December 20, 2023
Last year a friend of mine was crushing the ducks and geese. He would send me pictures of his hunts with birds stacked on the bow of his odd-looking boat. For a while I thought he was hunting from a kayak, or one of the ever-famous layout boats so commonly used here in Utah. But after further investigation I realized it was neither. I finally asked him what in the world type of boat he was using. “A sneak boat,” was his reply. As if I knew what that was. I talked with him a little more and he proceeded to show me a whole new world of low-profile, tiny little boats that can get in and out of almost anywhere, which provide some lethal wing shooting. I was intrigued, then soon enamored. My friend told me more about his Arthur Armstrong design sneak boat and slowly my desire to own one myself became more than I could bear- I began a quest to purchase my own.
After lurking around classified ads and browsing websites, I came across a custom-built sneak boat. A famous style frame from the marshes of Missouri, The Kara Hummer (the name of the style of boat.) After a few phone calls and a payment amount I had to lie to wife about, I was the proud new owner of my very own sneak boat! Eager to take it hunting, I got it out on the water, and it proved to be everything I hoped. My dog and I had a fantastic day on a local marsh. We slowly crept the boat into a little patch of reeds that no other hunter would have thought to go, simply because no other hunter could have gotten in there and hidden well in your typical Jon boat or flat bottom. It was a perfect set up. I hid well and killed a quick limit of wigeon and teal. I was a convert to the ways of using a sneak boat.
What is a sneak boat?
Before you go and think that sneak boats are this grand new invention, I should note, sneak boats have been around for a long time. Hunters have been using some sort of style of a sneak boat since the early 1800’s. Their origins come from the Barnegat Bay in New Jersey and other surrounding areas in the upper Eastern Shore. These sneak boats are extremely low to the water, sometimes less than eight inches, with the hunter being able to lay down inside if they wish, then rise to shoot when the ducks or geese arrive. Today’s models vary in certain styles and layouts, but the goal is the same – provide a small boat that offers hunters mobility and stealth that no other boat can.
Many sneak boats are like that of a layout blind used in dry fields. Except you’re laying down inside of a floating piece of fiberglass, wood, foam, or whatever else was used to construct the boat. For example, my Kara Hummer sneak boat has a wood interior framing, and a fiber glass outer shell. I have two exterior doors placed over the top of me that I can brush in, much like that of a ground blind. Other sneak boats, like the famous EBAD boat from Four Rivers Layout Boats, offers a full fiberglass boat that you can have custom ordered with doors and seats to offer a bit more comfortable hunting, all while only sitting a little over one foot above the water.
One of the pitfalls of sneak boat hunting, however, is it becomes a one-man event. I don’t know many hunters who dare take more than themselves, their gear, and a dog in their boats. Rightfully so, I will add. These boats are not designed for large groups of hunters as you might imagine. The term “sneak boat” doesn’t exactly paint the picture of five friends belting out into the marsh for a morning of chucking steel. Those that wish to hunt together with sneak boats, usually must hunt out of their own respective boat.
Why use a sneak boat?
Sneak boats provide a fantastic way to get to where the other boats and the other hunters can’t. Those small little pockets where the ducks are building up? Light work for a sneak boat. While there’s nothing wrong with the 14’ flat-bottoms with a 25 horse-power motor (I have one of those myself) there are plenty of scenarios where hiding those bigger boats or getting them where you want them to go proves to be more of a burden than hunters care for. Hence why a smaller boat, with a lower profile, that you can hide with little trouble comes in handy.
I experienced an example of this firsthand just this season. I had found a pocket of water hold-ing hundreds of ducks while scouting. It was surrounded by cattails on all sides, making the ability to hide on the edges quite easy – or so I thought. I decided to take out my 14’ duck boat instead of my sneak boat the next day, and quickly learned that my big boat wasn’t going to be able to cut through the tall grass and get me to where I needed to go. The next day I took out my sneak boat. The lightweight frame and the small surface area on the water cut right through the cattails and got me inside that pocket of water and right inside the swarm of ducks. It was another example of how small and stealthy worked better than brute force, size, and horsepower.
Duck hunters all over the country are starting to find their ways into these smaller, easier to hide watercrafts predominately in the Mississippi and Eastern Flyways where small marshes and sloughs abound. However, these handy little boats are starting to make appearances more commonly in areas like the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and my home state of Utah. Waterfowlers all over the country are starting to hitch up to the smaller sneak boats to get into the little pockets of water where no one else is going.
How do I use a sneak boat?
When I first started using my own sneak boat, I was surprised at how much easier it was to operate than my larger duck boat. It was simple to launch, with just a few ratchet straps to undo and away we went. I started out with a small electric trolling motor, then upgraded to a 5 horsepower longtail motor. Which is about the maximum rating for most sneak boats.
It can be a little daunting for first time users to be so close to the water. I know it was for me. Luckily, once you get that maiden voyage out of the way, you’ll start to learn the small idiosyncrasies of your boat. It’s always a good idea to navigate water you’re familiar with for your first few times out, and choose a motor for your boat that fits not only your horsepower rating, but the type of area you’ll be hunting.
Like any other boat, you’ll want to make sure you’re mindful of your electrical wiring and your battery. Most sneak boats have a location for the battery in the front of the boat. The wiring doesn’t vary much from that of a standard Jon boat. My only word of caution with regards to wiring- because you’re in such close quarters to all the electrical, you’ll want to pay close mind to any loose connections, fraying, etc. It will save you from getting an unpleasant zap while you’re wet from retrieving those downed ducks.
Sneak boats are becoming more and more popular. They are a lethal tool if you take the time to acquaint yourself with one. Using one to get where others can’t is just one more way to become more advanced as a waterfowl hunter, and find yourself having more success in the field