It only took one hunting trip to prove the allure of duck hunting from a kayak.
By Scott Sommerlatte
Over the years I have taken to the water to chase fowl in more ways than a person could possibly imagine.
When I was younger I would walk miles through the marsh with decoys on my back or travel hours in a rough-riding johnboat or, sometimes, do both in a day in pursuit of a limit of ducks. Later in life I resorted to elaborate contraptions such as marsh buggies and airboats. Now I prefer to revert back to a simpler time in life and can sometimes be found making my way to a favorite duck-hole paddling a kayak.
Last season, a buddy who does most of his outdoor recreation from a kayak told me of a fantastic day of kayak duck hunting. It wasn’t so unusual, but I had never heard of it.
I thought to myself, “A kayak might just make a choice addition to my arsenal of waterfowl hunting tools.” So a-shopping I went.
I was completely overwhelmed by the number of choices available to the consumer when it comes to kayaks. There are several different styles and as many or more different brands. It took me all of one shopping trip to realize that I just did not have a clue.
I had only kayaked a few times with buddies who had a spare and invited me along on a day of fishing. Honestly, I did not even remotely enjoy fishing from a kayak and swore I would never own one. I was completely satisfied with poling around in a skiff, and always wondered what all the hoopla was surrounding this whole “kayak” thing. On top of that, I could not wrap my brain around the concept of it becoming the fastest-growing segment of the outdoor industry.
In spite of all this, now I wanted one, so it was time to do some research to find exactly what I needed in a “yak” for the pursuit of ducks.
At home, I went straight to the garage and started perusing the shelves full of waterfowl hunting gear that I have collected over the last few decades. A kayak is not all that big, I thought, and, unless I want to go straight down to Davy Jones’ locker, the first thing I ought to do is figure out exactly what I need to take down a duck or two.
I narrowed down the equipment list to a few essentials, and then started thinking about the different types of craft and how the limited space might be utilized. After hours of research on the Internet and multiple trips in and out of the garage, I made a decision. I needed the widest model of a sit-on-top-type kayak that I could find. The width would give me stability and the hollow inside of the sit-on-top would give me some dry storage.
At the store, I quickly located a couple of models and then started looking at all the colors. There was no way I would be able to hide a yellow or orange kayak in the marsh, so I narrowed it down to olive drab or tan. While scoping out the boat I decided would go home with me, I realized that there was no place to put any decoys or to carry the dog, should I feel it necessary. Both would easily slide off the top, or at least make the kayak very top-heavy.
I was growing a little frustrated, so I decided to call on my friend, kayak guide Reuben Garza. Garza suggested that I take a look at the Native Watercraft Ultimate. “They are wide and have a completely open cockpit that will hold all of your gear,” he told me. “Since your gear is all in the bottom of the boat, you will have a lower center of gravity, which will help with stability.”
I was back on track. A mutual friend and legendary outdoorsman from Alabama, Jimbo Meador, who designed the Native Watercraft, was quick to inform me that he designed the kayak to be the ultimate tool for the total outdoorsman. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s fly-fishing, hunting, frog gigging — you name it, we’ve done it,” he proclaimed proudly.
I ordered one right then and there. A couple of weeks later I was the proud owner of my first kayak, but I had not even considered all the things that I still needed to even be able to go hunting. Another trip to the store was required for the paddle and life-jacket, all in a camo pattern, of course. And, since duck hunting is often done in inclement and harsh conditions, I decided to pick up a few additional items such as a first-aid kit, a survival kit and a couple of camo dry bags for any gear that I felt would have to stay dry. I was now ready.
Since kayaking was relatively new to me, I decided to make my first trip an easy one, so I took the boat down to my hunting lease and launched in a small wooded lake that often proved difficult to hunt because of the water depth. With decoys and other essentials loaded, I set off for the middle, where there was a good natural blind among some downed trees. Once there, I set my decoy spread from the boat and then paddled up to the spot where I intended to wait for the arrival of any flights.
Situated in the cover, I used some camouflaged burlap sacks to cover the kayak and took a seat on a tree limb. In this situation, the kayak did not look much different than any other tree trunk that had fallen over in the pond and proved to be an excellent floating “shelf” for my gear.
Moments later a flight of teal arrived and was feet down in the decoys before I knew it. The flight immediately vaulted to the air as I stood and leveled the little 20-gauge over-and-under. I missed my first shot as the birds rose and blended into the tree line behind them. I then waited for them to clear the background clutter and become silhouetted against the clear winter sky before pulling the trigger again. The second shot was clean and a green wing drake fell back into the decoys. I then noticed that a pair of birds had broken from the flock and were returning to the spread. I quickly reloaded just in time to make a snap-shot on another drake as the two teal buzzed the decoys. The hunt was a success.
For the rest of the season, I utilized the kayak in various ways. Several times I used it to paddle to and from blinds that were not too far away from my camp. Other times I used it from a larger craft as a tender.
Using a larger outboard boat across the bay when it was rough then loading gear into the kayak and paddling into the shallow marsh to hunt pintails and redheads proved very successful on more than one occasion. The beauty of the kayak in this situation was that, unlike an airboat or bay boat, it is very small and compact, so it was very easy to hide in the spartina grass and mangroves near the blind, which eliminated the long walks through the bog of the marsh to get to and from the boat.
The kayak was also a valuable tool when I was hunting a small pond out in the middle of the saltgrass prairie. Every morning, a flight of 30 or so teal would buzz this pond and we would pass-shoot a bird or two while goose hunting. All our decoys were very tight to the shoreline because the middle was way too boggy to set out and retrieve a decoy spread, so the birds would rarely work the pond. After witnessing this event a couple of times, I realized that I had to get a spread out into the middle of the pond, where the decoys would be visible to the passing flights.
On the next trip, I loaded the kayak into the back of the truck and took it down to the pond. Using it to set the spread worked out perfectly, and it sure paid off. Every flight of ducks that flew within a couple of hundred yards of the pond made a beeline for the blocks, feet down. Even the wily mottled ducks that made the occasional pass on the pond could not resist the large spread sitting out in the middle.
All and all, I would have to say my first season as a kayak hunter was a success. I realize that I have not even begun to scratch the surface of all the possible uses of a duck “yak,” but I hope I have another 20 or 30 years left in me to find out.