by Wade Bourne
More and more, when I'm chasing ducks and geese, I find myself going "flat-out." This isn't in reference to energy level or enthusiasm (although I still push both these envelopes routinely). Rather, this is a term of function. By flat-out, I mean lying prone, on my back, looking up into a sky that's hopefully filled with ducks or geese that are locked onto my decoys.
Today's waterfowl spend more time feeding and loafing in wide-open spaces. This is due in large part to agricultural changes. In modern farming, big, clean fields are the norm instead of the exception. Also, I think that ducks and geese feel safer in these environments. Waterfowl are now subjected to more hunting pressure than ever, and they are responding by becoming warier creatures.
But as waterfowl have adapted to these open environments, hunters have devised ways to hunt them there. Perhaps the most effective of these innovations are layout blinds and layout boats. These horizontal hideouts can be carried, poled, or motored anywhere ducks and geese are working.
Layout blinds appeared on the market in the mid-1990s, and in my view they have had more impact on waterfowl hunting than any other recent invention (with the possible exception of the spinning-wing decoy). These blinds are totally portable, lightweight, quick to deploy, and relatively inexpensive to purchase. They were designed for hunting on dry ground, but accessories like the Avery NeoTub have been developed for use in shallow water. Hunters can also choose from a variety of camouflage options (snow covers, spray snow, artificial grass, etc.) to match virtually any environment. All told, hunters can use layout blinds anywhere on dry ground or in water up to eight inches deep with confidence that ducks and geese won't see them.
But what about hunting in deeper water where layout blinds can't be used? That's where low-profile layout boats come in. Many of these craft are variants of layout boats developed decades ago in northern Iowa, Minnesota, and other Great Lakes states. And like layout blinds, they enable hunters to access and disappear in wide-open habitats where waterfowl feel safe.
I first realized the advantages of hunting from a layout boat some 25 years ago in Arkansas. I had a Poke Boat (like a kayak, but much more stable). I drove up beside a rice field that held a big concentration of mallards. I lifted the Poke Boat (weighing only 28 pounds) from my car-top carrier, loaded in a dozen decoys and some camo netting, and started dragging the boat into the field.
When the ducks flushed I waded straight to where they'd been resting and tossed out my decoys. Then I pulled the boat to the nearest upwind levee, spread the netting over it, and finally covered the fabric with rice stubble gathered from the surrounding area. Ready to hunt, I crawled into the boat and pulled the net up and my facemask down. This whole effort took less than 15 minutes from the time I left my truck.
The first mallards returned only 10 minutes after I nestled in. I didn't call or move. I simply waited until the birds backpedaled into my small spread. The shooting was close and easy. I collected four greenheads in less than a half-hour.
Since then I have gunned from layout blinds and boats on many occasions. I've lain out in dry fields and shallow marshes and on sandbars, mudflats, pond banks, and wing dams. And in all cases I've felt completely hidden from the birds' vantage.
The concept of layout hunting has been around a long time, but today's layout blinds and boats have taken this tactic to the next level. With them, wide-open spaces are no longer safe havens for waterfowl. Instead, they are now lands (and waters) of opportunity for waterfowl hunters willing to go flat-out in pursuit of their sport.