By Wade Bourne
By sticking to the basics, these waterfowlers have found success without spending a fortune on gear and gadgets
Many duck hunters go for the gusto in pursuit of their sport. They build blinds that could serve as second homes. They acquire every motorized decoy available. They purchase expensive boats, guns, calls, and other gear. For this group, the sky is the limit, and the season—or the preparation for it—never ends.
Then there are the minimalists. These are hunters at the other extreme. Their boats and gear are ordinary. Their decoy spreads are small and without gimmicks. Their blinds are basic. And their mindset is to keep their hunting strategy as simple as possible. Find the birds, toss out just enough decoys, hide well, and load up.
Which approach is better? Each hunter must answer this question individually. Surely many prefer the all-out approach. Their energy and resources for this sport match their passion for it.
But just because the minimalists don’t go for the grandiose doesn’t mean they are any less zealous about duck hunting. Indeed, the opposite is often true. Many hunters take pride in keeping things simple. Plus, doing so allows them to move with the birds without encumbrance from “stuff.” Here’s a look at how four hunters pursue this back-to-basics style of duck hunting.
Minimalist duck hunters typically prefer boats that are simple and unadorned. Their boats are often small and light enough to be carried on top of a car or in the bed of a pickup. They can also be toted to the water and launched off the bank, and can be propelled by paddle power, push poles, or small outboards. Overall, minimalist boats are safe on quiet backwaters, but they might be risky on wave-tossed bays or rivers. They are designed for small loads, not large ones. And they are better suited for short runs than long hauls.
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Bucky D’Agostino of Manahawkin, New Jersey, is a minimalist hunter who shoots puddle ducks and Canada geese on a beaver pond at the back of a 250-acre public lake near his home. He uses a canoe to reach this hole, which he says is the only way to access it.
“This lake is surrounded by farm-land, and over the years, silt has washed into the lake and collected in the headwaters area,” D’Agostino explains. “The upper part of the lake is only inches deep, and the beaver pond covers about 30 acres at the very back end of the lake.”
D’Agostino says there is no way to run an outboard through the muck to get to the beaver pond, and if a hunter tried to wade through it, he’d be up to his armpits in about two steps. But D’Agostino and a hunting partner can slide a canoe over the silt by digging their paddles into the mud and pushing the boat forward through the shallow water.
He uses a 14-foot Old Town that can carry two hunters. On a typical hunt, D’Agostino carries a dozen mallard decoys, three Canada goose floaters, and a 20-foot roll of burlap, as well as a thermos and an extra change of clothes in a waterproof backpack.
When D’Agostino and his partner reach the beaver pond, they drag the canoe over the dam and paddle a short distance to their hunting site. The canoe allows them to penetrate thicker cover and tighter spots than they could in a larger boat. “We’ll tuck into the oak trees bordering the beaver dam, hunting in the shadows and natural vegetation,” he says. “We pull the boat up on the bank and cover it with the burlap. We keep the canoe handy so we can slide it back into the water quickly if we have to chase a cripple.”
Besides canoes, other good boats for minimalist duck hunters include kayaks (even lighter and more maneuverable than a canoe), layout boats (good for hiding in open areas), and small johnboats. All these craft will provide the portability and versatility a minimalist hunter needs.