Did you know there is a group of waterfowl hunters who take just as much pride in hiding their hunting method as they do hiding themselves while hunting? They operate as a secret society during a time when the internet keeps no secrets, and they covertly collect some of the rarest waterfowl specimens in every major flyway while literally keeping a low profile. They are scull boat hunters and they are the elite of waterfowl hunters.
Scull boat hunting (not to be confused with the racing oar boat) originated a little over 100 years ago in the Northeastern United States. During the turn of the century, market hunting waterfowl was legal and it supplied the country’s restaurants with then popular menu items, ducks and geese. However, the highly pressured waterfowl started adapting their methods of staying safe by gathering into large groups, called rafts, on large bodies of water during the day. These birds were simply reverting back to their nesting ground habits by practicing safety in numbers. Hunters were forced to adapt their methods for success, so they began to invent ways to sneak up on the rafted birds. This is when low profile boats were born. There were several different styles of boats that were invented, but scull boats survived them all and their popularity soon moved west. Although the boats originated in the east, hunters on the west coast perfected their use and tweaked their design, and this gave the scull boat its legacy.
These low profile boats were stealthily paddled toward the bird rafts with much success. The birds simply ignored the hunter’s watercraft, thinking they resembled rafts of driftwood. Once the hunters were in range, they could kill numerous birds with a single shot because the birds were packed so tightly together.
The modern scull boat is made of hand-laid fiberglass, and has a neoprene or leather boot installed into the rear transom. Though this boot, a scull oar is inserted and it is what powers the craft through the water and steers it. Scull boats are often 13-15 feet long and although they are mainly used by single hunters, some boats can handle two adults. When sneaking on birds, the hunter is on his back working the oar with his wrist. This action is located just above the chest as the hunter has his head leaning against the transom watching forward. The written explanation of how a hunter ‘sculls,’ does not do the art form justice. You can find a few videos out there while doing a web search. Once viewed, you won’t forget it.
You won’t find a duck hunting scull boat at your local boat yard, or sporting goods store. You will have to search for a used one on the internet, or go to the places that make them.
Michael Bankes, owner of Bankes Boats in Port Rowan, Ontario, is the largest scull boat manufacturer in North America. BB also makes several other duck hunting models, so I asked him what made him decide to manufacture these specialized boats. “We started manufacturing fiberglass duck boats in 1968. We grew tired of cold, leaky aluminum boats and being boat builders and duck hunters when we could not find the perfect duck boat, we decided to make them ourselves,” said Bankes.
“Hunting from a scull boat was once a very popular way to hunt, but today it’s almost a lost art. It is an excellent way to hunt, and interests many people, but I believe the lack of good quality boats has kept many people away from trying it. That’s where we come in.” Indeed, the Bankes’ version of scull boat is aptly called The Predator, and it has a great reputation in the scull boating community.
If you are curious about scull boat hunting for waterfowl, you will have to search the internet for the couple of scull boating forums that exists, and if you want to learn more about Bankes Boats, visit www.bankesboats.com.