Getting there isn't necessarily half the fun, at least not when it involves motoring across a choppy lake in sub-freezing temperatures at 4 a.m. But getting to your favorite duck hole is a necessary part of any hunt. That's why choosing the right motor for the job is as important as choosing the right boat.
The good news is that you've only got a handful of styles to choose from. Outboards, long-tail mud motors and short-tail mud motors, also called surface-drives, will all get you to where you are going, but each has advantages and disadvantages.
Outboards, for example, don't do well in shallow water, particularly if that water is filled with muck or other debris. That's because outboards are water-cooled. They circulate lake water that's pulled in through an intake tube on the lower unit and then eject it through another tube. Mud motors are air-cooled.
"That water intake on an outboard would clog up with soupy mud and other debris in the same places a mud motor can go without clogging up," says Mud Buddy motors general manager Bill Hendricks. "Outboards are best if you only hunt deeper, open water. Mud motors will work in open water, too. However, they aren't quite as fast as outboards."
Long-tail mud motors, which have shafts that extend behind the boat as much as six feet, aren't as fast as surface-drive motors. They are fast enough for many hunters, though, and they outperform other types of motors in certain situations.
Long-tails have been a common fixture on boats in southeast Asia for decades. It's been suggested that the idea to use them on duck boats was brought back to America by hunters who served in the Vietnam War. Whether that's true or not, one thing is certain: they can get a boat into places no other style of motor can.
Both types of mud motors are often built with the same engine, says Hendricks, but long-tails have a gear-down that allows for a larger prop and more efficient propulsion, an important ingredient in super-shallow water. In fact, that's where long-tails excel, agrees Go Devil founder Warren Coco.
They tend to lift the rear of the boat, which helps flat-bottom boats slide across skinny, mucky water. Even better, the shaft and prop are simple to lift during operation. Just push down on the tiller handle to raise the prop.
"I've heard of some guys mounting a long-tail on the front of their boat so they can use it like a weed whacker to get through cattails and other vegetation," says Hendricks.
Long-tails are typically less expensive and they are available with smaller engines, too, perfect for smaller boats and hunters on a budget.
"They work best on narrower boats," says Coco. "They also tend to take more abuse. They don't have as many moving parts and the shaft rides up and over stumps easier."
Despite their advantages, most duck hunters who buy a mud motor choose a short-tail. They are typically easier to handle and they can maneuver through standing obstacles like timber better than a long-tail.
"Surface drives are better for getting on plane faster and they are easier to steer," says Coco. "They work best on wider boats because they are heavier and wider boats help distribute the weight better."
Whatever you choose, rest assured it will get you to and from your duck hole as long as you take care of it. Today's motors are stronger, more reliable and better-built than ever before.