Most of what we do in the course of hunting ducks and geese is inexplicable to those who are not so afflicted. They can never understand, and perhaps we should not expect them to.
If you’re still able, try to clear your head, step back, and consider objectively the lengths and expense to which we go to bag ducks and geese. Maybe we are nuts!
Even among hopelessly addicted waterfowlers, those who submerge to hunt are a specially afflicted breed. In a more rational world, layout boats and sink boxes might be considered inhumane torture chambers, but in fact, hunting at or below the waterline today enjoys popularity it has never seen before. Modern designs and materials make layout boats safer and more comfortable, and therefore, a more viable option than ever before. Yet, it can be no coincidence the rebirth and moonshot of layout boat hunting popularity coincides with the invention and accessibility of chemical hand, foot, toe, neck and kidney warmers!
But why? Why do we do it? What is the irresistible draw to hunting from below waterline? Simple! It’s so crazy effective. If your desire in waterfowling is to draw the birds in so close, to fool them so completely you can reach out and touch their magnificent feathers, then your bucket list must include layout boat and sink box hunting.
Once you experience this style of hunting, you’ll understand the willingness to abandon sleep and traverse black, wind-whipped waters. Then you’ll numb your fingers putting out gigantic spreads of decoys amongst which to hide yourself submerged in barely liquid water. You’ll then shoot at ducks incredibly difficult to hit from that position and with cold, aching muscles.
Hunting ducks from below the waterline is literally one of those “you have to be there” experiences. Until you feel the slap of the chopping waves through the thin fiberglass against your backside or peek over the lip of the sink box at the distant tender boat and wonder, “Hmmmm … how fast can he get here if I really need to pee?” you really can’t know its allure.
A few hardworking watermen on Quebec’s St. Lawrence River still place and tend sink boxes for tourist hunters. It’s the last place in North America you can legally hunt from a sink box.
A sink box is a pit blind in open water. In olden days they were wooden boxes, but today are mostly steel. The box, usually just big enough for one gunner to squat, but occasionally built for two, is suspended in the center of a pumpkin-seed-shaped float. Canvas panels deploy from the sides of the float to prevent waves breaching the box. Water washing over the gray panels and float, just to the edge of the box, adds to the vanishing effect. Nothing is more than six inches above the water, usually less. The decoy spread extends right on to the float itself.
The birds don’t have a clue. SOP is to spot them at a distance, usually already on the deck. With divers and sea ducks in particular, there’s seldom calling, circling or other falderal. They see the spread; they come in. Legs are out. Deployed webbed feet add air braking. You stand up, point your gun, and learn just how gold the eyes of goldeneyes truly are.
Oh … the reason sink boxes are outlawed everywhere else? They are just too effective!
The next best semi-submersible hide is a layout boat, and today they’re found in growing numbers nearly everywhere ducks are hunted. The East Coast is where they started back in market gunning days, and they’re still popular there. However, the fastest growing numbers of devotees are found on the Great Lakes, on Utah’s Great Salt Lake, and on the California Coast. On Wisconsin’s Green Bay, it’s not uncommon to await the dawn watching the winking lights of as many as 30 other rigs setting up in popular stretches.
And they aren’t only the choice exclusively of diver-crazy hunters, either. Puddle ducks in hard-hunted marshes have wised up and often spend languid days rafted in relative safety of open water. That’s where smart hunters are waiting more often. On one recent December layout boat hunt on the estuaries of the Great Salt Lake, our group of six hunters took limits composed of 12 different species from the same pair of spreads in a single day.
To experience the full scope of waterfowling, you must try hunting from below the waterline. There’s nothing else quite like it.