Not Your Average Pontoon
November 03, 2010
Plus, two fowling blinds that are sure to fool 'em
Schneiderhan's Too-Much-To-Tell-Her Pontoon Blind
Mike Schneiderhan of Hastings, Missouri found his ultimate waterfowl hunting boat in early June of 2007. With a bit of imagination and plenty of elbow grease, he transformed an old pontoon boat into a stable, comfortable gunning blind.
Mike Schneiderhan used an old pontoon boat as the basis for a comfortable, shallow-draft waterfowl blind. He didn't divulge the cost of the fixer-upper project.
"It is a complete 16-foot pontoon boat with a bunk style trailer," Schneiderhan said. "My wife and our two daughters were thrilled at the thought of spending the summer sunbathing on our new boat. But little did they know what I had in store for the boat. After 20 years of hunting out of small johnboats, canoes and other homemade contraptions, which often left me wet and cold, I felt it was finally time for me to be able to hunt in comfort and style."
The first order of business was stripping and painting the boat. Schneiderhan began the process by sanding all the aluminum surfaces with 300-grit sandpaper. After all of the aluminum superstructure and hull components were sanded and cleaned of sanding dust, they were spray painted with a coating of aluminum etch primer.
"The etch primer was recommended by a local auto body shop and was a crucial step in having the final coat of paint stick to the aluminum," he said. "Once the etch dried, I applied two coats of Parkers Marsh Green paint. My family's enthusiasm soon disappeared as the boat's shiny silver pontoons became marsh green."
The boat's wooden steering console was rotten. Therefore it was removed, along with the side rails, the Bimini top and the carpeting. A new steering console was built of 3â„4-inch treated plywood. The console was equipped with halogen floor lights, a waterproof storage box, a gun rack, a new steering wheel and dash lights. A coating of Bondo auto body compound was added to all of the corners and end grain surfaces to seal out moisture. Once the console construction was completed, it was also painted green.
The aluminum Bimini top, which originally folded toward the back of the boat, was redesigned to fold along the length of the boat to allow unobstructed shooting from one side.
"To get the Bimini top to fit properly, I first cut it in half and lengthened each of its five aluminum poles by 27 inches," Schneiderhan said. "Next, I cut the vertical support poles down in height so the canopy would be highest on the shooting side, at approximately 6 feet high, and touch the side rails on the opposite side. After checking the price of having a new canopy made, I decided to build my own canopy because it was less expensive."
Schneiderhan made the new canopy top from a 10- by 12-foot canvas tarp. He attached strips of Velcro using pop rivets and fender washers, positioning the Velcro so it would attach to the aluminum poles on the underside of the Bimini top. The canvas was then painted with green spray paint and a piece of camouflage netting was fastened with zip ties to the grommets along the top of the canvas.
"The canopy blind goes up with ease once you are in your hunting location and folds completely flat on top of the rails of the boat when the boat is being transported," Schneiderhan said. "Not only does the Bimini canopy blind keep birds from seeing us, it also provides excellent shelter from rain, wind and snow."
The next problem that needed to be resolved was providing a way for Schneiderhan's two-year-old Lab, Harley, to enter the boat after making retrieves. The first attempt at creating a folding ladder from one-inch PVC pipe, hinges and aluminum aircraft cable proved a total failure. The ramp was too narrow and not long enough to allow the dog to swim onto the boarding platform.
A second design eliminated the cables and hinges and substituted copper plumbing pipe for PVC pipe. The ramp was painted and covered with 1/2-inch treated plywood. It only took a few tries for Harley to figure out how to use the ramp. Now he swims right onto the ramp platform and a small step allows him to enter the boat from the platform.
Dapson's removable blind fits on top of his johnboat, and it's water-tight.
"After having to re-paint and re-flock my decoys for many years, I decided to build a storage system for my more expensive decoys," Schneiderhan said. "I started by taking a 12-inch long, one-inch diameter PVC pipe and cutting a 1â„4-inch groove the entire length of the pipe. Next, I attached lengths cut from the pipe to 3â„4- by three- by 14-inch pieces of treated lumber, which were then attached to the inside rails of the boat. The decoy keels slide easily down the pipe, storing the decoys safely and securely."
Before the final assembly of all the new parts on the boat, the old carpeting was replaced. A storage box was added to the rear of one of the pontoons. The box holds four life jackets, a fire extinguisher, tools, flares and other gear and accessories. New wiring and halogen floodlights added to the bow and sides of the boat provide illumination for setting decoys.
"My final camouflage job was done with simple homemade stencils," Schneiderhan said. "I used thin pieces of cardboard to make the reed, cattail, leaves, and grass patterns. Then I used eight different colors of camouflage spray paint to create some natural appearing colors."
The addition of artificial grass to break up the outline of the large shooting port helps hide the boat. Artificial or natural vegetation is also added at other strategic places, allowing the large watercraft to disappear into the scenery.
The motor was a 1979 model. It required minor adjustments including a carburetor tune-up and a new wiring harness. But otherwise, it worked out well and did not require replacing. The entire project took approximately 40 hours of work to complete. The boat's draft is about 10 inches of water when it is loaded with four hunters, a dog and all necessary hunting gear. Schneiderhan said it is very easy to pole the boat into shallow water and the blind blends right in with any type of natural surroundings, especially with the addition of artificial grass along the sides and hanging from the top of the shooting opening. As to what his pontoon boat blind cost to buy and build, Schneiderhan jokingly withheld that information. Costs for this type of work will vary greatly depending on the condition of the boat and its initial pri
ce, as well as the materials used to create a blind.
"I will not divulge the amount of money I have put into my pontoon boat blind," Schneiderhan said. "My wife may read about it someday."
Dale Dapson's Conversion Van Blind
Dale Dapson of Fairview Heights, Illinois, wanted to keep his johnboat available for fishing between waterfowl hunting seasons. He decided the best solution for a dual use watercraft was in building a removable blind that fit on top of his johnboat. The blind had to be light enough in weight to add or remove easily. It also had to be watertight and provide protection from the elements.
"The boat was designed to be open throughout the whole interior for fishing and when the duck blind is lowered onto the boat," Dapson said. "It has front controls for safe visibility when the boat blind is attached, with just the duck hunters' heads visible over the side."
Dale Dapson converted a conversion van top discovered in a junkyard to build a lightweight, removable blind for his johnboat. He simply hoists it off the boat to the top of his garage between hunting seasons.
When the blind is removed, it is hung from rafters in the garage. The overhead storage makes it easy to lower the blind or raise it. It takes only one man to do the job of lowering and attaching the blind in approximately 20 minutes. The complete conversion, including the addition of artificial grass and natural bull brushes, takes approximately one hour.
The blind itself is a one-piece fiberglass top from a conversion van, which was discovered in a junkyard. The top was gutted of all the carpet, lights, cabinets, wiring and other non-necessities. The purchase price was a mere $50.
"I brought it home and it fit perfectly on the boat," Dapson said. "I made a bottom base of 1/2-inch plywood and fiber-glassed it to the shell. The plywood base mates perfectly with the top of the boat. The shell is completely fiber-glassed and is waterproof. The top was cut out, leaving an opening for shooting and comfort. This boat will hunt four people. But it is really the perfect size for two or three hunters and a dog. In the back of the blind, I made a dog door for my Lab, Mocha. The door is also fiber-glassed."
The blind is equipped with built-in wrap-around shelves along the lower perimeter and easily seats two or three hunters with room to spare. There is storage room for approximately 50 to 60 standard sized decoys beneath the front of the shell under the driver's position. Two Mr. Heater heaters are used to keep hunters warm. The only place where water can enter is through the shooting port.
The boat has a removable rear swivel seat. The steering wheel is located beside the forward attached swivel seat, flat against the port side. The throttle is located against the starboard side. When in the hunting position, the seats are swiveled to face the side of the boat toward the decoys.
A one-piece top encloses the boat completely keeping out the weather. Dapson said he and his hunting partners have slept in the boat many times and been very comfortable in all weather conditions.
"We have also had waves come over the front of the boat and the shell makes the boat seem like a submarine," he said. "The water goes right around the boat and not inside. The boat is extremely safe."
After duck season is ended, Dapson simply backs his boat into his garage, attaches the blind to a hoist and lifts it up to the rafters for storage until the next hunting season.
Miller's Hide-A-Way Blind
Todd Miller of Rocky Point, North Carolina, designed and built a boat blind which folds down on top of his aluminum johnboat's gunwales rather than to the inside or outside as many blinds do. It has bases with pivot points that attach to the supports and the gunwales to let the supports fold forward to allow the conduit blind frame to lay flat on top of the gunwales, completely out of the way.
The frame is held in the erect position by a simple system of coated wire cables and snap hooks. Turnbuckles are used to tighten or loosen the cable stays for adjusting the blind and keeping the tension in the framework as the cables stretch.
"I came up with the design after hunting out of several different scissor blinds and noticing that they limited access to the bow and rear of the boat," Miller said. "The Hide-A-Way blind runs parallel to the gunwales and does not block access to the front or rear of the boat."
Miller's Hide-A-Way Blind is built on a 17 feet long, 54 inches wide Phatbuoyz aluminum boat, which he has customized to run with a 25 horsepower Prodrive shallow drive mud motor. The main type of hunting he does is for puddle ducks and ring-necked ducks in shallow water areas such as beaver ponds and swamps. But he also uses his boat blind on coastal tidal rivers. Such shallow-water use makes the overall weight of the boat and blind a major concern. A removable gun box was built into the boat in the event the boat became stuck and heavy gear had to be off-loaded to lighten the boat and free it.
Miller's Hide-A-Way Blind folds forward along the gunwales to keep the front and rear of the boat accessible.
"The materials for building the blind include EMT conduit, some Bimini top brackets typically used for making fold-down boat tops, heavy duty swivel snaps, screen door adjusters (turnbuckles) coated cable, galvanized steel water pipe elbows, eye bolts, 1â„4-inch bolts and nuts, oval joining shackles and cable clamps.
"I started with four lengths of 3/4-inch EMT conduit, and left two of the sections at their full length," he said. "I cut six 26-inch sections for the support poles. Then I drove the 3/4-inch Bimini top brackets onto both ends of the 26-inch sections and tightened the set screws."
The Bimini top bases were mounted to the longer top frame sections and support poles boat using screws. Next, Miller built two crossbars from conduit sections, which were cut to match the width of the boat between the two top frame sections. The conduit ends were ground to fit into pipe elbows and then driven into the elbows. The other ends of the elbows were driven onto the ends of the top frame sections to forming a rectangle. The crossbars were bent down into a modified "U" shape to keep them low enough for easy step-over access when the blind is folded down. Once the elbows were in place, a 1â„4-inch hole was drilled through each elbow and conduit joint and a bolt inserted through the hole to hold the conduit in place after which a nut was added to scure the
Next, the top blind frame conduit sections were attached to the folding support poles by screwing them onto the Bimini top brackets. With the blind assembly in the collapsed position, the crossbars and all supports were adjusted so they would be out of the way, folding neatly into position and securely open once the blind was installed. The positions for the Bimini top brackets were then marked and 1/4-inch bolts were used to secure them to the boat decks.
"The next step was drilling and installing two eyebolts on the front deck for the forward cables to attach," Miller said. "I also drilled and attached two eyebolts at the corners of the front crossbar and measured the distance from each crossbar eyebolt to its corresponding deck eyebolt with the blind in the raised position before I cut the cable. I cut the cable longer than actually necessary so I would be able to adjust it after it stretches and while I was positioning the blind. Then, I moved to the rear of the boat and drilled the rear crossbar to place an eyebolt on each side for attaching the rear cables."
The complete and ready to hunt Hide-A-Way Blind.
The rear crossbar cables were attached to the blind frame crossbar eyebolts with cable clamps. A system of anchor chain shackles and cable clamps was used to attach the swivel snaps and turnbuckles so the snaps could be attached to the towing eyes on the outside of the stern for the rear of the blind and to the eyebolts installed on the forward deck to secure the front of the blind.
"The measuring and adjustment process that took place after the blind was initially installed took some time," he said. "I wanted to make sure the blind was as stable as possible and that it did not lean to one side. I started by loosening the turnbuckles as far as they would go out. Then I went to the front of the boat and pulled the cables tight and tightened the cable clamps. Then I moved to the rear of the boat, loosened the turnbuckles and repeated the process. Once each corner was even with the cables tightened, I was ready to add the camouflaging material."
Miller used Avery Fast Grass to camouflage the blind. To form the base for attaching the artificial grass, he used plastic fencing commonly used on construction sites. He said the plastic fencing can be purchased at any contractor supply or discount construction materials store.
"Before I added the Avery Fast Grass, I was weaving reeds into the plastic fencing," he said. "It was time-consuming and required constant repair to keep it looking good, although it did allow better views out of the blind. Fast Grass is much more user friendly and more flexible. My Hide-A-Way Blind now has four years of use and has been on two boats. It has performed very well in a wide range of hunting situations."
Dapson's Conversion Van Blind
Conversion Van top extension: $50
3 sheets 1/2-inch plywood: $40
2 Gallons fiberglass resin and cloth: $60
Fast Grass artificial grass: Donated
20 feet of Bungee cord for brushing blind: $12
Total Cost: $182