August 16, 2022
By Scott Haugen
Last duck season was the best I’ve experienced in the places I hunted throughout the Pacific Flyway. Looking back on what most impacted my success is a good way to understand the things that truly made a difference.
For instance, I invested in new duck decoys. There’s no doubt the full body standing and floating decoys made a difference, as did the silhouettes when hunting fields. I got a new shotgun last season too, a Browning Maxus II shotgun, which I shot with confidence. And the new calls I ran turned ducks very well. But the one thing that accounted most for my higher success was being able to access prime places to hunt, and to do that, I used a boat.
I know what you’re thinking, “Why spend $20,000 on a fancy duck boat I might only use a few times a season?” My advice, start small. Early last season I accessed some prime public hunting locations on rivers and sloughs by simply using a pram, canoe and kayak. I also relied on a drift boat to float rivers and access less pressured birds in areas that couldn’t be reached by land.
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Why You Might Want a Duck Boat
Not only are boats great for accessing good hunting areas, they can be invaluable when it comes to managing a decoy spread. At the end of last season, the Kropf brothers, Richard and Brent, whom I hunt a lot with, dragged a small kayak a couple hundred yards through brush to get to a small creek we hunted one morning. We tossed 20 decoys into the wooded creek that was 15-yards across at the widest point. We had the perfect U set, and in short order killed limits of mallards with a few bonus wood ducks and every one of them fell in the decoys. When it came time to pick up, Richard waded out to get the decoys close to shore, tossing them to me to bag-up, while Brent hopped in the kayak to gather the rest on the far side of the creek. Though it was only couple yards across the deepest part, there was no way we could have set such an effective spread had we not found a way to collect the decoys. In fact, I was on several hunts last season where small crafts were used to collect decoys, not set them out.
If you’re in a place in life where you can afford it, and know you’ll use it, a jet boat, mud boat, even an airboat can make a big difference in terms of accessing prime hunting locales. I’ve hunted with hard-core waterfowlers in multiple states who wouldn’t hunt if they didn’t have their airboat. The same holds true for folks hunting lakes and big rivers, where running long distances in heavy water and bad weather is only achieved in a bigger, safer boat, like a jet sled.
But just because you have a boat, don’t take it to mean it’s your ticket to go where you want, when you want. Be courteous and mindful of fellow hunters when launching at the public boat ramp; help them out if you can. And if someone beats you to “your spot” wish them luck and move on. Waterfowl hunters are a small fraternity, and we’re all on the same team trying to achieve the same outcome.
Earlier this year I was on a public land duck hunt in Texas. My buddy’s airboat got us to where we wanted to be. We were two minutes ahead of another airboat, a guide, who didn’t like us being in “his” spot. So, when we were putting out decoys he cut multiple cookies on high power, right in front of us. As if that wasn’t enough, when he went back by us three hours later, he did the same thing, scaring every duck out of the area. A call to the local game warden took care of that problem and I hope he lost his guide’s license. That’s not what waterfowl hunting is about, and just because you have a boat with a motor, it’s not a special pass to do what you want.
Over the years, I’ve hauled decoys into sloughs in small rafts, even on pontoon boats. Watercrafts also work great to cross large bodies of shallow water that are tough to wade, but again, be cognizant of fellow hunters who took off on foot three hours ahead of you to reach the same spot.
I hear stories every year of new friendships being made, where one hunter showed up to a spot that was already taken, and the first one there invited the late arrival to hunt with them. That’s what duck hunting is all about. Yes, vessels allow you to access more water and shoot more ducks, but they can also lead to fun, tranquil experiences, even new friendships, if you allow it.