January 18, 2022
Around lunchtime on a clear, calm afternoon in December 2020, Bill Lowen launched his boat into the Great Miami River near its confluence with the Ohio River. Running a few miles, he flushed a bunch of ducks from their resting place. Along for the hunt was his 9-year-old son, Fisher, 12-year-old daughter, Nevaeh, wife, Jennifer, and his yellow Lab, Sadie.
"The river was high and I busted about 50 mallards, black ducks, and gadwalls from a corner," he said. "The temperature was around 28 degrees, but it was one of those afternoons with bluebird skies and felt warm because it was sunny. It was one of the first hunts where my son and daughter went with me and I was also in the same place where I shot my first duck. When I was eight years old, I started hunting with my dad there. He was so poor, we had to make a box of shells last as long as we could. We shot them with their feet hitting the water."
The river was 12 feet above normal elevation, allowing Lowen to slip into an area he usually couldn't go. He set six decoys and tied a jerk cord to one. It took only a minute to set up his blind. Thirty minutes later, eight gadwalls returned.
"They worked the decoys three times and it was cool for the kids to see them because it got them pretty worked up," he said. "Then, as soon as we knew they were leaving, two big greenheads decoyed right in, landing on top of the decoy with the jerk string. Fisher and Nevaeh both got one. I wanted them to see what I saw growing up. If their feet aren't dropped, we don’t shoot them. They got to do that because the blind concealed them so well."
Lowen hunts mostly in the afternoons for safety in navigating the rivers as well as for his family's comfort. His kids had taken a few wood ducks and teal in the past, but it was the first time they shot mallards and the first time Jennifer watched Sadie retrieve ducks.
Now age 46, Lowen lives in Brookville, Indiana and is a professional angler who fishes the Bassmaster Elite Series. He won the Pickwick Lake event in March 2021. His family often goes along for his tournaments, living in a camper. But, when fishing season is over, he is a diehard duck hunter. He hunts puddle ducks on rivers and lakes in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky and diving ducks on the Great Lakes. As with winning tournaments, he likes "doing things different." It's no wonder he uses old-school cork and foam decoys made by Herter's, Russell, and Higdon, seldom setting more than six to a dozen of the biggest magnums. His favorite guns are the Remington Versamax, V3, 11-87 and 870. He loads them with Remington Hypersonic No. 2 steel ammo.
Since Lowen fishes for a living, he has boats set up only for tournaments. Therefore, he needs a dedicated duck boat. Over the years, he experimented with different boats and blinds including conduit frame rigs, scissor rigs, Avery blinds and plywood-sided blinds. He was tired of the restrictive interiors causing hunters to bump into one another. After thinking the situation over for seven or eight years, he bought a 2018 Xpress 20 DDP with an open floor plan powered by a 115-horsepower Yamaha outboard. It tows on a Backtrack trailer.
• 16-foot Junk Johnboat
• 1/4" Bolts and Nylon Locknuts
• 1-inch Square Tubing - 6 feet.
• 3/4-inch Conduit - 100 feet
• 18-inch Coated Fencing - 50-foot Roll
• Eyebolts - 12
• Clip Pins - 4
• Self-Tapping Screws and Washers
• Zip Ties
• Aerosol Cans of Paint in Camouflage Colors
• 4'x4' Grass Mats - 16
• Burlap for Engine Cover
• Raffia Grass
Building the Blind
To form the base of the blind, he bought a 16-foot Landau boat for $400 at a flea market and cut it in half, leaving about two feet of the bottom attached to each side. Turned upside down on the Xpress hull, the gunwales matched perfectly along the top rails and the bow sections fit nicely on the front deck. All it took was bolting the boat halves in place along the gunwale rails. A swing door that rotates open on two eyebolts filled the space between the two boat halves at the bow.
The four feet of space remaining between the stern of the Landau and the stern of the Xpress remain open for the dog to sit and for hunter access. Two square tubing braces bolted to the factory aluminum deck extend upward to stabilize the stern halves of the Landau. Inserted into the tops of the braces are L-shaped conduit sections. Grass mats are hung on them during a hunt and they pivot open and closed. The grass mats extend over the transom to hide the open area.
Four flip-open panels are built with conduit frames and coated wire garden fencing. The frames were shaped with a conduit bender. The frames hug the contours of the upside-down boat sections and pivot up and down on eyebolts. Two additional panels can be attached to the port side flip-open panels via homemade brackets and clip pins. They extend across the open aisle and over the heads of hunters to hide them when necessary. The overhead panels nestle into the flip-open panels when they are down. The flip panels cover and protect the camouflage materials when the boat is towed.
The fencing is attached to the frames and boat sections with self-tapping screws and washers. The camouflage consists of commercial woven grass mats and raffia grass bundles held in place with zip ties. The engine is covered with grass mats zip-tied to burlap fabric formed into a "pillow case."
The grass mats covering the stern area and engine cover are stowed in a factory aluminum gun box between hunts. Hunters sit on folding mesh swivel seats or buckets. LED lights illuminate the cockpit. The bow also has LED navigation lights.
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