In the market for a new duck boat? The good news is that you've got lots of choices. The bad news? You've got lots of choices. Finding the right duck boat can be a confusing proposition. You'll need to consider everything from the hull style, length, width, hull thickness, the various accessories available, even the paint job.
The first step, says Channel Marine sales representative and Avery Outdoors pro staffer Casey Hopfer, is to consider the water you hunt. Big water, timber, shallow, muddy swamps, creeks and small reservoirs all demand a different boat.
"If you hunt mostly big lakes or salt water, I'd recommend a semi-V hull. They will prevent water from spraying up and over the sides as you run through rough or choppy water and they'll generally be safer in big water. They turn better, too," says Hopfer, whose dealership is in Richmond, Minnesota. "Shallow-water hulls are flat on the bottom and a good choice for calmer or shallower water. The weight is dispersed so they can run in a lot shallower water than a V-hull. You can get a lot of spray over the side, though. That can make for a pretty miserable run if it's cold."
However, a big, wide, flat-bottomed boat can hold a lot more gear and people and still allow you to run through shallow water. "Big" is a relative term, though. A 16-footer is a good all-purpose size for hunters who hunt smaller lakes and who typically don't bring more than a couple of other hunters and their gear. A 48-inch width is a good all-purpose width, too.
Choose the size based on a couple of factors: the number of people and the amount of gear you normally hunt with and the type of water you typically hunt.
Tighter quarters like flooded timber or waters with narrow creek channels, demand a smaller, narrower hull that can turn quickly and squeeze between trees and other obstacles.
Hunters who frequent timber and other rough country should consider another factor: Hull thickness. Most aluminum duck boats are built with .100-gauge aluminum. It's a good all-purpose material for most situations. However, those who run through timber and other obstacle-filled waters need a beefier hull.
"The .125-gauge is best for that type of water, but it's more expensive and heavier," says Hopfer. "I'd also go with a welded hull. Rivets can pop when they hit stumps and rocks more easily than a weld can crack."
The most popular boat Hopfer sells is a 17-foot semi-V hull that's 54 inches wide and has a .100-gauge riveted hull. It's a good all-purpose boat for Minnesota. Even better, it can double as a fishing boat during the warmer months. In fact, many duck boat manufacturers sell models that serve a dual purpose.
"You can add things like a trolling motor bracket, a rod locker and other accessories that make it a good multi-use boat. Some boat manufacturers sell packages with various accessories and a motor, but it seems like every duck hunter has a different idea of the perfect boat, so they end up ordering a custom model," he adds.
Of course, some hunters don't need a boat at all, at least not a typical aluminum-hull john boat powered by an outboard.
Sneak boats, kayaks and even canoes fill a valuable niche. They also won't set you back three month's salary. Hunters who prefer throwing out small spreads in quiet backwaters, beaver ponds or smaller streams can reach those places with a man-powered boat that can be pulled up and over obstacles like beaver dams and logs with ease.
Of course, those paddle-powered boats can't handle big water. If you want to be an all-purpose, all-season duck hunter, you just might need two boats.