by Gary Koehler
Make no mistake: This is not your grandfather's johnboat. Just as today's waterfowl hunters have ready access to clothing made of space-age fabrics, extremely efficient shotguns, warm waders, top-of-the-line game calls, and a wide array of shotshell options, this once-homely watercraft is now available with seemingly all the bells and whistles one could desire.
Because of the popularity of the johnboat nationally, many manufacturers offer upgraded models that can legitimately be described as customized rigs. Which accessories are added is left to the whim of the buyer. One gun box won't do? Have another one put in. Need the boat wired for lights? No problem. A camo paint job? Done.
"A segment of our customer base uses the same boat for fishing as well as duck hunting," says Mike Ward, president of War Eagle Boats, the Official Aluminum Boat of Ducks Unlimited. "You rig a johnboat the way you want it, and you don't have to go out and buy a $30,000 bass boat to go fishing. A lot of people can't afford both a bass boat and a duck hunting boat. They recognize the versatility that a johnboat provides."
Based in Monticello, Arkansas, in the southern reaches of the Mississippi Flyway, War Eagle Boats last fall moved its manufacturing facility across town. The new headquarters lends itself to an aggressive plan to provide a variety of boat styles-all built for safety as well as utility.
War Eagle's welded hull seams are water-tested at the plant. Structured ribs are uniformly spaced and welded in place to eliminate built-in stress. The geometrically designed "wings" transom increases transom strength. Flotation materials are installed under all seats, decks, and rear pods. And those are just the basics.
"We take pride in producing products that will be safe and that will stand up to the demands of hunters and fishermen," Ward says. "The flotation we use, for example, can exceed that required by U.S. Coast Guard standards."
Mike Ward and his brothers, John and Roger, will never be confused with boat-building neophytes. The Ward family began building boats in 1945. Their grandfather and great-uncle, in fact, were the first in the nation to build a welded-seam aluminum johnboat. Their father has been involved with the industry for some 50 years.
"We are always looking for ways to improve, for innovations," Mike Ward says. "We've got several different models of johnboats, and we can add our accessories to all of them. All of our boats are sold through dealers, but if people let the dealers know what they want, we can put it together." The War Eagle Boats lineup ranges from 14-footers to mammoth 20- and 23-foot (Model 2372; 72-inch bottom) johns large enough to accommodate just about any hunting party. The Model 2372, in fact, has enjoyed an extraordinary boost in popularity during the past several months.
"You look at it, and it is huge," Ward says. "But if you've got a lot of guys, and you are going to be on big water, this is a good choice. One of the options on this one is a compact galley that has a two-burner stove and an ice chest."
War Eagle Boats has covered all the bases in its quest to satisfy the most discriminating waterfowl hunter. The accessories list includes duck blinds by Avery, console steering, drink and shell tray, running lights, gun box, Lab step, Bubba step, and a number of seating options. In addition, camouflage paint options include Advantage Wetlands; Realtree Hardwoods; and Mossy Oak's Break-Up, Treestand, Shadow Grass, and Bottomland.
"Our cap rail is specially designed for mounting our accessories," Ward says of what he calls a T-lock system. "That way, all of our accessories match all of our boats. There is no guessing." War Eagle Boats can be ordered fully rigged-out or in their most basic design. Those who choose the simpler models can add on accessories as time and finances allow, or as needed.
For more information about War Eagle Boats, phone 870-367-1554, or visit the company's Web site at www.wareagleboats.com.