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Convert a Row Boat into a Bluebill Blind

Convert a Row Boat into a Bluebill Blind

Setting out his decoys on a public area in Michigan, Jeremy Tilly looked forward to the coming sunrise. Only a year old, his female yellow Lab, Skye, was in her first hunting season. It was cloudy and a breeze was blowing, good duck hunting weather in Michigan.

“It was more of a dog training morning than a hunting morning,” Tilly said. “I wanted her to see some ducks and be able to mark them, so she was sitting up on the pod where she could see everything that was going on.”

The long point where he had set up his boat blind was a notorious hangout for ringnecks and bluebills. It wasn’t long before he heard the sound of wings ripping wind. The flock of bluebills was two-dozen strong. He let them make two passes over the decoys before firing. Knocking two of them down, he sent Skye out to retrieve.

Tilly admits last year’s hunting season wasn’t the best due to high water levels. In fact, the aroma of gunpowder smoke and watching Skye chase cripples that day was the highlight of his fall. His success continued when the weather turned cold and everything began to freeze, compelling him to leave the young Lab at home. With the onset of wintery weather, he added flocks of Canada geese and mallards to the list of waterfowl duped by his latest boat blind.

One Man's Trash...

Tilly is a 38-year-old shop teacher at Brandywine High School in Niles, Michigan, (he lives in Berrien Springs). He has been hunting waterfowl for 26 years and started hunting with his father, Dave, and his uncles. Most of his hunts take place in southwest Michigan.

He sets 18 mallard and 24 ringneck and bluebill decoys. One of his passions is refurbishing Herter’s burlap-wrapped decoys. He shoots a Benelli Super Black Eagle stoked with Kent Fasteel No. 2s, and hunts small public areas near home that have water less than four feet deep. A few years ago, he began hunting for a used boat with the idea of patterning it after an old 14-foot The Duck Boat Company boat he owns that works well in shallow water.

“I wanted a fiberglass boat and found a 12-foot rowboat a guy was selling in his yard for $100,” Tilly said. “I cut the fiberglass seats out. Then I determined the waterline with it loaded and cut the sides down to within six inches of the waterline.”

He framed the top edges of the gunwales with pine 1x2s, screwing and gluing them in place and cutting off the points of the screws that penetrated through to the interior. Then he built a frame for the blind that angles inward, using pine 1x2s and 2x2s, with the lateral and horizontal corners reinforced with ¾” marine-grade plywood triangles. The skin is 1/4” flooring underlayment, screwed and glued over the frame.

Tilly covered the blind with six-ounce fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin. Then he coated the floor with pickup truck bed liner. The floor is solid enough to stand on without flexing, so no additional reinforcement was required.

row boat being converted into duck blind

He camouflaged the blind by covering it with marsh grass. To hold the grass in place, he added wooden rails along the blind sides. The space between the rail and blind skin is just wide enough for his fingers. He also secured the grass at the top with parachute cord woven into holes drilled in the blind. He put the grass under the cord and grass rails then tightened the loops to cinch it.

Come Inside

Tilly sits on a three-gallon bucket when he is hunting and can shoot standing up or seated. The upper halves of the blind connect to the lower halves with hinges. When the blind sides are up, the grass comes up to his shoulders. He can shoot with the sides up or down. To hunt, he slides the boat on the shore.

He has a push pole aboard to maneuver the boat and two folding kayak anchors to secure it. The trailer is a used 14-foot rowboat trailer and he replaced its lights, bunks and guides.


When the blind sides are down, they rest horizontally on the grass rails, creating a shelf for his Canada goose decoys. He stores his duck decoys on one side of the blind, behind a 1000-denier Cordura Nylon curtain. Parachute cord woven into holes along the bottom holds the bottom taut, securing the decoys like a cargo net. Another length of parachute cord threaded into the top edge loops over eyehooks screwed to the frame. When setting decoys, he unhooks the upper cord and the curtain falls to the floor.

The pod serves several functions, but it is mainly a dog platform. The dog sits in the open or inside a GHG Ground Force dog blind. It also adds flotation to support the dog’s weight as well as the weight of a 9.9-hp Mercury two-stroke outboard.

The pod is ¾” marine-grade plywood and extends 20" behind the transom. The top deck is the same height as the cut-down stern. It has three compartments, with the outer two foam-filled. The interior compartment has a PVC pipe extension of the original boat’s drain. The motor mount is a double thickness of plywood extending above the pod. Tilly bolted and glued the pod to the stern. All components were glued and screwed together and covered it with fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin.

“This is the fifth duck boat I’ve built,” Tilly said. “This one is so much fun to hunt that I can’t wait to take my two-year-old daughter, Remington, and my three-year old son, Drake.”

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