Duck Boats, A Building Tradition

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

I stepped into a duck boat for the first time in 1956 when I was five years old. Memories of that day with my dad include mud spilling over my boots and a gray day with a light west wind. I sat in front of Dad in a double-end duck boat, shaking with excitement as he called to flocks of ducks.

I don't remember if we shot anything. North Iowa was dry that year, and we were limited to hunting open water for divers. I was hooked anyway. The water, decoys and duck calls became an instant addiction. And the duck boat was where it all started.

Since then, I've jump-shot wood ducks along creeks, stood in flooded timber watching mallards bail through pinoaks and hunted from a variety of temporary and permanent blinds. Yet, my personal duck hunting roots and tradition stem from the duck boats my dad made 50 years ago for the marshes of northern Iowa.

Boats he built and used were similar in form and function to those used for many years in coastal wetlands and later adapted for hunting in prairie marshes. Local wetland conditions dictated the particular regional designs. Some were shallow, narrow double-enders that waterfowlers push-poled through bayous or cattail marshes. Others were square-stern boats that hunters often rowed or equipped with an outboard motor for use in open coastal bays.

Earlier duck boat innovators crafted boats with steamed oak ribs and cedar strips, with canvas covering the deck. Available materials often dictated the design. One of Dad's early boats was a double-ender made from two 1940 Chevrolet hoods welded together. He says that 1940 hoods became pretty scarce for a few years.

By the mid-50s, he was building boats out of plywood strips over pine frames and covered with fiberglass. And a 40-year progression followed as Dad improved on the design and taught me how to build and use duck boats.

When I moved to Missouri in the mid-1970s, I found waterfowling traditions that evolved from hunting rivers, floodplain wetlands and overflow waters. Permanent blinds were the rule where there were predictable water levels. Waterfowlers employed more opportunistic, wade-in or boat-in approaches when seasonal flooding took place. Boats primarily shuttled hunters to and from hunting spots.

Waterfowl hunting took on a new look during the last 20 years as the Conservation Department bought more than 50,000 acres of wetlands and restored more than 20,000 additional acres. In contrast to conventional

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