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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Practical Duck Boats

A closer look at some of the most versatile craft available to waterfowlers
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By Wade Bourne

Waterfowlers have created a variety of boats to meet their hunting needs in different parts of the country. The Louisiana pirogue, the Barnegat Bay sneakbox, the Reelfoot Lake stump jumper, and the Lake Erie layout boat are classic examples of this regional diversity. Some styles of boats, however, are more versatile than others. These craft have stood the test of time and proved their worth. Whether you're hunting small potholes or large lakes, open water or flooded timber, free-flowing streams or quiet backwaters—these boats can get it done.

Here is an overview of four of the most popular types of duck boats along with expert advice on how to use them in specific habitats.

The Ever-Popular Johnboat

The johnboat is by far the most popular of all craft used by waterfowlers. Available in a broad range of sizes and designs, these boats are rugged, adaptable, and affordable. They will take a beating when you're hunting in swamps or flooded timber, and they're very easy to repair if they spring a leak. In addition, they're versatile enough for other uses. You can duck hunt from a johnboat in winter and fish or pursue other recreational activities in other seasons. For this reason, a johnboat offers considerable bang for the buck. 

"Johnboats have a lot of bottom surface, so they float higher in the water," says Mike Ward, president of the War Eagle Boat Company, a leading manufacturer of johnboats, based in Monticello, Arkansas. "They offer a great strength-to-weight ratio. Because they're lighter than fiberglass boats, they take less horsepower to attain equivalent performance on the water, and they're a lot more economical to tow on the highway." 

While johnboats have been around for decades, today's versions come in various designs and power options. They can be powered by outboards or shallow-drive mud motors. Different camouflage patterns and floor coverings are available. Other options such as dry boxes, dog platforms, different lighting schemes, and various deck configurations allow hunters to customize johnboats to fit their specific needs. 

For duck hunting, Ward strongly recommends a johnboat with a V-shaped bow, since this design navigates more easily through timber, buckbrush, and other cover, and also offers a drier ride in choppy water.

"Here in southeast Arkansas, we usually hunt in flooded timber, frequently in water levels that fluctuate from one day to the next," Ward says. "A lot of times we use a johnboat to motor into where we want to hunt, then we get out and stand next to trees as we work ducks down through the branches."

If the water is too deep to stand in, Ward and his hunting partners attach a portable blind to their johnboat and shoot from it, locking the boat to a tree to provide a stable platform. "One of the keys to duck hunting success is having a boat that's versatile enough to allow you to hunt where the birds are," Ward says. "A johnboat will take you through timber or brush or over a shallow mudflat. It's very adaptable and tough, and these are reasons why so many duck hunters own one."

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