At midmorning, Rongers and Bires switch places with us in the layout boat, while we take a turn manning the tender. This gives Reder and me the welcome opportunity to stretch our legs and have a cup of hot coffee. On windy days, layout hunting is an all-day affair, and the birds keep flying all morning and into the afternoon, providing everyone with plenty of shooting. We don’t pull the rig until just before sunset, cold and tired but exhilarated after an unforgettable day on the big water.
A Labor of Love
Waterfowl hunting, like so many other things in life, is what you make of it. And few waterfowlers have made more of their hunting opportunities than Rongers, Bires, and Reder. Raised in northern Indiana’s gritty industrial corridor, the three friends didn’t have access to prime waterfowl habitat during their duck hunting formative years. But that didn’t stop them from riding their bikes to shoot mallards and teal on marshy potholes in remaining tracts of unincorporated dune land, and when they were old enough to drive, they ventured farther afield to shoot bluebills and other divers off the breakwaters of Lake Michigan.
When they reached their 20s, the quest for better duck hunting led the trio north to Michigan, where they rented a cabin on a lake that stacked up with bluebills during the peak of the migration. Gunning from shore, they bagged their share of birds, but they longed for a way to hunt the open water in the middle of the lake, which harbored great rafts of scaup.
“In 1975, my brother ran into a guy named Jack Bucko who was looking to sell two Zack Taylor sneak box wigeons,” Rongers recalls. “Greg and I each bought one, and that fall, we took the boats and 60 L.L. Bean cork decoys up to the cabin in Michigan and started layout hunting in the middle of the lake. We’ve been hooked ever since.”
They later replaced the sneak boxes with a lower profile, two-man John Kalash boat, and for more than 20 years, the trio hunted all over the Great Lakes region with this layout rig and an 18-foot aluminum tender boat. Their enthusiasm for traditional layout hunting set them apart, so they started calling themselves—half-jokingly—the Mighty Layout Boys. During their travels, they frequently encountered other waterfowlers who wanted to give layout hunting a try. But these hunters didn’t know where to learn more about the sport or where to buy layout boats and other hunting equipment. Rongers and his wife, Elaine, founded their company to help fill the void.