. The whole frame folds down, fitting neatly inside the boat."
For camouflage, Avery's WindBlocker material served as a base. Linda sewed two sections together lengthwise with the attached Velcro tabs supplied with the material remaining on the outside. She used the Velcro tabs to attach the material to the top of the blind frame, creating weatherproof sides and a roof.
"We then attached Camosystems netting to both sides and the top," Gene said. "We did this by using camo decoy cord sewed about every foot in the WindBlocker material. Then we wove Avery's KillerWeed Blind Grass into the holes of the netting, leaving a few holes in the right side so when the blind is up, you are hidden but can still see out of the blind while sitting down."
The front and bottom of the boat interior is covered with Cabela's Neo-Mat. The material quiets sounds and allows hunters and dogs to move around the boat without slipping. The surface is also warm enough for the Van Vleets' retrievers to rest comfortably upon.
"We have a Northern Flight dog ladder on the bow and two Northern Flight gun holsters bolted to a box inside of the boat," Gene said. "I added a three-gun pickup rack inside the boat for holding firearms securely while transporting it on land and water. I attached the gun rack using two T-bolts through the rack's slide rail. A wooden dowel run inside a piece of heater hose holds the bottom of the gun rack together. Two screws go thought the heater hose and extend halfway into the dowel. We have two of Mud Buddy's Boat Organizer bags attached to the side rail by T-bolts to hold shells and calls."
On either side of the aluminum storage box, located amidships at the right side of the blind beneath the canopy, are two chairs modified with cushioned boat swivel seats. The chairs have metal frames and can be moved into any position, or removed from the boat to make room for stowing decoys and gear. The seats are cozy, offering good back support for long sitting sessions. One gun holster is attached to each side of the box, so each hunter's gun rests upright between the hunter and the box. A boat paddle is stored along the right gunwale, behind the box and seats.
The motor has a separate camouflage cover, and the dog platform is attached to the boat with integral screw clamps. When the boat is not used for hunting, the motor cover and dog platform are removed and stowed inside the boat. The entire blind folds down so neatly that a canvas boat cover is easily stretched over the top of the boat to keep everything safe, secure and out of the weather. This also prevents the blind material from being blown away while the blind is towed.
The boat blind is comfortable no matter the weather conditions, and erecting the blind or taking it down only takes a few minutes. As a plus, just about anyone can create a similar blind using the same materials the Van Vleets did, which are all sold by waterfowl hunting gear manufacturers.
"I am very blessed to have a wife who loves to hunt waterfowl as much as I do," Gene said. "Our grandson who lives in North Dakota by the Missouri River has already asked us if he could have the duck boat when we are too old to go hunting. We told him he could — but we hope it will be a few more years before that happens."
- 18-foot Crestliner boat
- 65-hp Mercury Jet tiller outboard motor
- Cabela's Northern Flight blind
- Northern Flight dog ladders
- Northern Flight gun holsters
- 1-inch square tubing
- Clip pins
- 2 1/2-inch conduit
- 1/4-inch camouflage rope
- Avery WindBlocker camouflage material
- Camosystems netting
- Camouflage decoy cord
- Avery KillerWeed blind grass
- Cabela's Neo-Mat material
- Mud Buddy Organizer bags
- Two metal-framed chairs with swivel seats
- Dog platform