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.