October 16, 2022
Zipping above Grapevine Lake near Fort Worth, Texas, four wigeon slowed their flight to look over a decoy spread. Finding nothing out-of-the-ordinary, they cupped their wings and glided toward what looked like a welcome mat. Shane Dunbar, his son, Donovan, and their friend, Jeff Frost, watched from a pontoon boat blind, the elder hunters blinking sleep from their eyes. When the hunters stood and fired their shotguns, the sky, which had been spitting sleet and freezing rain, began raining ducks instead. Dunbar's chocolate Lab, Swamp Mud Molly, launched through the dog port to fetch the ducks to the hunters' excited hands.
"It was a fantastic first hunt from my pontoon boat blind," Dunbar said. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the lake. Hunting is permit only and we had been lucky enough to draw a permit. The hunt took place during the middle of the 2019-20 season because it took too long to get the boat ready for opening day. The wind was blowing west at 15 to 20 mph, the temperature was 22 degrees and rain was freezing on the blind. Launching the boat way before daylight, we were the second party of hunters to get on the lake. Although we only went a mile and a half, my boat is slow compared to the average aluminum duck boat. We were the fifth party to get into position so we didn't get to hunt one of the better spots."
After setting three dozen wigeon, mallard and Canada goose decoys, the hunters beached the boat against the bank among some dead trees to break up its outline. Then, they set the motor down to hold the boat in place. The ducks arrived soon after legal shooting time. Normally, 15-year-old Donovan is the one who is asleep. This time, he had to awaken the older hunters when he saw the ducks looking over the decoys.
Shane Dunbar is a 38-year-old U.S. Navy aviation structural mechanic from Fort Worth, who began waterfowl hunting in 2018. He was hooked when a next-door neighbor in Churchton, Maryland, took him goose hunting. He shoots a Winchester SX4 loaded with 3 1/2-inch Black Cloud ammo and sets Avain-X gadwall, wigeon, and mallard decoys and Big Al's Canada goose silhouettes.
He wanted a stable boat with a flat deck for adding a blind, so he decided to seek out a pontoon boat. He found one in Abilene, Texas, plunking down $2,000 for a 1988 Bass Tracker with its original Bass Tracker trailer and 1988 Mercury outboard engine. He had the engine rebuilt while the boat was undergoing its metamorphosis from a weekender into a low-profile hunting platform.
"Only the pontoons and original railings were useable," he said. "I worked with some of my buddies to remove the old deck and screw on a new, treated plywood deck at the base shop. We built the blind in my backyard and when the deck was done, we towed the boat to my house to put on the blind."
Height is one of the problems with pontoon boat blinds. Dunbar came up with an ingenious way of lowering the blind's profile by fashioning a "tub" from two military-grade aluminum air-travel caskets purchased through Facebook Marketplace. After the lids and one end of each casket were removed, the caskets were welded together end-to-end to create a 2'x2'x16' tub. A 4" lip welded outside the top perimeter allowed the tub to be screwed to the plywood deck with its bottom extending downward into a hole of the same size. Hunters sit on swivel sets adapted from elementary school cafeteria tables equipped with integral swing-out seats. They were cut off and fitted into the boat's swivel seat sockets, which were moved to appropriate locations to allow hunters to sit with their feet inside the tub. There are five seat mounts, but usually no more than four hunters. The seats are removed by lifting them from the sockets. When hunters stand to shoot, their feet are 2 feet below the deck and 4 inches above the water.
- 4 Sheets - 3/4" Treated plywood - $250
- 2 - Shipping caskets - $600
- 3 Sheets 50-year siding - $150
- Cafeteria tables with seats - $35
- Tar paper - $20
- Screws - $150
- 2x4s -Free from recycling bins
- 8 - Grass mats - $200
- Paint $150
- Engine parts - $200
- Battery, lights, switch panel - $350
- Dog ladder $80
- Total Cost: $3,835
The blind is 6 feet wide by 16 feet long. The "back" is on the starboard side of the boat and is made of the original aluminum railing and aluminum siding. Gaps in the siding were covered with 50-year composite outbuilding siding. The rear-sloping roof is also outbuilding siding supported by 2"x4" lumber framing and the wall height is 41 inches above the deck. The "front," or shooting side, faces to port. The wall height is 24 inches above the deck and it has a forward-sloping knee roof of outbuilding siding. Both roofs are covered with tar paper for additional waterproofing. Aluminum square tubing sections link the open sides of the blind, but there are no side walls.
The shooting side has a full-length shelf for ammo and has cup holders. The blind interior is illuminated with yellow side-marker LED lights. The boat and blind were painted and plastic construction fencing was screwed to the exterior. Avery and Cabela's artificial grass was zip-tied to the construction fencing to complete the camouflage. Artificial grass drapes the open ends of the blind and dog port. An Avery folding dog ladder is attached at the dog port.
"I am retiring from the Navy and I will be moving to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan," Dunbar said. "I didn't want to tow the boat blind that far, so I sold it. It worked so well that I would not change a thing and I am going to build another one just like it as soon as I can find another pontoon boat and start gathering the materials.