Old Wooden Boats

Where I grew up, there were no duck boats. A duck boat was a boat, period. The same boat in which waterfowlers went fishing when ducks weren't flying.

My grandfather owned no boat of any sort. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, we shot ducks from boats hired out of North Florida fishing camps. The going rate was $1 a day.


Every fishing camp/duck camp had its own fleet, a nondescript flotilla tethered beneath a rickety shoreline shelter ambitiously called a "boathouse." Granddad, a small-town barber, would hand over a crinkled dollar bill (10 cents more than the price of a haircut) in exchange for one daylight-to-dark waterfowling adventure, pure nirvana for one whose post-pubescent "discoveries" were still years in the future.



The boats were heavy wooden things liberally slathered with green paint, obviously a magic concoction that peeled and curled upon contact with plywood. Aboard each were two "anchors" -- gallon-size tin cans full of poured concrete into which a rusty eyebolt was set. A length of rope, frayed and rotten, attached these weights to bow and stern.

Paddles provided propulsion and came in handy whenever Granddad's old 5-horse Firestone outboard wouldn't start, which, roughly speaking, was every time the starter cord was yanked. Also included were "life preservers," ancient cork-filled boat cushions that would not have supported the weight of a wet Chihuahua. It didn't matter anyhow, because they were sat upon, not worn.


An empty Maxwell House coffee can was standard equipment. No camp boat left "port" without one. Wooden boats, especially wooden boats infrequently caulked and seldom painted, leak. Leaks, naturally, must be bailed. Duck hunters leak intermittently as well, and "leaking" while kneeling into a Maxwell House coffee can proved much less precarious than performing the same task afoot over the gunnels, particularly in a wind on choppy water. I'm certain a Folger's or Chase and Sanborn container would have worked equally well, but "Good to the Last Drop" is a Maxwell House trademark. I shall not infringe.


Built into the middle seat, where "Little Bobby" always sat, was a low-tech livewell, which doubled as ice chest and/or dry storage during duck season. My first exposure to organized calisthenics was 200-times-a-day knee bends as I stood up and sat down rhythmically to allow Granddad and his grown-up buddies access to the lid.

Worse, there were invariably "things" in these livewells. Wasp nests always proved exciting, as did the occasional live water snake. No less motivating was dead fish or a forgotten ringneck or woodie left behind by the last angler/hunter to use the boat.

Care to guess whose honor it was to rid the boat of these "leftovers?"

I heard my first "dirty" joke aboard one of these dual-purpose boats. My grandfather's best friend told it, and I laughed, but only because Granddad did. Otherwise, I had no clue. Something about his loading the boat one morning and being asked by the camp proprietor if he needed a couple of "oars."

"Nah, fella," he replied. "We're goin' duck huntin'."

Now, while you think on that one, I'll say this: I never learned much about waterfowling aboard those old wooden boats. But who cares?

What matters is I was there, for a too-brief time, sharing experiences with old heroes, memory makers all. Dead Firestone, dead fish and Maxwell House "plumbing" notwithstanding, there's not a pricey duck-boat rig in the world I'd take for that.

Not one.

Recommended for You

See how this new line performed in the field! Clothing & Waders

Field Tested: Sitka Women's Waterfowl System

Emily Kantner - July 19, 2019

See how this new line performed in the field!

To date, Ducks Unlimited has played a role in conserving 14 million acres. Industry

Ducks Unlimited: A Duck Man's Best Friend

David Hart

To date, Ducks Unlimited has played a role in conserving 14 million acres.

A dainty English setter suited for the uplands has the drive for waterfowl. Stories

The Accidental Duck Dog

Jack Ballard

A dainty English setter suited for the uplands has the drive for waterfowl.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Swedish Duck Hunt

Swedish Duck Hunt

Kevin Steele takes part in a family driven duck hunt in Sweden.

Picking a Puppy

Picking a Puppy

Wildfowl contributor Mark Romanack shares advice about choosing your next retriever.

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Craig Boddington and Eric Poole take a look at the new modern Franchi Affinity shotgun.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show! Shotguns

Best New Waterfowl Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 23, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show!

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads Ammo

11 Best New Shotshell Loads For Waterfowl

Wildfowl Online Staff - August 17, 2017

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads

While there's no guarantee they'll make you a better shot, these 8 newly-designed shotgun choke Accessories

8 Best Choke Tubes for 2017

Wildfowl Online Staff - October 25, 2017

While there's no guarantee they'll make you a better shot, these 8 newly-designed shotgun...

See More Stories

More Stories

The birds were appearing from nowhere. Not from a cloud bank, not from behind treetops, not from Stories

Four Days in Snow Goose Country

Skip Knowles - December 23, 2013

The birds were appearing from nowhere. Not from a cloud bank, not from behind treetops, not...

At first, Travis Mueller didn't think much about the wave that washed over the front of the boat. Stories

Duck Hunting in Deadly Waters

David Hart - October 14, 2016

At first, Travis Mueller didn't think much about the wave that washed over the front of the...

Check out these highlights from a few of our early-season waterfowl hunts. Special thanks to Dakota Stories

2017 Waterfowl Trailer: Eagles' Quarterback Stars in Wentz Bros Outdoors

Wildfowl Online Staff - June 11, 2018

Check out these highlights from a few of our early-season waterfowl hunts. Special thanks to...

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.