Riding the chop on a bay, Austin Buckel and his friend Trevor Gresse were on only their third diving duck hunt in Rhode Island. It was December, 2019 and Buckel’s boat blind was in its third transition on the way excellence.
“It was a perfect wind,” Buckel said. “We were still figuring out how the divers work the decoys and feeling out the tide. Buffleheads and bluebills were decoying and we even shot two brant. There were 500 to 1,000 brant in the area and a flock of about 50 came in. They were our first brant and diving ducks. It was so memorable, I am having a drake bufflehead from that trip mounted.”
What helped make it so exciting was that the day before, waterfowl were flaring from the boat, which was out in the open. But, on this day, with an overcast sky and hanging fog, the hunters anchored just offshore of an island that had rock jetties. The boat was covered with grassy camouflage so it disappeared into the background.
Buckel, a 22-year-old carpenter from Brimfield, Massachusetts, has been hunting waterfowl since a family friend, John Simpson, introduced him to the sport when he was 15. He hunts mallards, black ducks and wood ducks on lakes and rivers in the Brookfield, Massachusetts area, including the Connecticut and Quabough rivers. He also ventures to Rhode Island’s bays to hunt divers.
He hunts puddle ducks with Dakota fully-flocked decoys and diving ducks with Tanglefree decoys. Loaded with Black Cloud ammo, a Stoeger M300 is his favorite shotgun.
The inspiration for his boat blind was a Roy Schellinger High Side Boat. After studying the design on the Internet, he decided to try emulating the concept. In 2017, he bought an early-1990s vintage 14-foot Silvin V-bottom aluminum rowboat for $1,500, including a Caravan trailer and 5 horsepower two-stroke Nissan outboard. Buckel was using the original engine as a backup for a new 9.9 horsepower Mercury four-stroke engine when ice knocked the Nissan off the transom because the clamps vibrated loose. While he recovered the engine by hauling in its fuel line, he has yet to get it running again.
The first order of business was building a floor. The boat had box-style seats with upper and lower supports, but no floor. After removing the seats, he used stainless steel screws to attach 1-inch aluminum angle to the bottom seat supports, forming a framework to hold 2-inch foamboard flotation blocks. The initial design included filling subfloor gaps with construction foam beneath an aluminum floor coated with pickup bed liner. However, the aerosol foam became waterlogged. So, he removed the aerosol foam and aluminum floor and replaced it with less expensive 3/8-inch marine plywood. Leaving the space below the foamboard open consequently allowed water to drain better to the stern drain/bilge pump area. The floor was painted steel gray with Topside wooden boat paint.
The upper seat supports were turned into shelf supports. The shelves are ¾-inch pine board. Scribed, cut, and screwed to the supports, the shelves butt against the gunwales and bottom. Pine boards were used to create an interior “T” along the cockpit side with a 1½-inch high lip to prevent shells, shotguns and bagged ducks from falling to the floor. The smoother interior also prevents the shelf edges from snagging clothing and decoy lines and longline weights.
The blind frame is made of 1-inch square aluminum. Three sides were cut from the ends of the bottom supports, leaving flat sections to screw them to the gunwales. The initial design had dual doors swinging open to the bow deck, but they were eliminated in the current design to create a cleaner profile. However, Buckel said if he hunted with a retrieving dog, the forward cockpit doors would allow a dog to enter and exit.
The blind’s side frames are made with the same square aluminum. They are 8 feet long and 12 inches high and swing up on stainless-steel hinges. The entire blind frame has a skin made of aluminum trim coil. To attach the aluminum skin to the blind frame, Buckel used a dead blow mallet to match it to the contours and fastened it with screws spaced a couple of inches apart to keep it flush. To prevent sharp edges, he cut the aluminum skin shorter than the frame edges. To cover sharp edges along the top of the stationary frame and to make the gap watertight and windproof, Buckel attached foam water pipe insulation using screws and fender washers. Bungee cords attached to D-rings screwed to the outsides of the gunwales hold the flip-up sides securely when they are down during navigation or when the boat is towed. The blind was painted in camouflage patterns with Rustoleum aerosol paints.
Nylon straps attached to the skin hold grass for camouflage. Handfuls of grass, cut in the marsh, are slipped beneath the straps.
The rear seat is a bass boat swivel seat on a plastic crate. The front seat is an ammo can topped with a cushion. The engine had no charging system. Therefore, the 12-volt battery that powers navigation lights, a bow LED light and a 1200 GPH bilge pump is recharged via a 115-volt charger on land.
The blind, including electrical equipment and accessories, cost about $1,000. Without the battery and gear, the boat-blind is light enough for two hunters to pick up.
“It is seaworthy in up to a 2-foot chop,” Buckel said. “When I went to Rhode Island the first year, I was scouting Warden’s Pond, which is a couple miles wide. It was calm when I started, but the wind began blowing with 40 mph gusts kicking up 3- to 4-foot waves. It took on some water, but the bilge pump took care of it. A four-stroke engine is a little heavy for the lower transom designed for a two-cycle outboard, so the boat sits a bit low at the stern. I want to build a splash pan to keep out any water that may wash over the transom or add pods to increase the flotation.”