The rocky shoreline he hunted from several times earlier was now off-limits due to a half-inch of skim ice. Undaunted, Cooper Nickerson anchored his boat 40 yards offshore at the ice’s knife edge. It was deep-freeze cold, but calm and bright. While a bluebird day is bane of any duck hunter’s existence, he was determined to hunt. After all, it was the final day of the 2019 season.
“The ducks never knew I was there,” he said. “Mallards were cupping wings into the decoys, oblivious to the boat sitting out in the open. I killed three drakes and a hen. One drake was wearing a band and another had bands on both legs.”
Nickerson, a siding installer from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, hunts places within a 90-minute drive. Now age 60, he began hunting rabbits and squirrels when he was 13 before upgrading to waterfowl. He hunts puddle ducks on Grand River and diving ducks near Long Point Provincial Park on Lake Erie. A constant tinkerer, he has made several boats.
He hunts primarily with his father, older brother and childhood friends. Since he is deaf, he communicates mostly through reading lips of people he knows. Lip-reading strangers is out of the question. In a pinch, he communicates through writing.
Nickerson shoots a 3½-inch Winchester SX3 during the latter part of hunting season and a 20-gauge Stoeger 3020 early on. He sets two to three dozen mallard and diver decoys he made of burlap-wrapped Styrofoam.
“I have been deaf since I was an infant from a prolonged ear infection that damaged the nerves,” he said. “Can I hear with a hearing aid? Yes, but I can't make out what sounds are supposed to sound like. It’s just garbled. Does it bother me being deaf? Absolutely not, as I get a good night’s sleep. I don't think of myself as a deaf person and it doesn't affect my hunting ability. I have a dog who is my second ears and I watch him making any head, ear and eye movements when ducks are coming from the sky. Once he hears something, he wags his tails rapidly, letting me know something is there.”
Nova, a 4-year-old male English Springer Spaniel, is the first retriever Nickerson owned. He trained Nova with the help of YouTube.
“Nova is a very good hunter,” Nickerson said. “Before I had him, I lost some ducks that drifted down the swift river or fell on the other side. I also could not find them if they fell in thick places. We hunt inside the boat and outside, by stalking. He stays behind me when I am crawling. Once I see birds close enough to shoot, I raise my palm and gesture. He sits immediately and waits. After I shoot, I say verbally, ‘Go get them,’ and he bolts, and fetches the birds.”
Nickerson has built several duck boats and sold some. He also mentored a young man in the art of waterfowl hunting.
When he saw a Roy Schellinger High Side Boat on YouTube and other hunting forums several years ago, he wanted one. However, the builder stopped making them and no one who owned one would part with it. So, putting his engineer’s skills to task, he looked at videos and photos to estimate the boat’s dimensions.
The stern is a single piece of ¾" plywood, 44" across the bottom, with the bottom halves cut to 80-degree angles offcenterline to create a 10-degree V.
A metal engine mounting plate is screwed to the outside and a splash well was constructed inside. The outside top width is 34" and the cockpit opening width is 24". A centerline notch accepts a 1" x 1" wooden keel. The gunwales are 24 " high and angle inward.
A stencil was created for the ¾-inch plywood bow bulkhead, which has a large access port in its center. Total length is 14 feet. The bottom and sides are 3/8-inch plywood. All edges and joints are reinforced with ¾” x 2½” spruce strips and the curved bow bottom is made of 8" spruce strips. A jig bent the spruce strips into shape. All exterior hull materials were screwed to spruce edge supports at 6" intervals.
Fiberglass fabric and resin were applied to the joints and hull. A flexible fabric was screwed to the clapboards and hull to keep out the water and wind. The entire boat was then painted. Reeds, held in place with plastic tubing screwed to the hull and clapboards, completed the camouflage. Propulsion is via a 2.5-hp Suzuki, but he wants a 6-hp. Materials cost $400, and it took Nickerson five months to build the boat.
“My boat is so well camouflaged that I no longer have to slide it into reeds, or even against the shoreline,” he said. “It has completely changed the way I hunt.”
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