On an early fall morning just outside Jonesville, Louisiana, a group of waterfowl hunters sat in anticipation, waiting for the first ducks to fly across Diversion Canal levee. The weather had been less than cooperative in the days leading up to this hunt with temperatures reaching the low 70s by day, dipping into the upper 30s at night. Without much wind, this was not ideal for a week at Honey Break Lodge. It would be a tough one, slow to say the least, but good company made the trip...as it always does.
Getting around to the various duck holes at HB required either your pick up truck or an off-road vehicle. A short boat ride delivered us to the blinds. The terrain here was manageable: ranch roads and some light mud — nothing too difficult. But transporting loads of gear and up to six hunters was a task. Having a machine to safely carry it all made the difference. This hunt, hosted by Ducks Unlimited, would also be the unveiling of a very unique vehicle built by yours truly and specifically for duck hunting. It was here at HB that our ideas from a previous hunt would be put to the test.
Building for Greatness
In Feb. 2016, I had an opportunity to fill a spot on a snow goose hunt in Arkansas where James Powell (DU Director of Communications) and myself brainstormed to create the most useful/practical waterfowl hunting off-road vehicle — one that could tackle most any terrain a hunter might encounter. We needed a good base to build upon, so the Yamaha Viking VI was chosen for its rugged capability as well as its ability to carry six people. Yamaha's reliability was also taken into consideration, and everything that was to be installed merely accentuated an already great machine.
Plus, Yamaha has supported hunters and the outdoors for many years now with an Outdoor Access Initiative program, so it was fitting to include them.
With our 2017 Viking VI in hand, it was time to begin putting together the essentials and making a detailed plan. The build started where the rubber meets the trail with a set of EFX Moto boss tires. We needed to adjust the clutching down a bit to get more of Yamaha's bottom end grunt into a deeper spot on the transmission delivery. EPI Performance builds a kit specifically for the Viking's UltraMatic transmission with the parts it needs to correct for the oversized and heavy-lugged treads. This will help restore any power loss from heavier tires and give the Viking better low-end torque to get them turning in the mud.
Once the transmission kit was installed, the EFX Moto boss tires (size 28x10x14) were mounted on KMC XS228 Machette bead-lock rims. This combination gave us plenty of digging prowess in most any condition and the stylish (and functional) KMCs kept the tires in place, free from any chance of being pushed off the bead through rough trails. The tires were a 2" increase from stock so naturally the Yamaha received a raised suspension.
High lifter Products in Shreveport, Louisiana, sent a 2" bracket lift to get the Viking higher off the ground resulting in plenty of turn clearance for the tires. This kit simply bolts into place on the upper shock mounting points using supplied hardware and is zinc-coated for corrosion resistance. FOX 2.0 Podium shocks, which can be fine-tuned for riding with a heavy load or unloded, were added in place of stock shocks. This helps smooth things out when more hunters hop on for a trip across frozen corn stubble.
Turn the Lights On
Yamaha offers a host of add-ons in its accessory catalog and the dual battery is a must-have for duck hunters. This kit installs using Yamaha-supplied wiring as well as battery switching solenoid and PCB. When you need the extra power (or if you happen to run the main battery low) the system automatically switches to an auxiliary battery located behind the left rear passenger seat. This second battery is charged alongside the primary and is ready for high-draw demands. This also makes those pre-dawn outings salvageable when the high output lighting is running for too long during engine idle.
Another item we couldn't do without was in-cab lighting. If you drop keys or a wallet in the dark — as long as you're on land — there's a better chance of recovery. This is where our friends at Gorilla Axle in West Monroe, Louisiana, came into play. Gorilla makes compact, but powerful, LED lights, as well as rock lights typically mounted under the fenders to see trail obstacles at night. The Silverback LED bluetooth-capable rock lights were our choice for interior lighting. After a few hours of wire routing, we had six in-cab lamps controlled from my smartphone. Two were mounted under the dash to light the floor.
Long distance trail light duties were left up to Gorilla's D-Series 30" LED light bar mounted on the molded sun top. This LED is slim and fits snuggly against the roof, hopefully out of the way of any intruding branches. Axle XHD series Lo-Pros were mounted to the Yamaha brush guard. Needless to say, seeing the trail was a non-issue. Now it was only a matter of controlling the lights and organizing a proper switchboard.
The Viking VI has a vast amount of space for accessory switches, but I could not find any aftermarket panels that would satisfy our needs. So it was time to build a complete panel from scratch. Using water-resistant marine-grade rocker switches, as well as a USB charging port and 12-volt power meter, I laid out a plan. The large space in the center of the dash was perfect for a custom panel with carbon-fiber cover. Servicing this panel was a concern, so I made it removable with simple hand tools should a switch or wire need to be replaced or added. Making the Viking VI both functional and hunter-friendly was kept closely in mind, so all of our wiring was labeled.
Knowing that this duck-man rig would see its share of mud, we knew it needed a winch (you never know when you or someone else will need a pull). Yamaha teamed up with WARN to build a Pro Vantage 3,500-pound winch, and this Viking would not be complete without it. Tucking the winch into the brush guard was simple, and with the included roller fairlead the pull angle and life of the wire cable were ready for many years to come.
Haul It All
Transporting gear is a concern when you have a 4x4 full of hunters. Getting guns, decoys and the dog to the blind is important: enter the Quack Rack. This ingenious system is built specifically for each vehicle bed and is constructed of aluminum to cut down on weight. The three-part system assembles quickly and once set into the bed of the Viking VI, we simply buckled it down using the supplied turnbuckles. The amount of added room was astounding. The Quack Rack came with two LED lights on the underside of the top storage box and once wired in, gave us even more light to find gear in the bed of the Viking VI.
Some of our final functional components were Yamaha's extended over fenders to keep big mud biscuits kicked up by the tires from landing in our laps. Using the wind deflector, we were able to redirect that morning chill for the most part. The 4x4 was finished in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades. Watching the hydrographic process in person was amazing and this resilient camo pattern added the final touch to our project. The multi-stage process required plastic prep, primer; water-based film and an overcoat or sealer to protect the finished product. The great folks at Mossy Oak completed it all in just a few days.
As the Viking VI rolled off of the trailer at Honey Brake, we hoped it was going to be worthy of the marsh. It wasn't until we took it out along the trails on its first official hunt that each product was tested and performed as expected.
Hopefully this gives you the tools, or maybe inspires you, to upgrade your 4x4. Go ahead, do it. Every duck man deserves to turn his marsh wagon into a monster.