Tuesday, December 1, 2009


"River Wolf! I need a pick-up. Two Bumblebee Dippers in the decoys. Right side."

What a bizarre sentence, huh? Such was part of some radio chatter the day after Thanksgiving. Here is a little background....

Prior to the passing of International Migratory Bird Act of 1918, a sinkbox was a regular and accepted way to hunt waterfowl. What in the world is a sinkbox, you ask? Imagine a box large enough to accommodate one or two people. Take that box and place it in the water so the hunter is more or less below the surface. When he stands up, his shoulders, head, and shotgun are above the water. Panels lying at the water's surface like wings provide stability and a place to set a series of cast-iron decoys. By the time the Bird Act was passed, it was known that the sinkbox was too lethal. The ducks never saw the hunters. Post-1918, it became illegal to hunt waterfowl when the body of the hunter was below the surface of the water.

Enter the layout boat.

Combine, if you can, a coffin with a giant pumpkin seed. That's it. A coffin and a giant pumpkin seed. This "boat", upwards of 8 feet long, made of wood or fiberglass, will now have a very low profile and a place to accommodate a hunter (or two sitting shoulder to shoulder). Here is the catch - the bodies of the hunters will be above the the surface. Not by much, but they are.

There is no power on this boat, by the way. It is towed into place and anchored. You have to have a second boat, at least. Some use a third boat. Our rig? Three. The layout boat, the main boat, and pick-up boat (used to ferry the hunters between the other two and to pick up the ducks).

Oh wait. Now we have to trick the ducks into coming closer, right? That is where the decoys come in and their arrangement is key. In our case, we had seven lines maybe 75 feet long (I'm not sure). At each end? An anchor. So, if you throw it in the water, it is weighted at both ends, right? Evenly spaced across the line are 10 or eleven decoys attached to the main line by a shorter segment of line. Set perpendicular to the wind, five main lines are placed in front of the boat with the other two lines behind the boat. The boat is set so that the length of the boat is parallel to the wind. Got all that?

I think the pic on the left pulls it all together (I took it last year, but that is not the point!). Mid-frame? That is the layout boat. While this is a two-person boat, you can have a one-person boat, too. See the low profile of the boat? Now imagine the two hunters are on their backs. Gone. You won't see them. The ducks won't either. The two-person craft is, well, cozy. In the distant right portion of the image you can see two boats - the main boat and pick-up boat.

Ultimately, it comes together like this. The ducks, looking for a place to feed, see the decoys and think "Hey, they have some chow! I want some, too!" Not concerned about the boat, they come into the decoys from downwind. By landing into the wind (just like planes on a aircraft carrier), they have better control of their speed and lift and can land more smoothly. With the hunter's head propped up over the combing of the boat, the ducks "out front" are clearly seen as they make the final approach. Just before they land, they drop their legs. That's the signal. If they are in range (within the distant-most line of decoys), you sit up, aim, and fire.

All in all, the day went very well. Current regs allow for six total birds per person. I shot my six. Five Buffleheads and a Redhead. The best chances I had with the Buffleheads (historically known as Bumblebee Dippers) involved them slowing down to land or taking off (at one point, I had birds landing in the decoy spread!). In both cases, air speed was minimal. During flybys, the groups would pass low over the decoys, as if to investigate the situation. Their petite size and speed combine for the ultimate illusion and make them look like they are flying even faster than the published speed of 60 mph. Not quite the speed of light, but certainly too fast for this guy...

The layout boat and the main boat are in communication with radios. Apparently, no one uses their own name over the airwaves and no one picks their own handle. "River Wolf "was running the show. Normally, "Magnum", his son, is on hand too, but he was hunting in Ohio. "Decoy Slayer" was in for the day, while "Buckshot" was there for part the afternoon. My name? I was happy it was not "Moron", "Dufous", or "Asshat". Sure, I like beer, but mixing a beer call sign with hunting would be hugely stupid and no joking matter.

Good ducks. Good friends. Good times. The weather and temps cooperated (it was a bit windy, but manageable) and the home-baked pumpkin pie, courtesy of my mom, made for some good nibbles while waiting out in the main boat. All things considered, it was a great day.

Birdman out.


Holly said...

It is prolly a good thing that Magnum wasn't there. . . I heard he likes to ravage the lunch sacks left back on the main boat, so there would've been no pie left for you!

Paul said...

Actually, he would have been welcome to finish it off! I was hoping everyone would have at least *some* of it, so I wouldn't have a whole pie to myself. As it was, I took half of it home....