June 27, 2016
By Mike Marsh
Phillip Merkel of Berrien Springs, Michigan, has been hunting with brother-in-law Richard Genung for the better part of four decades.
Merkel acquired a 16-acre piece of property on Pipestone Lake years ago after noticing it while fishing. The former resort had abandoned cottages after its owner had passed away. Relatives had no interest in maintaining the property, so Merkel bought it and the two friends went to work.
Regulations forced Merkel and Genung to get creative as game laws did not allow hunting with a firearm from a raised platform, except over submerged wetlands.
His work-around resulted in a push-out duck blind that rolls out over the water for hunting then rolls back away from the shoreline for storage. A local wildlife officer checked the blind to be sure it complied with the wording and intent of the regulation. Merkel's ingenuity earned the push-out an honorable mention in the 2014 Boats & Blinds Contest.
Merkel mainly hunts puddlers, and though Canada geese use the lake, he has yet to take one from the push-out duck blind. He has bagged some geese from other ares of the property.
"We have taken as many as a half-dozen wood ducks in a day with a couple of mallards thrown in during the early season," Merkel said. "Later in the season, we get more mallards. The blind comfortably accommodates three hunters, but we could squeeze four in if we really had to."
Merkel said Genung came up with the idea for building the duck blind. At first, they discussed erecting one on stilts, but that would have allowed other hunters to use it on a first-come, first-served basis. However, if the blind was built on dry land, it would be illegal to hunt from it. Using wheels to roll the blind over the water on a rail system was the answer.
"A farmer had a mobile home that burned and was selling off all the parts," Merkel said. "We agreed to a price of $125 for the axles and wheels."
Genung welded together a frame for holding the axles from 4"x 4" steel angle iron. That undercarriage assembly is the key to the blind's workings. The wheels had no tires and the grooves for the tires fit over 4" diameter irrigation pipe, which they used for making the rails.
The rail assembly has three pilings on each side — end pilings that sit in the lake and center pilings made of steel irrigation pipe that rests on 2' diameter, round steel-plate feet. Two more pilings are driven into the ground.
Sit by the Fire
Built off-site in sections, the push-out was reassembled at its permanent location. It is built on an 8'x10' treated wood frame and has a 4'x10' open shooting area in the front and a 4'x10' shack with a 7' high roof in the back. Think of it as a tiny cabin with a front porch. Merkel estimated the finished duck blind to weigh about 1,000 pounds.
The shack portion is used for storage and is a great place to warm up next to a propane heater during the late season.
Merkel removed the original connecting hardware at the ends of the irrigation pipes so he could butt them together. He then inserted rounded 4"x4" timbers inside two 20' sections of the irrigation pipe to connect them and to give the tracks added strength. Each track consists of two irrigation pipe sections, making the total travel distance of the blind 40 feet.
The tracks were placed on top of 2"x 6" treated wood and bolted in place to keep their alignment true. Between the tracks, he added treated lumber cross members to keep them from diverging or moving closer together while pushing the blind over the lake.
Back from the Ledge
At the lake end, just beyond the cross members, he bolted a 2"x6"x10' piece of treated wood to the 4"x4" timbers running inside the irrigation pipes to serve as a stop so the blind would not fall into the water.
A steel angle iron undercarriage frame was inserted into corresponding notches cut in the 2"x8" wood floor framing and bolted in place. The remainder of the blind is made of wood, with 2"x4" treated posts and rails around the shooting area to provide a base for attaching camouflage.
The shooting deck also has two 2"x2"x10' treated uprights connected by a 2"x2" overhead crosspiece for attaching military netting or grass material.
The shooting area also has gun rests made of 3" diameter PVC pipe. The pipe was cut in half lengthwise with notches for holding shotguns, and attached to the blind framing with screws.
When it snows, the hunters use a shovel to clean off the shooting area. They also use a small wooden wedge to block the wheels after they have pushed the blind into place so it will not roll back. The tracks are on a slight incline moving towards the lake, but one person can easily push the blind out and back to its resting position.
"We usually put out only four to six decoys," Merkel said. "We retrieve birds and decoys with either a rowboat or kayak. The lake has a public boat launching area, but we can drive to the property and walk out to the blind. We shoot a nice mix of wood ducks, mallards, hooded mergansers, gadwalls and wigeon. The species depends upon the time of the year. We maintain a number of mallard hen houses and wood duck and hooded merganser boxes that help to increase the duck population."