Tips for safely hunting waterfowl from a kayak

Kayaks can change the way you hunt for the better. (Photo by: Matt Zvolanek)

I still remember the first thought of using a kayak for duck hunting. It was almost a decade ago now, during an early season teal hunt. I had just settled into a spot in a public swamp when a headlamp slowly moved my direction out to the water. A fellow hunter paddled out into the black of night on his way to stake a claim on a spot that was out of reach for us with only waders or didn’t want to swim early in the morning. Less than an hour after legalization, the same hunter paddled by. “How have you been?” I asked from standing in my hole in the cattails. “I have my limit.”

Why hunt ducks and geese from a kayak?

There are several advantages to using a kayak for duck hunting. kayaks are Easier more transportable over dry land than their larger, motorized counterparts, and can be towed to places even a mud motor cannot reach. Accessibility is perhaps the greatest advantage of the kayak. Similarly, loading and unloading a kayak can typically be done by just one person anywhere and often without the towing of a cumbersome trailer.

Quiet and stealthy, Kayaks allow one to enter the swamp with minimal disturbance to its feathered inhabitants. On numerous occasions I have arrived at the swamp early and am always amazed at how the ducks swim back and forth through the cattails, oblivious to the floating dark mass paddling nearby.

Kayaks also feature a cheaper option to larger, motorized duck boats, with the most affordable kayaks starting at around $200 and coming without the seemingly never-ending repair bills (spoken like a former duck boat owner).

Duck hunting with a kayak
Kayaks can go where other duck boats cannot. (Photo by: Matt Zvolanek)

Things to consider when choosing a kayak

Before you buy a kayak, you need to answer a few questions: sit-on or sit-in, transport or hide, kayak length, propulsion method, and budget.

  • Sit on vs sit in: Sit-on kayaks offer greater stability, are self-draining, and tend to be more comfortable than the sit-in alternatives. They also offer more storage options, some models even with drying compartments. The disadvantages are that they are heavier and less portable than sit-ins. Seat kayaks are generally lighter, more mobile and offer more protection to the occupant. The downsides are that they are harder to get in and out of and they can collect water while hunting.
  • Transport vs Hide: You have to decide what exactly you want to use your kayak for. Some hunters, like me, tend to only use their kayaks for transport and then set up their hideout once they reach their destination. Others choose to make the kayak their hideout, whether through a manufactured kayak blind or a homemade ingenuity. Turning a kayak into a blind has inherited advantages, namely that its lower profile allows hunting short, flooded vegetation where other blinds would protrude. Preferred pickup position, added weight, and reduced equipment carrying capacity are some of the reasons some choose the carry-only option.

  • Kayak length: Longer kayaks are easier to paddle, have more stability and allow for greater gear carrying capacity. They also track better than short ones and are a better option for those with dogs. The disadvantages of longer kayaks are that they turn more slowly and are more difficult to transport. As an 8ft, 12ft and 16ft kayak owner, the 12ft kayak is my preferred option except on windier/colder days when increased stability is desired.
  • Drive method: There are three types of propulsion available for kayaks: paddle, pedal propulsion and motorized. Paddling is the cheapest and most strenuous option. Pedal-powered kayaks are foot-powered, while motorized kayaks are typically powered by a small trolling motor. Both pedal-driven and motorized are better for those who need to travel longer distances. Kayaks can come with a built-in trolling motor or can be added as an afterthought. Be sure to check the state regulations you plan to hunt regarding licensing and registration for powered vessels.
  • budget: As indicated above, budget plays an important role in your decision. Pedal-driven and motorized kayaks will be more expensive, as will longer ones. Late summer / flea markets can be great places to find kayaks cheaply.
Duck hunting with a kayak
There are several decisions you need to make in order to find the best kayak for duck hunting. (Photo by: Matt Zvolanek)

Helpful tips for hunting from a kayak

During my years of kayaking I have learned many lessons that can make kayaking easier and more successful. As with any duck hunt, camouflage is key. Using ultra flat spray paint on anything that might shine or look unnatural will help your kayak blend in better, as will carrying a camouflage cloth to throw over it. For those using your kayak as a privacy screen, this shouldn’t pose much of a problem.

Jet sleds are a must-have and can allow for more gear to be carried without too much extra effort. A dry bag of spare clothing and a floating gun case are also necessary if the inevitable spillage happens. Most kayaks have bungees built in for this reason, but if they don’t, I recommend tying up all your gear, as well as paddles.

Duck hunting with a kayak
With a little ingenuity, you can build a kayak that best suits your needs. (Photo by: Matt Zvolanek)

The sword

Safety should always be the top priority of every kayak hunter. With the mostly unfavorable weather in which we duck hunters love to travel, a lot can go wrong in a short amount of time when you’re on a tiny ship surrounded by water. Life jackets or other PFDs are a must. Even the most stable kayak can and will tip over at some point. You also need to know your limits. There’s no shame in choosing a safer alternative or leaving the kayak at home on a day of foamy tops, poor visibility or other extreme weather conditions.

Having hunted this way for a number of years, I remember the unique experiences my kayaks have given me. From the sheer number of regions I have been able to traverse to the curious school of mallards that swam straight at me hours before sunrise, and even considering the many dives I have undertaken, one thing is certain; Kayaks have changed my duck hunting for the better.

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