Layout Duck Hunting

Layout Duck Hunting

By: Jim Klein

If one has never experienced layout boat hunting, it is definitely an experience that must go on the bucket list.  We hunt the Bay of Green Bay in layout boats for diver ducks. There is something about having ducks come barreling in at you a foot off the water.  It is truly something that must be seen to believe.

The Bay of Green Bay has become a diver duck hunter’s paradise. People are now coming from all areas near and far to hunt the bay. For example, last year we had people from 12 different states come to the bay to hunt. The main reason the bay has become such a magnet for ducks is the zebra mussel. Ducks will fly into the bay and fuel up on the zebra mussels before taking off for their southern destination.  The ducks use the bay as a preferred layover spot on their long fall trek.

Layout boat hunting on any body of water can be a challenge, but it is also exhilarating. It takes time and commitment to be successful as there is a lot of work involved.  Not only is good equipment needed, but an extensive amount of time is spent scouting for birds every day. When hunting big water like the Bay of Green Bay or Lake Winnebago, good equipment is a must. The weather in the fall can be very tricky and can change at a moment’s notice. Add to this the fact that the temperatures can hover just above freezing.  Poor equipment just adds the chances of there being problems.  But once you gain experience, learn the area, and spend some time, the payoff hunting using this technique can be HUGE!

If you would like to set up for layout boat hunting, here are a few of the things you will need. First, a tender boat, which is used to transport the layout boat in and out of the hunting area. It is also setup away from the layout boat to retrieve any ducks that are taken.  The layout boat is either placed inside the tender boat or on top of it for transport.  The tender boat is also the hub of the entertainment-common phrases such as, “Oops, missed again,” and “Another swing and a miss,” can fill a morning as the shooter in the layout boat blasts away trying to fill a limit.   The tender boat is oftentimes more fun than the layout boat (of course that depends on your group).

Of course, a layout boat will also be needed, and there are a few that are commercially made or there are plans for the do-it-yourselfer to make one.  The layout boat is very important in that it needs to be of quality, comfort and durability. Be sure to do your research and, if possible, try one out before purchasing or building.

Last, but not least, are your decoys. You will need a variety of decoys depending on the species of ducks you wish to hunt. My personal rig has bluebills, canvasbacks and goldeneyes. The most effective way to rig the decoys is what we call gang rings or lines. These are lines that can hold between 10 and 15 decoys per line and can be set and retrieved in a fairly quick manner. There is an anchor on each end of these lines that hold them in place.

The layout boat is usually set with an anchor off the stern and an anchor off the bow. Your decoys are then set according to what shooter is in the boat. What I mean by that is if you have a left-handed shooter, the decoys have to be set so that he or she can easily swing over them, just the opposite of if you have a right-handed shooter. Your decoys should not be farther than 25 to 30 yards from the shooter.  Any further out than that and your chances of crippling the ducks and not being able to retrieve them increases greatly.  It is very important not to have your decoys too far from your layout boat. This also allows your shooter to judge the distance of the birds he or she is trying to shoot.

The layout boat and the tender boat should both have handheld radios and individuals should be in constant communication with each other. The handheld radios and communication are essential to have both a safe hunt and in being able to retrieve all the ducks that are shot.  We also like to have a flag in our layout boat in case there would be a problem with a radio so that the hunter can communicate with the tender boat. There are many other ways to have a successful layout boat hunt, but this style and setup have worked consistently for us over the years.

If one would like to try layout boat hunting before making the investment, it would be wise to hire a licensed guide. Many of my clients have set up their own rigs after hunting with us one or two times. Many people hunt this way once or twice a year just to experience the thrill of shooting ducks at very close ranges. So remember in the fall if you have a hankering to shoot bluebills, redheads, canvasbacks, goldeneyes and even shovelers- give layout boat hunting a try.

If you have any questions or wish to book a hunt, please contact Captain Jim Klein at Bills and Gills Guide Service 920-680-7660.


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