by Matt Young
As hunting pressure in the United States has reached an all-time high in recent years, ducks and geese are becoming conditioned to avoid any cover that can possibly conceal waterfowlers. Heavily hunted mallards, for example, often leave traditional resting areas in marshes, sloughs, and flooded timber at dawn to spend their day loafing on big water, mud flats, gravel bars, and puddles in harvested grain fields, where they are less likely to encounter hunters. Geese, diving ducks, and other dabblers also often share these wide-open habitats, making them very productive places to hunt a variety of waterfowl.
The challenge facing duck and goose hunters is how to conceal themselves in areas with little standing cover. Fortunately, waterfowlers are an innovative lot, and, over the years, they have developed a variety of specialized equipment and tactics to help them hide in open environments.
Without question, the most effective open-water blind ever designed was the sink box, invented by early 19th-century market hunters along the Atlantic Coast. The equivalent of a pit blind for the water, it consisted of a submerged wooden box supported by a floating platform. While seated inside the box, shooters were almost completely hidden below the water line, and, consequently, were nearly invisible to approaching waterfowl. While sink boxes have been relegated to waterfowling museums in the United States, another invention of the market hunters that has remained legal—the layout boat—has only grown more popular over time.
Market hunters on the Atlantic Coast originally designed layout boats to conceal them in open water and on the edges of tidal marshes. For hunting in very shallow water or on dry land, they developed scaled-down versions of layout boats, commonly known as gunning coffins or pond boxes. The use of layout boats and coffin blinds gradually spread westward from the East Coast during the 20th century, and, today, they are used by waterfowlers across much of the U.S. and Canada, from the salt marshes of New Jersey to the rice fields of California.