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When I started looking at kayaks for duck hunting I knew I wanted something small, lightweight, and spacious. I needed a boat that could access small water, go over beaver dams, and have enough room to carry my excessive amount of gear. Those were my requirements. But each waterfowler has different needs based on where they hunt, how they hunt, and what they target.
Since my first duck hunting kayak, I’ve collected a small boatyard of hand-powered watercrafts—all for the purpose of killing ducks and geese. I am constantly trying to figure out how my boat can improve my success. Does it hide well? Can I jump shoot out of it? Is it seaworthy for where I hunt? These questions have led me in search of the perfect duck hunting kayak/canoe. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t exist. However, there are plenty of great options for waterfowlers. I’ve compiled this list of the best kayaks for duck hunting so you can find the right boat for you.
Best Overall: Old Town Discovery 119Best Sit-on-Top: Ascend 12T Sit-On-Top KayakBest for Big Water: Old Town Big Water 132Best Sit-In: Ascend FS10 Sit-In Angler Desert Storm KayakBest Two-Person Boat: Old Town Saranac 146 Canoe
Best Overall: Old Town Discovery 119
Why It Made The Cut: The Old Town Discovery 119 is a hybrid canoe/kayak made for duck hunters. It offers the simple design of a one-person canoe with the speed, agility, and handling of a kayak.
Length: 11’9”Weight: 56 lbsMaterial: Three Layer Polyethylene
Very lightweightSpacious for gearExtremely comfortable seat
I had the chance to test and review the Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman this fall on a week-long duck hunt. After my first morning in the marsh, I knew this was the best canoe/kayak I’d ever hunted from. That’s because I’ve never used a one-man boat that can hold as much gear as the Discovery 119 and still perform flawlessly. The adjustable kayak-style seat allowed me to be the most comfortable I’ve ever been while paddling. My back didn’t hurt during my two-mile paddle to the hole, and that’s saying something.
But what makes this the ultimate duck hunting canoe/kayak is the boat’s ability to access virtually any water with ease, thanks to the lightweight design. This boat is easy to carry, transport, and throw on top of a car. Not to mention it feels like a feather in the water without sacrificing stability. The control and maneuverability of the boat—even when loaded with gear—is unmatched. Sharp turns and tight funnels are light work for the Discovery 119. I loaded mine with two dozen decoys, a blind bag, a shotgun, a marsh seat, extra jackets, and more. This canoe/kayak continued to impress me all through duck season and never let me down, not even once.
The author with a drake wood duck after a successful hunt from his Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman. Ryan Chelius
Best Sit-on-Top: Ascend 12T Sit-On-Top Kayak
Why It Made The Cut: The Ascend 12T has enough room for decoy addicts to bring their big spreads while still being able to disappear in the marsh.
Length: 12’Weight: 77 lbsMaterial/Design: Rotomolded, custom-crafted tunnel hull
Plenty of storage Compatible with Northern Flight kayak blindExtremely stable
My first duck hunting kayak was the Ascend 10T sit-on-top and I loved it. The only downside was that it didn’t have as much storage as I wanted, so that’s why I’m recommending the same boat, just two feet longer. The sit-on-top design allows for ample gear storage and makes it extremely easy to get in and out of the boat. In fact, I usually recommend hunters start out with a sit-on-top for this reason. The ability to easily get in and out of your kayak is crucial not only for the effectiveness of the hunt (getting over beaver dams, picking up decoys, retrieving birds) but also for safety. You can’t sink the Ascend 12T if you wanted to, and god forbid you do go overboard, you won’t be trapped under the kayak.
When it comes to hunting, there is more than enough room to store gear in the bow and stern. Plus, the boat tracks (which refers to the kayak’s ability to stay on course) almost perfectly and hides surprisingly well for a 12-footer. You can even buy the Cabela’s Northern Flight Kayak Blind if you want to hunt directly from it. Coming in at 77 pounds, it leans on the heavier side, but if you have a hunting buddy with you, you won’t have any issues carrying and transporting this kayak.
Best for Big Water: Old Town Big Water 132
Why It Made The Cut: It’s the most stable hunting kayak on the market and can handle the rough conditions of open water.
Length: 13’ 2”Weight: 86 lbsMaterial/Design: Single Layer Polyethylene
Built for rough waterExtremely stablePlenty of storage Hunting-specific accessories
Duck hunting from a small boat is very dangerous. This applies to most kinds of waterfowl hunting, but is especially true when hunting from a kayak. Safety is always the most important consideration when hunting, and if you plan to venture out into rough water for divers or sea ducks, you want a kayak that you know will get you back home. The Old Town Big Water 132 is made to for waterfowl hunters wanting to take on big, open water conditions. This self-bailing sit-on-top kayak has a quick seal bow hatch that provides plenty of dry storage in the hull of the bow. The center console pod offers unique storage for your phone, keys, ammo, and other small pieces of gear. It also completely opens up to the bottom of the hull to store your shotgun. The Big Water 132 comes with an adjustable seat and even more storage in the stern for decoys and gear. The tri-hull design provides increased stability and paddling efficiency in open water. If you know you’ll be hunting in deep water, the Big Water PDL might be worth a look for increased speed with peddling assistance.
Best Sit-In: Ascend FS10 Sit-In Angler Desert Storm Kayak
Why It Made The Cut: The Ascend 10T gives you the benefits of a sit-in kayak but with plenty of storage for decoys and gear.
Length: 10’Weight: 57 lbsMaterial/Design: High-density linear polyethylene construction
Very stableAdjustable seatAccessory rails
Difficult to get in and out of
I wouldn’t normally recommend a sit-in kayak for duck hunting because it’s difficult to get in and out of. But if you’re set on getting a sit-in kayak, the Ascend 10T is your best bet. You get the leg and spray protection of a sit-in design while still getting the storage space of a sit-on-top in the stern. The other major benefit is that this boat is 20 pounds lighter than its cousin, the Ascend 12T sit-on-top. That is enough reason to buy this boat, especially if you hunt alone. I started kayak duck hunting from the Ascend 10T sit-on-top and loved it for the tight creeks and swamps I hunt in the Northeast. This boat can handle shallow water, is easy to drag through mud, and disappears with minimal cover. Better yet, you can hunt right from it: Just adjust the seats back and get some good cover.
Best Two-Person Boat: Old Town Saranac 146 Canoe
Why It Made The Cut: This two-person canoe is lightweight, easy to control, and paddles smoothly. Plus, it is ideal for jump shooting.
Length: 14’ 6”Weight: 79 lbsMaterial/Design: Thermoformed polyethylene
Perfect for jump shootingAdjustable seatsStable
I know this isn’t a kayak, but hear me out. In my opinion, two-person kayaks don’t work for hunting. They don’t offer enough storage space, and to be blunt, they just aren’t built for the job. Canoes, on the other hand, have a long history in waterfowling. I grew up hunting wood ducks and mallards out of this Old Town Saranac 146 two-man canoe.
The Saranac 146 is as simple as a canoe can get. It has two seats and some dry storage in the middle. Other than that, it is completely open to store gear, decoys, marsh seats, and more. The canoe paddles and tracks very well and is surprisingly easy to get out of. The gunnels are the perfect height to hop in and out of without any issues while still offering some protection from the water. The simplicity of this boat allows for great customization opportunities and I took advantage of that by installing a DIY gun rack, which keeps our guns off the bottom of the boat and away from water. The Saranac 146 is also ideal for jump shooting. The hunter in the back paddles slowly and quietly while the hunter in the bow is ready to shoot. This works best on small, winding creeks where you can surprise birds coming around tight bends. Skip the two-person kayak and buy the Saranac 146. I guarantee you it’s the better choice, and you’ll kill more birds.
The author with a two-man bag of ducks after a successful hunt. Ryan Chelius
Things to Consider Before Buying a Kayak for Duck Hunting
The most important consideration when buying a kayak for duck hunting is where you hunt. You should tailor your kayak purchase to your style of hunting. Start by determining if you want a sit-on-top or sit-in kayak. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, although many hunters opt for a sit-on-top boat. Once you decide on your boat style, you can consider factors like jump shooting, camouflaging, and accessories.
Kayak Design: Sit-On-Top or Sit-In
Sit-on-top kayaks lack a cockpit and feature a flat deck where the paddler sits above the water line. Most of these kayaks are built with drainage holes to prevent water from accumulating and are extremely difficult to sink. The open design is safer. If you fall overboard, you will instantly separate from the kayak, making it difficult to get stuck or trapped in or under the boat. Sit-on-top kayaks also offer good storage space and are easy to climb in and out of.
Sit-in kayaks are designed with a subsurface cockpit that the kayaker sits inside while paddling. The enclosed design helps keep water off the paddler, but makes it more difficult to get in and out of the boat. Sit-in kayaks have limited space since the paddler’s body takes up most of the cockpit. They virtually have zero deck storage and most gear has to be kept in a closed compartment, if there is one. They are, however, usually lighter and faster than sit-on-top kayaks.
Overall, a sit-on-top kayak is much more comfortable and conducive to duck hunting. Waterfowl hunters have to constantly get in and out of their boat, lift their kayak over beaver dams and obstructions, and need ample storage space for gear.
Length and Weight
The best length and weight for a hunting kayak depends on where you hunt. If you are hunting small, winding creeks in the Northeast, a lightweight 10- to 12-foot kayak is ideal. But if you’re planning to hunt open water, you need a more seaworthy boat. Remember, safety is the most important thing here. Your boat needs to be able to handle the conditions and environment you hunt in. A 10-foot paddle kayak will not get it done in open water, but a 14-foot ocean kayak will.
You also have to consider how you launch your kayak, where you’ll store it, and how you’ll transport it. Heavier kayaks are difficult to carry and lift by yourself, especially if you have a long walk to the put-in.
Many hunters overlook the effectiveness and fun of jump shooting ducks from a kayak. Although it can be difficult, jump shooting ducks from a kayak is a great way to fill your strap. The most important consideration here is your ability to have easy and safe access to your loaded gun while paddling. When you come around a bend and jump a duck, you have to drop the paddle and pick up the gun. Due to their open design, sit-on-top kayaks tend to have more room for your shotgun and a wider range of movement.
Your hide is the most important part of any duck hunt. It should go without saying that a duck hunting kayak should be painted in camo or a dark color. If not, you’ll need a piece of camo burlap to cover it up. If you plan on hunting directly from your kayak, consider a kayak blind or some other form of concealment.
How I Made My Picks
I’ve been hunting from kayaks and canoes since I was 14 years old. In fact, I’ve become quite the boat nut. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my kayak to kill more ducks, whether that’s a better hide or a more effective hull design. The most important thing I’ve learned is that your kayak should be tailored to the habitat and conditions you hunt in. A deep V-hull won’t do you any good in a couple inches of water. On the other hand, a flat bottom boat will be dangerous in big, open water. Think about what boat design will excel in the area you hunt. Once you get that down, straps full of ducks will follow.
My obsession with ducks has led me to some pretty cool places across the country. But there is no question that hunting small water from a kayak or canoe is my favorite way to chase birds. The thrill of small water hunting is hard to put into words. Kayaks are a great way to access small water and get to the places most people aren’t willing to go. But not every kayak is created equal and that’s why it is critical to determine what you need your boat to do before making a purchase. The best kayaks for duck hunting are ones built for the water you hunt, have plenty of storage, and are easy to paddle.
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