As the first frosts of fall begin to shine upon the grass, hunters everywhere begin to look toward the mountains with anticipation and longing. The distant peaks soon become dotted with long trails from the headlights of trucks and ATVs as hunters set out to fill their tags. On public lands, the mountains can become downright crowded when the season hits full swing. Toes begin to get stepped on, hunters begin to crowd each other out, and game eventually gets pushed entirely out of the area. When this happens, instead of trying to shoulder in among the throng, consider finding a new place to hunt—perhaps one accessible only by boat.
Using a boat as your hunting vehicle opens a whole new world of hunting territory. The lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams that are so often viewed as obstacles by hunters on foot and in vehicles can offer those in boats access to some of the most pristine hunting territory an area has to offer. The distant edge of lakes without road access, streams that flow through sections of public forest surrounded by private land, and even distant mountain ridges along river banks that would normally take days to hike to, all become available to hunters utilizing watercraft. It is a method of hunting that has been exploited by almost every culture in history, from the Iroquois chasing moose in birchbark canoes, to the Vikings rowing their ships the mouths of rivers in pursuit of stags and wild boar.
Yet, hunting with a boat can’t be done just anywhere the way hunting from a truck can. Most of the time, hunting expeditions using boats must be planned out weeks beforehand. Considerations must be made for choosing a hunting area, selecting a boat or boats to use, and finding good launching and landing sites. It can be a grand if tedious adventure, with maps of hunting areas being pored over and bodies of water being scouted before the opening of the season. Yet, despite the requisite preparation, using a boat is almost always worth the hassle because it dramatically increases your chances of success.
Select your boat
Choosing a boat to use as a hunting vehicle depends entirely on the body of water you’re planning to access. You want a boat that can safely handle whatever you’re planning on using it for. Trying to row an aluminum jon boat down a river stacked with rapids or paddling a canoe five miles across a white-capped lake that is ripping with wind can not only be exhausting and unrewarding, it can also be flat out dangerous.
For smaller, faster-moving rivers where there is likely to be a number of obstructions, a canoe, kayak, or rubber raft is your best bet. All three can be easily maneuvered in fast current by only one or two people, and can be quickly and easily portaged should the river or stream become impassable. For bigger rivers and lakes, where wind and distance become an issue, larger vessels like rowboats, drift boats, and even small motorboats can be utilized to great effect. It should be noted, though, that whatever boat you choose, it is generally considered to be immoral—and is indeed illegal in many states—to shoot at game from the boat. Only use said boat to gain access to regions, pack out meat, and spot game, not as a shooting platform.
Using a boat as a hunting vehicle is a unique experience. It is not only a way to get away from the crowds and find some new hunting territory, it’s a surreal and beautiful hunting experience. Unlike when you’re driving out of the woods, the sound of the engine and rattling of your equipment surrounding you, on the water, when you’re paddling out with a pair of antlers sticking up from the gunwales of a boat, all the noise of the world simply falls away. It is replaced by the gentle lapping of water against the bow as you travel back from the very heart of the hunting world.