Gary Goodpaster of Memphis, Tennessee, has hunted waterfowl from layout boats across much of America's Heartland. He uses a 13 ½-foot boat for most of his hunting, but relies on a smaller and lighter 10-footer when hunting harder-to-reach places. "You can hunt with layout boats in just about any cover imaginable," says Goodpaster, who is also Ducks Unlimited's director of special events. "I've used them in moist-soil wetlands, cattail marshes, flooded timber, corn and soybean fields, and even along sandbars and mud banks on large lakes."
The cardinal rule of layout hunting, according to Goodpaster, is to keep a low profile. "The best places to hunt are areas where the birds clearly want to be, and that have just enough natural vegetation to hide the boat, but not enough cover to spook wary ducks. If at all possible, the boat should never be higher than the surrounding cover. A lot of layout hunters get careless with the height of their profile. The gunwale of their boat might be only eight inches above water level, but they pile artificial or natural cover on top of it that might raise their profile by a foot or more, which makes them much more conspicuous to waterfowl."
Goodpaster also stresses the importance of covering the boat in a manner that matches its surroundings. "Take a look at where you are going to hide and use common sense to determine what you're going to need to cover up. I use simple weathered canvas covers and some artificial camo for my boats, topped off with natural cover from the precise spot in which I'm setting up. But I use no more cover than is necessary to hide effectively."
Despite their excellent concealment capabilities, layout boats are more confining than many other types of blinds, and limit hunters' visibility and flexibility while shooting. "Layout hunting is a lot like bowhunting in that you have to plan in advance for your shots," Goodpaster says. "When you set up, think about a shooting/landing zone and the position of the boat relative to the decoys. Shooting from a sitting position can be difficult, so it's important to prepare properly. As a right-handed shooter, I always point my boat at a 45-degree angle to the right of the landing zone. That will allow me to move the gun comfortably over the left-front of the boat, where most birds should be decoying. Naturally, this set-up should be reversed for a left-handed shooter."
Layout hunting also requires a little more patience than other forms of waterfowling. "You have to think like a predator," Goodpaster explains. "Put yourself in a position where the ducks want to be, and keep your eyes and ears open and then keep still and wait for the birds to appear. That's why comfort is so important. If you are in an awkward, uncomfortable position, you are going to fidget and give yourself away. Invest the time to make yourself comfortable because you may be there a while."
Although many layout boats come with inclined backrests, Goodpaster prefers to use an adjustable foam cushion to support just his head and neck. He also uses a floorboard in his boat to keep him dry while he's lying down. "You can't keep mud and water out of the boats while you are hunting, so you should have some sort of floorboard to keep you comfortable and out of the slop that collects in the bottom of the boat. It's also very helpful to have foot braces in your boat for leverage when you sit up to shoot."