October 04, 2022
By Matt Zvolanek
I still remember when the first thought of kayak duck hunting crossed my mind. It was nearly a decade ago now, during an early season teal hunt. I had just set up on a spot in a public marsh when a headlamp slowly moved my direction out on the water. A fellow hunter was paddling out into the blackness of the night, on his way to stake out a claim on a spot unreachable by those of us with only waders or an unwillingness for an early morning swim. Less than hour after legal, that same hunter paddled back by. “How’d you do?” I asked from standing in my hole in the cattails. “Got my limit.”
Why Kayak Duck Hunt?
There are several advantages to using a kayak for duck hunting. Kayaks are easier to portage across dry land than their larger, motorized counterparts and are able to be pulled up into spots even a mud motor can’t reach. Accessibility is perhaps the kayak’s greatest advantage. Along a similar vein, loading and unloading of a kayak can be done typically with only one person anywhere and often without pulling a cumbersome trailer.
Quiet and stealthy, kayaks allow one to enter the marsh with minimal disturbance to its feathered inhabitants. On numerous occasions, I have arrived at the marsh early and am always amazed at the ducks swimming back and forth through the cattails, uncaring towards the floating dark mass paddling close by.
Kayaks also present a cheaper option to larger, motorized duck boats, with the lowest-priced kayaks starting around $200 and come without the seemingly-endless repair bills (spoken as a former duck boat owner).
Things To Consider When Choosing a Kayak for Duck Hunting
Before purchasing a kayak, there are some questions you will need to answer: Sit-on or sit-in, transport or hide, kayak length, propulsion method, and budget.
- Sit-on vs Sit-in: Sit-on kayaks offer greater stability, are self-bailing, and are typically more comfortable than the sit-in alternatives. They also offer more storage options, with some models even containing dry compartments. The drawbacks are that they are heavier and less portable than sit-ins. Sit-in kayaks are generally light, more mobile, and offer more shelter to the occupant. The drawbacks are that they are harder to get in and out of as well as that they can accumulate water throughout the hunt.
- Transport vs Hide: You will need to decide what exactly you plan to use your kayak for. Some hunters, like myself, tend to use their kayaks for transport only and then set up their hide once they get to their destination. Others choose to make the kayak their hide, whether through a manufactured kayak blind or some homemade ingenuity. Making a kayak into a blind has inherit advantages, namely that its lower profile makes hunting short, flooded vegetation possible, where other blinds would stick out. Preferred shooting position, additional weight, and reduced carrying capacity of gear are among the reasons some may opt for the transport-only option.
- Kayak Length: Longer kayaks are easier to paddle, have more stability, and allow for increased carrying capacity of gear. They also track better than short ones and are a better option for those with dogs. The drawbacks for longer kayaks are they turn slower and can be harder to transport. As an owner of an 8-foot, 12-foot, and 16-foot kayak, the 12-foot is my preferred option, save for windier/colder days where increased stability is wanted.
- Propulsion Method: There are three propulsion methods available for kayaks: paddle, pedal-drive, and motorized. Paddle is the cheapest and most strenuous option. Pedal-drive kayaks are operated by foot while motorized are typically propelled via a small trolling motor. Both pedal-drive and motorized are better for those who need to cover longer distances. Kayaks can come with a built-in trolling motor or can be added on afterwards. Be sure to check the state regulations you intend to hunt regarding licensing and registration for motorized vessels.
- Budget: As alluded to above, budget will play a major role in your decision. Pedal-drive and motorized kayaks will be more costly as will longer ones. End of summer/garage sales can be great places to find kayaks for cheap.
Kayak Duck Hunting Tips
Throughout my years of kayak duck hunting, I’ve learned many lessons that can make kayak hunting easier and more successful. As with all duck hunting, concealment is key. Using some ultra-flat spray paint on anything that might shine or look unnatural will help your kayak blend in better as will carrying a camo cloth to throw over top of it. For those using your kayak as a blind, this shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Jet sleds are an absolute must and can make it possible to carry more gear without much extra effort. A dry bag with spare clothes and a floating gun case are also necessities for when that inevitable spill happens. Most kayaks have bungees built in for that reason but if not, I recommend tethering all gear as well as paddles.
The “S” Word
Safety should always be at the forefront of every kayak duck hunter’s mind. A lot can go wrong in a short time when you’re on a tiny vessel surrounded by water in the generally less-than-favorable weather we duck hunters like to be in. Life jackets or other PFDs are a must. Even the most stable of kayaks can and will tip at some point. You must also know your limits. There’s no shame in choosing a safer alternative or leaving the kayak at home on a day with whitecaps, poor visibility, or other extreme weather.
After a few years of hunting this way, I reminisce on the unique experiences afforded to me by my kayaks. From the vast number of geographies, I’ve been able to traverse, to the curious flock of mallards that swam right up to me hours before sunrise, and even considering the multiple dunkings I’ve taken, one thing is for certain; kayaks have changed the way I duck hunt for the better.