Duck Boats, A Building Tradition

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

hunting regimes, where permanent blinds prevailed, newly developed wetlands primarily offered less regimented hunting with no blinds.

My duck boat ventures in Missouri began in the early 1980s after the Conservation Department developed shallow wetlands on Fountain Grove Conservation Area. Today, a number of shallow marshes offer these types of opportunities on Conservation Department wetland areas. Interest in duck boats grew rapidly as the Conservation Department developed more wetlands, and hunters in chest waders with decoy bags on their backs saw the effectiveness, utility and comfort offered by low-profile duck boats.

Duck boats are only 12 to 14 feet long and 4 feet wide and are easily transported on a small trailer or in the back of a pickup. They weigh little more than 100 pounds and can be push-poled through shallow water and vegetation to a front-row seat in the marsh. The only limitation on amount of snacks, number of decoys and other equipment hauled to the marsh is the size of the cockpit.

After setting decoys, hunters push into rushes and camouflage their boats with bundles of grass woven in netting. They simply lie back in the boat while calling to ducks and sit up to shoot birds coming into the decoys.

Perhaps the most attractive feature of duck boats is comfort. Waterfowlers seldom use "dry" and "warm" to describe duck hunting. However, duck boats offer a way to abandon waders in favor of a cushion in the bottom of the boat. In the rain, hunters can use a plastic or canvas tarp to cover the entire boat until more favorable weather returns.

It didn't take long for other hunters, usually those "mucking" across the marsh in waders, to inquire about how to build a boat. Appropriately, Dad played a role in the succession of duck boat use in Missouri as well, when we held a duck boat building workshop on a March weekend in the mid 1980s.

By the next fall, several more duck boats were in use at Grand Pass and Fountain Grove conservation areas. Many who have built a boat have since guided someone else through the process, and this apprenticeship approach has been responsible for an almost exponential growth of duck boat use in Missouri.

Building a duck boat really is a hands-on process. Rather than explaining how to build a boat, my advice is to find someone who already has built one. Contact any Conservation Department wetland area, and chances are they will know someone who has a boat in progress or will have a workshop planned. triangle

Duck Boat Basics

Basic duck boat design has changed little. Decisions about length (usually 12 to 14 feet) width (no more than the width of a piece of plywood, 48 inches), size of the cockpit (6 to 8 feet) and whether a square-stern boat or double-ender dictate materials and dimensions.

I prefer bigger boats with longer cockpits; they weigh more, but there's more room for decoys and food. Square-stern boats are a little more stable; however, double-enders are easier to navigate through the marsh. I prefer a square-stern because I never remember which end of a double ender is the front.

Builders fashion duck boat frames, gunwales and cockpit from 1-inch pine cut to desired lengths and make the bottom of the boat and deck from 1/4 inch plywood, which they cover with fiberglass. Runners (1-inch by 1-inch of 6- to 8-foot oak), a coat of paint and handles complete the essentials for a working duck boat.

An unlimited number of variations and additional options can be incorporated to tailor duck boats for specific hunting situations. Some hunters include a motor mount on the back deck or oarlocks along the cockpit to provide alternative means of propulsion. Camouflage for the boat will be determined by the type of habitat and each hunter's preference.

These adaptations are just beginning to evolve in Missouri. I can't wait to see the results of Missouri duck hunters' imaginations during the next few years.

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