By Justin Tackett, DU Waterdog
Ducks and geese rest, eat, and loaf in a myriad of places. Unfortunately, most of these places are all but impossible to reach. This may be a big part of the reason we all love it as much as we do. All duck hunters dream of that perfect hole that no one else has ever seen where the ducks pile in everyday. In this dream, we always shoot perfectly-colored drakes and everything falls belly up and our dogs perform like national champions. The dogs pick them all up cleanly, just in time to shake off and catch an ear rub from us before we hit our next set of notes talking the next group into giving up. It's perfect.
But because the places waterfowl live are so diverse, we all have different ideas of the perfect mode of transportation to that perfect spot. The gap in preferences from one to the other is miles apart. The south Louisiana swamp/bog hunter thinks nothing is finer than a 14-foot hand made Cypress Pirogue, whereas the Brant hunter on the eastern shore dreams of a 24-foot Goliath with a big nasty 150hp on the back.
A shot at the perfect duck boat came out of necessity for me; but was really sparked after I decided to rewire my big boat in February just after the season was over. Clay Hiett is one of my best friends in the world. He owns a large tract of land just west of Little Rock, Ark., and has always been a good enough fellow to let me store most of my boats, trailers, RV's and all the other junk that a duck hunter needs to survive. It was 50 degrees and sunny and I sat there playing with the Go Lights, looked up, and got a little sick to my stomach because I was looking at what many would consider a small marine dealership of attempts at something to get me into just about every duck hunting situation. For the first time, it hit me just how much money I had spent over the last 20 years just trying to get to all those special waterfowl hunting places.
I saw a 16-foot long by 48-inch wide boat with a 23hp long-tailed mud motor and all the fixings. I looked to the right at a 17-foot by 54-inch boat with a 50hp outboard; just behind me was what was going to be my "really good" boat from a couple years ago - a hybrid type mud motor/outboard. It too was a 17-footer, but a slimmer model at 48-inches wide. She was slow and cumbersome like a long-tailed mud motor, and literally worked you to death trying to turn it in the woods. It wasn't good for much other than flat marsh running and I've used it maybe five times in two years. Just to my left was a 16-foot by 52-inch boat with a 50 hp outboard; it's a good boat as long as you have at least 24 inches of water. Last but not least, I was sitting in the biggest most expensive of the bunch - a 20-foot by 60-inch model with 3 gun boxes and more lights than a 747 with a 70hp outboard on the back. Again it's a great boat until the timber gets tight and the water gets shallow. By the time I figured it up, I was looking at roughly $75,000 in duck boats and I did not have a single boat that was good in MOST water fowl hunting scenarios.
I decided to really take my time and try to create the perfect duck boat. I sat down and thought about every place I had hunted the last few years that demanded a boat. I came up with deep rivers in Arkansas that almost always end up in shallow water tight timber situations. I also encountered very shallow river scenarios like the Snake in the west and the Potomac in the east. Both of these rivers are very shallow and rocky with a fair amount of current. I would need something that had speed because of the long runs that are a tendency in both of these river situations.
I thought about Firewater in South Dakota where you don't run anything but a mud motor. Because there are no real launches in these areas, keeping the boat light enough to be launched with an ATV was a must. But because that is where I guide, hunter-capacity is a must. I had to have a boat big enough to carry at least four hunters, a dog, decoys and way more gear than you'd ever need. Then of course there is south Louisiana where the marshes are huge and shallow. Speed is important, but without the ability to run shallow you're done.
I got a motor from the three biggest manufacturers of hybrid type mud/outboard motors in the industry. I saw no major differences in performance over two days of use on almost identical boats. But, there were some very "user friendly" reasons that made the choice very easy. First and foremost only one model had a reverse available. Reason number two was a little more particular…SIZE or more aptly, lack thereof. The Pro-Drive's lower unit is much shorter than the others. A lower unit and the prop that sticks out of the boat more than 18 or so inches makes maneuvering in tight quarters almost impossible. No matter what anybody tells you 36-inch oak trees don't give into any prop, so size is very important for those that hunt in any kind of timber. Finally, the fact that the Pro-Drive was the only model that was NOT belt driven was very appealing to me. Pro-Drive uses gears to drive the prop. For those of you that have spent any time with anything belt driven, you know what I am talking about.
Interior design was a big factor too. Maybe the most dangerous thing I have ever done is run up and down a big river in the dark when the temperatures were below freezing. If you get wet, things are going to go downhill quickly. I wanted to design a cabin that I could see out of while driving. Having hunters in the sight line and dogs roaming all over the place while under way is not good, yet most boats are not designed with any of these things in mind. I placed three pedestal mounts on the floor where I could maximize both room and more importantly weight so that the boat would still handle well. A dog "place" was designed for riding and hunting. The design makes life easy on the dog and the trainer because they are one in the same. The stand simply "slides up" into place when you are ready to hunt and locks into place with a single locking pin. The stand also gives the dog a great perspective to mark birds and more importantly a place for the dog to safely ride while the boat is under power.
Because you find ducks wherever they are, you need to be able to hunt out of the boat and you can't do that from the deck. So, I decided to put an eight-foot gun box right down the middle of the boat. This box has enough room to allow every hunter a seat. By placing seat mounts every 24 inches, there is room for every hunter and by placing the box in the middle of the boat, you can hunt from either side. I also wanted to create some conveniences like two DC power plugs in the back for both spotlights and GPS units and one up front for an additional light when debris gets especially dangerous because of rising water or ice. I also wanted a place for a grill and cooler. That was no problem as long as you think about it early. The deck provides tons of dry storage for larger items like life jackets and a driver pod was created, and the storage is pretty good. Finally the front deck was designed to hold four 12-Slot Avery® decoy bags. This keeps them out of the way so riders can stay dry and keep their feet free. The 12-Slots also ride lower than a bulk decoys bag so the sight line is still very good. Everything has its place.
I knew what I had to have on the inside and to comfortably handle everything, I knew I needed a good-sized boat. The minimum I could get away with would be an 18-foot by 54-inc model. Now, it was time to worry because that was a big boat for a 36hp mud motor and I was not willing to live with something underpowered.
I worked with Pro-Drive's K.P. and Brian Provost in designing this boat to try and maximize speed and shallow water running capability. We sharpened the bow to cut rushes, reeds, cattails, and most importantly timber. We created square chines to make it run as shallow as possible and by staying at 54-inches wide, we were able to use a single piece of aluminum and create a seamless bottom. With the rocky rivers I knew I was going to hunt, I wanted to build something tough. K.P. Provost has spent a lifetime building off shore crew boats and understands durability and how to build it. His suggestion to go with 50/86-aluminum hardness should keep the boat good for years and years, not to mention, keep me alive.
I went with an Avery® Quick-Set® Boat Blind for a few reasons; the main reason I did this was because Avery's blind rests inside the gun whales of the boat which keeps it from hanging on every tree, limb, or bunch of reeds you run along side. The colors are easily changed with KillerWeed™ to go from a dark timber setting to a very light cattail setting in 15 minutes. Last but not least, I went with Mossy Oak® Duck Blind® as a camouflage pattern purely for its versatility. This pattern is not the best timber pattern, nor is it the best marsh pattern, but it's pretty good at all of it.
Here are some numbers for your review. All numbers include the boat loaded with all necessary hunting gear, twelve gallons of gas, battery, etc. With any kind of momentum, the boat runs extremely well in almost no water with soft mud even with the heaviest of loads. The reverse has been used extensively and works very well, especially when you need to get out of something that you thought you could do. That happens regularly around here. I have not hunted from the boat yet; but have used it extensively (about 14 hours) learning what it will do and what it won't.
- Driver (230 lbs) and dog (75 lbs) 31 mph
- Driver, dog and passenger (220 lbs) 27 mph
- Driver, dog and 2 passenger (220 & 225 lbs) 22 mph
- Driver, dog and 3 passengers (220, 225, 210 lbs) 19 mph
I doubt it's the perfect duck boat; but it's definitely better than what I had before. The versatility of being able to use the same boat on rivers, marshes, and timber is something I've never experienced.
So far I couldn't be happier.