Duck Hunting Canoe: Top Tips and Tricks

Floating as silently as possible, listening to the sound of nature all around you. The soft breeze rustling the tree tops, the gentle splashing of water against your canoe and then, the call of a duck. The river is bending and all of a sudden ducks are all around.

It’s a duck hunter’s dream and a far cry from a typical duck hunt, in which one can find themselves in a crowded area surrounded by other hunters. Duck hunting canoe opens up a whole new world of opportunity and requires no small amount of skill. It’s a traditional method of catching ducks that is difficult, but exciting and ultimately rewarding.

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If you expect to simply jump into a canoe, float down a river and bag some ducks you’re in for a surprise. Ducks are smart creatures and very wary, especially if they’ve been shot at previously.

It takes a skilled hunter to get close and an even more skilled hunter to come home with some ducks for dinner. Read on for some great tips, from the best type of canoe to use, to what to look out for on the water.

A kid showing off his duck kills

The benefits of using a canoe

Duck hunting is a popular sport in the States and the season sees many hunters kitting up and heading for a prime location on the water. Many duck hunters find that the best public hunting grounds are typically overcrowded during duck season. This is where a canoe can make a huge difference.

  • Access to more remote areas
  • Get away from overcrowded hunting grounds
  • Peaceful with stunning natural scenery
  • Possibility of coming across other prey, such as squirrels
  • A canoe is silent on the water and very mobile
  • Exciting

Taking to the water in a canoe is a popular choice for those hunters who are fed up of overcrowded hunting grounds. The ability to head away from the main action and locate other groups of ducks is a huge lure and the idyllic setting cannot be beaten.

See also: Best Duck Hunting Boat: Most Important Features To Look For & Top 9 Boats Overview

It’s a peaceful way to get back to basics and feel at one with the world around you, something many hunters are fond of doing. The excitement of coming across a flock of wood ducks on the river bend cannot be compared to land-based hunting efforts, which sadly pale in comparison. The float hunter is free to hunt in whichever way they want.

Man standing besides a hunting canoe

They are able to take breaks whenever, cook up a meal by the riverside or simply float on. The improvements one will see over time are hugely rewarding as well and skills honed to perfection make for a proud hunter.

The best canoe

There are a great many canoes of varying shapes and sizes available out there and it is worth having a look at the best type for hunting ducks with.

  • The ideal canoe will be made from fiberglass or royalex rather than aluminum. This reduces the sound made when negotiating the waters. If using an aluminum canoe, the sound can be dampened using old carpets or doormats.
  • The length of the canoe largely depends on personal preference and whether one will be solo hunting or not. In general ten to eighteen foot long canoes are used. These allow for storage of equipment and free movement while remaining easy to use and to navigate through tight spots.

Now that we know some benefits of hunting duck from a canoe, we can look further into the practice and work out the best way to go about trying it yourself. For those with access to the rivers, there are two main methods that can be employed. Both offer the opportunity to get out and about in areas that are off limits to those stuck on the land.

canoe with a lot of gear and ducks

Method #1: Blind hunting

This appears to be the easier of the two methods and perhaps as such it is more common among canoe hunters. The canoe allows access to out of reach areas for land hunters, but otherwise the principle is the same.

  1. The hunter heads out on the water, be it a river or a lake and searches for an ideal location to set up a spread. A spread is the term given to the area created in which ducks are lured.
  2. Once the location has been reached, decoys are set and the canoe is camouflaged and hidden away, creating a portable blind. The blind is where the hunter waits, hidden from view until ducks are within range.
  3. The hunter climbs into the canoe/blind and hides away. Ducks have keen eyesight and so are not easily fooled. While in the hide, the hunter will often use a call to lure ducks over.
  4. Once the ducks appear and are in range, the hunter is revealed and shoots. If successful, there will be a duck or two to take home.

While blind hunting is one of the most common methods on land, it works just as well on the water. Spreads can be set up on and around small islands in lakes or on the river, on the river bank and pretty much anywhere a canoe can reach.

A canoe camouflage with hunters inside

Owning a canoe creates many opportunities for such hunting. The boat can be stowed inland or on the water. As long as it is well concealed it shouldn’t matter. This method requires certain additional equipment and one should bear a few points in mind.

  • Canoe – A larger canoe will be useful for this method in order to stow the rest of the equipment and perhaps even a dog.
  • Decoys – Floating decoys will be useful as these can be set on the water, however other, non floating types can be set up on the banks. The number is limited to how many are able to fit into the canoe. It is worth seeking out several different types of decoys to create a more realistic spread/safe zone. Feeders, sentries, actives and several other types can all be used if set out correctly. Do not bunch decoys too close to one another as this can look like there is a threat in the area, deterring any other ducks from landing nearby.
  • Call – The most common types of duck calls are single reed calls. They can vary in pitch and range and it is worth taking the time to consider how you will need to use the call when selecting one. Will it be used over vast stretches of water? If so, a higher pitched, long range call will be best. For close calling, a more realistic sound that doesn’t carry so far will work best. Many hunters use a combination of two calls, one long range, and one close range.
  • Camouflage – Camouflage clothing will be required, including a face mask. Ducks have great eyesight and the most successful hunters are normally well camouflaged. The canoe will also need to be covered and hidden away. One can use reeds, tree branches and many other materials from the area to hide the boat away, creating a perfect blind. Be sure to cover the top as well, as this is the view most ducks will see as they come into
  • Dog – A trusty four legged friend can also be a great help. A retriever, such as a labrador, are typically used, as these make great swimmers and are easy to train. Of course, one can hunt without a dog, it just takes more time to retrieve ducks that have been shot down.
  • Shotgun – The shotgun is the preferred weapon of most duck hunters, be it on the land or in a canoe. Most hunters opt for a 12 gauge with an open choke, loaded with #4 or #6 steel shots. The idea is to create a wide, dense spray pattern at close range.

Float hunting

This second method is generally considered the more difficult of the two and takes a lot of experience and practice to master. This is especially true when hunting solo, however, many hunters will work with a buddy to ease things along.

Once one has learned the ropes, however, the thrill of the hunt is incomparable. The hunter truly becomes one with nature and blends into the beautiful world around them. This method allows the hunter to explore far and wide and relies on knowing to read the signs correctly.

Canoe with two hunters on board, approaching

A certain amount of speed and skill is also required, as often the shot must be made within seconds of spotting the duck.

  1. The hunter(s) heads down river in the canoe, keeping a constant eye on the surroundings, continuously listening and looking out for telltale
  2. When ducks are spotted, the canoe is maneuvered closer, until in range.
  3. Once in range, the shot is taken.
  4. Canoe is used to paddle to shot ducks in order to retrieve them.

Sound easy? There really is a lot more to it than these four steps, but they sum things up more or less.

Keep quiet and hidden

Among the most important things to bear in mind are the use of camouflage and silence. While floating down the river, the ducks should not suspect the canoe of being anything other than natural debris floating silently down the river.

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As such hunter and canoe must be well concealed. Wear camouflage pants, jacket, hat, gloves and face mask or net. The boat should be covered in tree boughs and reeds, as well as any other organic matter in the area. Cover the front, back, sides, and top, keeping in mind the excellent eyesight that ducks have.

Now out of sight, it’s of utmost importance to keep quiet. Any unnatural sound will alert ducks to the fact that all is not what it seems. Soundproof anything that can rattle or clink in advance, including zips, shells and anything loose. If hunting with a partner, create hand signals that can be used when ducks are near.

How to paddle

Paddling a canoe is surely not rocket science and most of us know more or less how to go about keeping the boat moving. However, traditional methods are no good when hunting duck, as the sound and splashing made will alert ducks to even the most well-concealed boat.

Ideally, the paddle should not leave the water. It is possible to learn to paddle from one side of the canoe only and one should attempt to master this skill. Make a stroke, then turn the paddle so that it is parallel with the canoe. Bring the paddle forward slowly and make another stroke when required.

Solo hunting

This is certainly more difficult than hunting with a partner, but for those who enjoy peace and solitude every now and again, it’s a fantastic way to hunt. While difficult, it is by no means impossible and many hunters have great success float hunting alone.

For starters, silence is far more easily achieved. The difficulties come in paddling, observing and shooting, more or less all at once. The following tips will help overcome the difficulties;

  • Don’t sit on the seats in the canoe. Instead, kneel in the center of the vessel. This lowers the center of gravity, creating a far more stable area to shoot from. When sat on the seats, the canoe will rock more, particularly after shooting. The recoil can be enough to tip the canoe if it is able to rock too much.
  • Keep the shotgun ready at all times, but keep it safe and avoid taking difficult shots at first. It’s better to let a few ducks get away than to over stretch yourself and end up in the drink.
  • When approaching a potential hunting ground, allow the current of the river to do most of the work. Instead of paddling, ready your gun and take the shot when it comes.
  • Pack a pair of binoculars and spot your prey in advance. With the target in sight, you are able to approach slowly and stealthily. Stalk your prey until you are within range.

Hunting with a partner

There are many benefits to hunting with a partner. Two pairs of eyes are always better than one. One is able to row while the other observes and shoots. The shooter will always sit at the front of the canoe, while the other hunter sits behind, paddling, steering and keeping the canoe on course and steady.

When approaching a good looking area, both hunters should keep low profiles and avoid making noise. Typically hunters will take turns shooting and paddling so that both are given the chance to take shots. Aside from the practicalities, hunting with a partner turns the hunt into a more social event.


Time can be taken to stop off and build a fire to cook up some lunch or just to relax for a while. Hunting with someone is also far safer than hunting alone, for if things go wrong there will be someone there to help out. Negotiating fallen trees and other obstacles is also far easier with two people, especially if the canoe must be carried over.

When float hunting it is common practice to set an end point, in which a vehicle will parked in order to head back. The other option is to fit the canoe with a small outboard motor for the journey back upstream.

Ideal canoe conditions

With an idea of how to hunt duck using a canoe, it is well worth considering the ideal conditions for setting out in. The weather plays a large part but there are other things to take into account.

Typically, ducks will favor large bodies of water, such as lakes, to rest, feed and sleep. However, they can be lured away by such areas and into running river waters when the conditions don’t suit them.

  • Windy days are a good time to head out, as ducks will prefer to head for more sheltered waters to loiter in. Rivers surrounded by woodland offer plenty of shelter and it is here that ducks may head when the wind picks up.
  • When the weather is very cold and the lakes are beginning to freeze is also another great time to bring out the canoe and paddle down river. The flowing river water is less likely to freeze than lakes and the ducks know this well. They will head to flowing river water when the lakes and ponds are iced over. For more guidelines on the best times to hunt, see our must-read article on this topic.
  • Normal or low flowing rivers are ideal as the ducks will have fewer places to go. If the river has broken its banks, it suddenly becomes far wider. This allows ducks to be farther from you. When the river is flowing normally, however, or low, they are confined to a certain area. The odds of running into them are suddenly increased.

ducks in freezing water

What to look out for?

Knowing when to head out is good, but once out there one needs to know what to look for and where to expect ducks to linger. Smart as they are, ducks are creatures of habit and they have their favored conditions, which they will seek out time and time again. It is these areas that the successful hunter keeps an eye on.

  • Ducks favor slow moving water. They are better able to feed in such areas and can relax easier without being swept down river. As such it is worth looking out for any feature in the river that may suggest the water will be flowing more slowly.
  • Look for debris in the water that create eddies. Fallen trees, branches and anything else that slows the flow of the water down. Ducks can often be found behind such features. Small islands are also worth checking out.
  • Sharp turns and big bends in the river are another favorite. Ducks will often loiter on the far side of the bend. Hunters typically approach on the inside bank and turn the canoe to face the middle of the river just before clearing the bend. The ducks will normally take flight at this, allowing the shooter a clear and easy shot.
  • Creek’s mouths offer another opportunity and ducks are fond of loitering here. Hunters should approach slowly, close to the bank and ready to shoot.
  • Following small tributaries into beaver ponds and swamps is also a good tactic. Ducks will frequently dwell in such areas. It is a good idea to flush them out from their safe zone. Chances are that they will fly away and land slightly further downstream. This is fantastic as that’s where you’ll be heading next.
  • One sign that any experienced duck hunter knows is known as shaking water. These ripples in the water indicate duck activity. They are subtle and it takes an experienced eye to notice the movement from afar. Once spotted, however, the hunter has a huge advantage over the duck.

woman aiming

It is worth bearing in mind that ducks, though they can be brightly colored, are experts at blending in with their surroundings. Even if you are unable to hear or see them in a likely looking area doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not there, so always be prepared.

Staying safe

Hunting ducks from a canoe is a wonderful experience, but it can shortly turn to disaster if one is not careful. If poorly prepared, the chances of falling overboard while taking a shot are quite high.

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This could occur many miles away from civilization, in almost freezing waters. This is certainly not a nice prospect, however, there are a few precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk.

  • Wear a life vest – This should go without saying, but many hunters continue to hunt without a life vest, complaining that they don’t allow free movement and are too bulky. Certain styles are available that allow normal movements, such as sea kayaking life vests or white water rafting vests. The vests can come in camouflage patterns, or can easily be modified.
  • Only one gun – Only one gun should be loaded in the canoe at any time. If hunting with a partner, the person paddling should not have their gun loaded, nor should they attempt to take a shot, even if it’s easy. The danger of hitting your buddy is too high. Only the shooters gun should be loaded while on the move. All guns should be unloaded and safe when carrying the canoe, even if it’s just being carried over a small obstacle.
  • Avoid waders – While these boots are great for wading into the water, they shouldn’t be necessary when in a canoe. They can fill up with water quickly and drag a careless hunter down into the murky depths.
  • Know your limitations – Hunters are advised to get to know their canoe and avoid pushing it to its limits. It should not be overloaded during a hunt, nor should it be oversteered. Doing both can lead to flipping the canoe and sinking it.
  • Carry a dry bag – This bag should contain a set of dry clothes as well as fire-making If someone falls into the water, getting warm and dry is a top priority. Without a spare set of clothes, this is very difficult. The ability to start a small fire quickly will certainly aid efforts to warm up and dry off.

Get quacking

If the lure of the open river is calling it is well worth investing in a canoe and heading out there. Paddle into a new world of opportunity and leave the overcrowded, popular hunting grounds behind. Be one with your surroundings and bring home some tasty ducks.

two men wearing safety vests paddling away

The peace of the river is unrivaled and prepared hunters are sure to bag a meal or two. Before heading out remember the importance of safety on the water. While being alone in the wild is fantastic, it can be dangerous for the underprepared.

Otherwise, learn the signs that need to be read to recognize duck behavior and you cannot fail. Use poor weather to your advantage and learn all the best places to find ducks. To learn more tips and guidelines on how to hunt waterfowl using kayaks, see our previous post on this topic.


Shawn Harrison

Shawn Harrison is our expert in hunting. He was born in Alaska, so hunting was his hobby since high school. Later, Shawn took a Hunter Training at Alaska Department of Fish and Game to structure his knowledge and now he is open to share his knowledge with our readers. Shawn is taking ‘Safety First’ approach on all of his trips, especially is some people are going hunting for the first time.