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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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The Portable and Maneuverable Canoe

Canoes are the ultimate stealth boats for float-hunting along secluded creeks and rivers. Lightweight and portable, these craft can be launched almost anywhere. They float in only inches of water and are quiet and maneuverable for sneaking up on ducks in these waterways. 

"Float-hunting is usually better in less traditional duck hunting areas, where you have scattered birds instead of big concentrations," says veteran waterfowler Joe Congleton of Knoxville, Tennessee. "There won't be as many ducks around, but there are usually a few birds hanging out on farm ponds and small lakes."

When a hard freeze hits and the ponds lock up, the ducks will shift to creeks and rivers where the current keeps the water open. "This is especially true if there's been a heavy rain and the river is running full and spilling over into adjacent cuts and low areas," Congleton says. "Plus, you may pick up some migrating ducks when this happens. Sometimes these streams will hold surprisingly large numbers of ducks that are tucked out of the public view."

Congleton uses a 17-foot square-stern Grumman with a keel for added stability. The canoe is painted olive drab. For camouflage, Congleton and his hunting partner pile leafy oak branches on the bow and in the center of the canoe when hunting. 

"The main drawback to a canoe is its tippy nature," Congleton cautions. "When float-hunting, safety is the number one concern. We always wear a life jacket. Only the person in the front shoots; the paddler in the back keeps the canoe lined up and stable by keeping his paddle deep in the water during the flush and shot. We don't use a retriever in a canoe. And we always carry a dry bag with extra clothes, boots, and a fire starter in case we do tip over."

According to Congleton, float-hunters should pick their water carefully. "The best streams are those that are relatively flat and deep," he explains. "There needs to be enough current to allow the boat to glide along with very little paddling, only steering from the hunter in the stern. Avoid fast water, especially rivers with sweepers—trees extending into the water from the bank. Ideal stream width is less than 40 yards." 

When floating, the paddler should hug inside turns and use the bank and overhanging brush to conceal the canoe from ducks just around the next bend. Hunters should glide along quietly, always looking ahead for birds resting in dead water, around points and islands, at the mouths of feeder creeks, or in eddies on the inside of bends. Ducks will also loaf on logs, sunning and preening themselves, allowing stealthy hunters to float within close range before the birds flush.

Congleton and his hunting partner usually take along a half-dozen decoys in the canoe. If they bump a lot of ducks from a particular spot, they'll throw out the decoys and then hide and wait for the birds to come back. This usually doesn't take long; perhaps 15 minutes.

"When conditions are right, float-hunters can take their limits quickly," Congleton says. "Then you've got an enjoyable paddle ahead of you to the takeout spot. Backcountry streams teem with wildlife in the winter, and the scenery and the solitude combine for a very enjoyable experience." 

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