The Versatile Duck Blind Canoe: Your Ultimate Waterfowling Companion

When early hunters ventured into the marshes in pursuit of waterfowl, they relied on handmade canoes. Today, this classic duck boat continues to prove its worth in numerous waterfowling scenarios, providing unparalleled access to prime hunting spots. Join us as we explore the many advantages of the tried-and-true duck blind canoe.

Embracing Tradition, Seizing Success

Picture this: sporadic flocks of mallards gracefully hover above your well-placed decoys. These thirsty birds, fresh from field feeding, have been flocking to the lake all morning, avoiding the shorelines where lurking hunters are often found. Instead, their instincts lead them to the safety of a small island.

But on this particular day, the island’s sanctuary was compromised. My hunting partner, Shannon, and I concealed ourselves within well-grassed layout blinds cleverly nestled in the sparse vegetation. Bella, my trusty black Lab, adorned a makeshift ghillie suit and eagerly sat behind my blind, soaking wet yet content from earlier retrieves. As two more greenheads met their fate, we reached our mallard limits and patiently waited for a pintail or wigeon to complete our bag.

They say patience is a virtue, and that virtue rewarded us generously. The distant whistles of pintail drakes caught our attention, prompting us to freeze in our blinds, our movements reduced to mere glances. Flying past us, they seemed to be heading away until we grabbed our pintail whistles and called. The flock responded. Just like the mallards, they gracefully descended from the clear sky, dropping towards the glistening water and our meticulously arranged decoys. We each selected a drake, and as their feathers kissed the water’s surface, Bella sprang into action, retrieving our prize. Our hunt was complete. It was a moment of triumph and satisfaction.

“We were on the X today, Mike,” Shannon exclaimed. “Damn fine hunt.”

Indeed, it was a memorable experience. But to be on the X, to truly optimize your chances of success, getting to that coveted destination is crucial. And on that fateful morning, Shannon and I were the fortunate ones. Why? It’s simple: we had a canoe.

The Canoe: An Ageless Icon

Consider the allure of a canoe painted in camo or olive drab. When overturned on a beach, it effortlessly blends into its surroundings, becoming indistinguishable from a mere log. With a shallow draft and the ability to navigate in as little as a few inches of water, canoes are ideally suited for habitats with limited depths. Moreover, their lightweight nature enables one or two hunters to effortlessly carry them into seemingly inaccessible spots. Suddenly, those hidden gems without a boat launch become feasible hunting areas. Canoes provide the means to silently approach ducks for jump-shooting or traverse a lake without alarming every bird within hearing range. In addition, their sleek design makes for easier maneuverability through reeds or cattails compared to other watercraft options.

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As I reflect on my earliest duck hunting memories, I recall my father’s square-stern Old Town canoe—a vessel that ignited my passion for waterfowling. Later, when I acquired my very own duck boat, it was an Old Town Pathfinder canoe that faithfully served me. Across the globe, cultures have developed countless variations of canoes, carved from logs and crafted from bark or animal skins. It’s safe to assume that waterfowlers from ancient times harnessed the unique capabilities of canoes for hunting pursuits, making these vessels the original duck boats.

And here’s the remarkable part—they remain a reliable choice to this day.

Mastering the Art of Canoeing

A cautionary tale: a group of young college hunters picked a prime spot on one of the region’s best duck lakes. With their decoys strategically placed near an island, it promised to be a successful hunt. However, circumstances took an unfortunate turn.

Devoid of a retriever, the hunters relied on their canoe to fetch downed ducks. Initially, everything went smoothly as both individuals embarked on retrieval missions. But as the hunt neared its end, one hunter decided to venture out alone. Positioned at the stern, with all the weight shifted to the back, the bow soared above the water’s surface, effectively transforming the canoe into an unstable sail. As the overeager hunter reached over the side to grab a fallen duck, he was unceremoniously dumped into the frigid lake. A sudden gust of wind swiftly separated him from the canoe, leaving his partner stranded.

Fortunately, the hunter in the water was wearing a life jacket and began swimming towards the nearby island. Meanwhile, his partner promptly dialed emergency services. However, fate had a different plan. Another group of hunters, returning from their own waterfowling adventure in a boat, noticed the drifting canoe and instinctively realized someone was in danger. They swiftly sprung into action, rescuing the distressed individual and eventually reuniting him with his partner onshore.

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Stories like these often deter individuals from considering canoes as a viable option. Indeed, canoes may present a more delicate balancing act compared to their sturdier counterparts. However, with practice and skill, mastering the art of canoeing is within reach.

Unveiling Best Practices

I can still vividly recall the moment when my brother lowered our Grumman canoe onto the water’s edge. Positioned parallel to the shore, it was time to load our gear. My dad offered a critical piece of advice, one that would remain etched in my memory: “Always, always, keep the center of balance low in a canoe. Lay down that sack or, better yet, empty it so the weight can be evenly distributed.”

This lesson is frequently overlooked. The higher the center of gravity, the greater the risk of capsizing. Heavy items such as decoys, shell boxes, and shotguns should be positioned closer to the canoe’s bottom, while lighter gear can be placed on top. Even lightweight items must avoid extending above the gunwales to prevent catching the wind. Paddlers should also “make themselves small” by crossing their ankles, placing their feet under the seat, and angling their knees out and down. In rough water, a prudent approach involves sinking to your knees until calmer conditions prevail.

Once our canoe was properly loaded, my dad instructed me to climb in while he steadied the craft in the water. As I settled into the bow seat, bracing the canoe with my paddle, he positioned himself in the stern. Lastly, he commanded our trusty black Lab, Kim, to remain still, and she obediently sat in front of him.

Entering and exiting a canoe requires a specific technique. It must be done from the side and only when the craft is fully afloat. If either the bow or stern rests on the shore, the canoe’s balance will be compromised. This is particularly critical when approaching the shoreline. If the canoe is paddle straight onto land and the bow paddler disembarks first, the weight will shift entirely to the rear, increasing the likelihood of tipping. As for our canine companions, they should always enter last and exit first, following our commands and only when both paddlers are prepared.

Conquering the Open Water

Picture this challenging scenario: canvasbacks, renowned for their preference for expansive bodies of water, are gathered in a lake that stretches further than most would dare paddle a canoe. Shannon and I selected a prairie lake known for its sizeable rafts of canvasbacks on a day with a weather forecast that predicted mild winds until the afternoon. As expected, our forecast was only partially accurate.

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The lake we chose lacked a designated boat launch, forcing us to launch our canoe from the side of a public road. Our plan involved a three-quarter-mile paddle to reach our hunting spot, where we intended to bag our birds swiftly before the wind picked up. Luckily, our hunt proved fruitful, with two canvasbacks each and additional redheads and wigeon to complete our limits. However, the wind intensified earlier than anticipated. By the time we gathered our decoys and loaded the canoe, frothy whitecaps danced atop two-foot swells.

Appreciating the advantages of my 17-foot, 13-inch-deep canoe, I felt a sense of assurance amidst the load we carried. With a lifetime of paddling experience on sizable bodies of water, I maintained a composed demeanor as we raced down the lake. Shannon, a native Texan well-versed in the ways of pirogues (akin to canoes), matched my confidence. Trust in your paddling partner is invaluable.

The grin on my face was uncontainable as we surfed down the lake, exhilarated by the adventure that unfurled before us. We had managed to collect a splendid bag of ducks from an idyllic spot inaccessible to other hunters. Every duck circling the lake had been ours alone to lure in and work. The canoe had been the key to this triumph, and now it would safely return us to shore. As we neared the bank, a familiar pickup truck caught our attention. Homer and his son Wyatt, a pair of Shannon’s friends from Texas, had embarked on their inaugural prairie waterfowling trip. Aware of our plans and concerned about the escalating winds, they had driven out to ensure our well-being.

Wading into the water, Wyatt provided stability as we disembarked, and together we hauled the canoe ashore. “We thought we’d be rescuing your sorry butts from the water,” Homer joked, half-seriously. “You guys must be crazy.”

“Ah, Homer,” I responded, chuckling. “Riding those waves was exhilarating! Not a single drop of water made its way into the canoe. And just look at our impressive string of ducks!”

Crazy? Perhaps we are. Crazy about ducks, without a doubt. But choosing a canoe as our trusted companion? That’s not crazy—it’s a sound decision.

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