Jennings Rose launched his 18-foot boat from a private ramp near Hobucken, N.C., with a smaller boat — a one-man layout boat — strapped securely to its bouncing bow. Nosing into the wind, he left the protective waters of a small creek, heading into Pamlico Sound for a day of duck hunting.
“Ramps are all around the sound — private ramps, pay ramps and public ramps,” Rose said. “What you have to do is hunt where you can find the ducks and pick the closest ramp for access to them.”
Rose operates North State Guide Service. out of Oriental, N.C. While he hunts from stationary blinds and scissor-rig boat blinds, he also has great success while hunting from layout boats.
“It is the best way to hunt ducks that are decoy-shy and wary of anything that sticks up out of the water,” he said. “It also gives you access to a lot more water, with the laws in various counties surrounding the sound specifying distances you can hunt from any shore blinds.”
Rose hunts water that runs from 12 to 20 feet deep. His primary target is sea ducks, mainly surf scoters and black or American scoters. Other sea ducks his clients may take on occasion include white-winged scoters and long-tailed ducks.
“I set out scoter decoys and a few hand-made wooden bufflehead decoys,” he said. “With layout boats, I target sea ducks, which feed on the clam beds, but I might decoy any other duck with a sea duck rig. Divers like bluebills, redheads and canvasbacks can fly right in. Even puddle ducks will decoy to a sea duck spread, so you might kill a pintail or gadwall at any time.”
The secret is the low profile of a layout boat, which makes it blend into the water. While some companies make two-man styles, if Rose has two hunters, he sets up each one inside a one-man layout boat made by The Mighty Layout Boys. To ferry a pair of hunters and layout boasts to the hunting area, he uses a 19-foot boat.
“If you like conversations with your buddy, layout boat hunting is not for you,” he said. “It is a personal experience that puts you in touch with the sound. It’s just you, the decoys and the ducks.”
Guide and hunter communicate by a two-way VHF radio. Hunting from a layout boat can be a wet experience. Anyone who brings a cell phone along should protect it inside a waterproof case.
A protective canvas collar called a combing encircles the cockpit rim. A small brace holds the stern of the combing erect to prevent waves from breaking over the boat and dripping down the nape of the hunter’s neck. Rose advises his clients to wear waterproof bib overalls and boots or waders below and a waterproof green or gray oilskin coat up top. Along with a shotgun and ammo, the other necessary piece of gear is a manually inflatable life vest, which he supplies.
“There’s a good chance of getting wet,” Rose said. “If you get splashed, it could set off an auto-inflating PFD.”
Rose knew a spot where sea ducks had been feeding. He slid the layout boat off the bow and anchored it, then began setting his decoys. He uses long-lines with eight decoys on each line. He tosses out a sash weight or a homemade lead weight inside a protective sleeve of corrugated plastic gutter drainpipe, slid the decoys out of a collapsible spring-open bag and set another anchor at the other end of the line. Then, he set three single-rigged scoter decoys behind his long-line decoy spread and a few, single-rigged wooden bufflehead decoys off to the left side.
“If the hunter is right-handed, I set up the rig so the ducks will land into the wind coming in from his left front,” he said. “That gives the shooter the greatest shooting zone. While you can shoot to the left, you can’t turn very far to the right to shoot. You also have to make sure you are in a comfortable position when you slide down against the backrest. If you have big feet, you have to decide whether to point your toes in or out because you can’t roll them either way once you are inside.”
Rose anchors the layout boat, fore and aft, so the wind or current won’t swing it out of position. Then, he helps the hunter into the boat, hands off the shotgun and radio and motors far enough away in the tender boat to avoid alarming any decoying ducks.
“My layout boats are stabile enough to stand up inside,” he said. “It is hard to hit a cripple unless you stand up because the waves get in the way. If a crippled duck is swimming away, I want my hunter to call on the radio so I can pick it up fast.”
He shoots cripples with No. 4 steel shot and advises his hunters to shoot 12-gauge steel loads of BB. The best chokes are improved cylinder and modified.
“Female scoters don’t have much color,” he said, “but the drakes have brightly colored bills. If you want one to mount, the best thing to do is stare at their heads, picking out the orange, pink and white patterns of the drakes.”
HOW TO GET THERE — North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound stretches from Manteo south to Cedar Island and the mouth of the Neuse River. Sea ducks can be found throughout the sound. Oriental, Hobucken, Swan Quarter and Englehard are popular starting points. To locate a public boat ramp, visit https://ncpaws.org/wrcmapbook/baa.aspx.
WHEN TO GO — North Carolina’s special sea duck season is open in the special sea duck area Dec. 4-15, while the general duck season is closed. The special sea duck season and general duck season are open concurrently Nov. 20-Dec. 2 and Dec. 16-Jan. 27.
BEST TECHNIQUES/EQUIPMENT — Layout boats are the ticket to take gun-shy sea ducks. Use sea duck decoys on long-lines, mostly surf scoters and black scoter. Homer Decoy blanks are a popular line. Most hunters shoot 12-gauge shotguns with 3- or 31/2-inch loads of BB shot.
HUNTING INFO/GUIDES — Jennings Rose, North State Guide Service, 910-231-7741. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Bayboro House Hotel, Bayboro, 252-745-7270. Oriental Marina Inn, Oriental, 252-249-1818; Hotel Englehard, Englehard, 252-925-2001.
MAPS — DeLorme North Carolina Atlas and Gazetteer, 800-452-5931, www.delorme.com. Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com. Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com.