The folding Oru Kayak goes from flatpack to floating in just minutes. Tough enough for the real world? We took it down the Colorado River, armed with a shotgun, to find out.
We all grew up hunting ducks. For most, it was in the form of 8-bit ducks on the original Nintendo. But, for the outdoorsman, it came in the form of real birds with their families. Being on the water affords the mobility and versatility to pursue ducks that cannot be found from shore. So, my friends and I planned a little canoe trip and Wes suggested I take this kayak.
Stephen's dog Benton, a German shorthaired pointer, is anxiously awaiting his job as part of the duck hunt.
The previous night we had loaded up the truck with two canoes, one folding kayak, five guys and a dog. We drove through the night and landed on the edge of the Colorado river about 32km north of the Mexican border at Ferguson Lake. Here, the river is wide, slow and flat, travelling about 5km/h. By volume, more than 480 cubic metres of water are passing by every second, or the equivalent of an olympic sized swimming pool flowing by every 30 seconds... it is a lot of water.
Arriving in the dark, we were greeted by the howling of a pack of coyotes, a sound that I had grown up with in the desert and love to hear. In an unplanned unison we all broke out howling back; this was going to be an awesome trip.
We were on the water before the sun, shooting hours officially start 30 minutes before sunrise. I was nervous. This was my first official duck hunt and, to top it off, I was in a contraption that I could fold into a backpack. I had taken the Oru Bay kayak out on a few short paddles through the harbour back home before embarking on this journey. Stability was my main concern, would I be able to take a shot at a duck flying overhead at 50 mph?
Put the fun between your legs.
Because we were only venturing out on the lake for the morning hunt, I only packed a water bottle, a few snacks, a box of shells and the shotgun. I loaded all the goods in to the most useful pack of the trip, the Sealine Kodiak Deck Bag and mounted it to the top of the Oru. Their kayak includes a bungee "x-strap" over the bow of the boat and I was easily able to attach this bag to that. The window in the bag was super helpful for seeing the gear I needed. Being right in front of me, I didn't have to fumble between my legs trying to get something out.
I had the shotgun resting between my legs. I attached a tether from it to the boat in case things went belly up.
Throughout the morning I saw few ducks flying overhead, but there was a plethora of cormorant, coots, and other waterfowl that were immune to my hunting antics. Patrick and Steve were in one canoe while David and Stephen were in the other. We each ventured out following the coastline of the lake trying to flush any birds up. A few hundred yards away, and behind a bend in the lake, Patrick had taken a shot at a low flying bird, but had missed. At the first crack of the gun, all the wise birds took off. By wise, I mean the ducks that were privy to our pursuit. It was nearly the end of the season and by this time the birds that remained were no fools to hunters. We had to be sneaky!
I knew that now was the time for me to test out the stability of the boat without all of my gear inside. Stephen had me post up behind a small hill while he and David went around the other side to try to flush a few birds my way. I knew that I only wanted to take a shot over the bow of the boat, anything off to one side would surely pitch me into the water. As I saw the ducks heading my way, I slowly fumbled the paddle and the gun, lined up the shot, pretended I was on land and that everything was going to be ok and I wasn't about to get wet, and pulled the trigger.
The bird was directly over the bow and in the best position for me to try this combo of folding kayak and shotgun. To my surprise, I wasn't wet! But neither was the bird... he just kept flying. I was stoked regardless, proving that yes, you can indeed shoot a shotgun from an origami kayak. I was wearing the Oru PFD so, had I fallen in, it would have been a tricky situation to get back in the boat.
We came back empty handed from the morning's hunt and began packing the boats for the trip ahead. Our plan was to float about 8km down river, hunting, fishing, and relaxing along the way. Thanks to the folding design, I was able to pack all of my gear in dry bags and stuff it into the kayak's belly. I had the Sealline 70 litre Black Canyon Boundary Portage Pack loaded with all my camping gear and a smaller 20 litre Black Canyon Dry Bag loaded with all of my camera gear. Sealline specifically recommends you not put important and expensive gear inside of lightweight dry bags like these, but I took my chances.
Oru offers a pair of float bags ($US70) for the bow and stern of the boat to provide additional flotation. I loaded one up front and still had room to put my sleeping bag, in a dry bag, in front of my feet behind the front bulkhead.
The water in the river is not the tastiest so we carried as much clean water with us as we could. I had two 3L Camelbacks stuffed behind my waist.
My Big Agnes Zirkel SL 20 sleeping bag up in the bow.
Loaded, folded and ready to go! For the remainder of the trip, I kept my camera in the bow bag.
Patrick on the hunt with Stephen chauffeuring him along.
With any sort of hunting, safety is imperative. The man in the bow of the boat was the hunter while the guy in the back was in charge of steering the canoe along. If birds came and presented the opportunity to fly by the side of the canoe, the guy in the back would load up his shotgun in prep for a shot. Shooting over your buddies head, while seated so close, is just a bad idea.
On the aerial view of the map, we had seen some smaller little offshoots of the river that looked perfect for duck, we followed these and kept our eyes peeled. It was in here that Patrick, at the head of the group spotted the first duck that we would have for dinner, a male bufflehead. The bird was hesitant to take off from the water so we slowly inched our way closer. As quick as he was airborne, he was back in the water. And so was Benton!
Oru makes a 4-piece folding paddle for $US150 that worked great for me the entire trip.
This kind of hunting has quickly become one of my favourites. Gone are the long distance slogs with heavy packs, replaced with a reclined seat and a cold brew.
Benton had his eyes peeled the whole time. He was so anxious to retrieve that we almost threw the one duck he had already retrieved back in for him.
After floating for most of the day, we broke off into a small little lake shrouded by a tall layer of reeds. Gliding as quietly into the lake as possible, I saw it loaded with coots and, hiding among them were ten or so ducks. I was able to confirm with my binoculars. We did our best to spread out, but with only one point of entry, it was difficult for us to circle the ducks and get close enough for a shot. We managed to herd a pair of them towards Patrick and Steve and they went blazing after them. Patrick got the first one and was on to the second as they were already behind the canoe. He had spent his third shell when Steve whipped around and, in a shot for the records, sent the second duck to the water about 50 yards out. We had three ducks for dinner and we had found a great spot to hunt the next morning too.
I ventured further back into the shallower water where the canoes couldn't go and chased a few ducks I had seen fly this way. Before I knew it, one flew up and was heading right over me. I lined up the shot, nearly straight up, and hoped that we would have on more duck for dinner. I missed, but I also found the limit of the kayak. While shooting straight up, the reaction force from the shot tipped me and the side of the kayak scooped in a bucket full of water. I had soggy pants, but was still upright. Note to self: Don't shoot straight overhead from a folding kayak.
Finding a flat spot to land proved much harder than we had anticipated.
We eventually gave up on that and hopped out on the only steep slope that was accessible from the water.
Over the hill, we found a nice quiet, flat spot perfect for camp.
Stephen was using the Sealline 70 litre Boundary Portage Pack (blue) . It weighs 1.2kg vs the Black Canyon 70 litre (green) which weighs 850g. The Black Canyon line offer slightly thinner material, but still rock solid durability and waterproofness.
Once at camp, the chips and salsa quickly broke out, and Benton was not left out. In a test of his patience, Stephen was able to load up his face with seven chips. He held them there until given the ok to munch them down.
Steve reclining in the Alite Monarch chair. The pair of these we brought were fought over all night. At $US70 and 590g, they pack small enough to fit just about anywhere.
Stephen, David, and Patrick went out at dusk to setup the decoys for the morning.
We brought our rifles and had prepared to hunt coyotes. As evening fell, we clambered to the top of a mountain and set up the coyote call. The sun had fallen too quickly and our eyes were not able to distinguish much in the dark.
A bufflehead, a drake wigeon and a hen wigeon; all for dinner!
Once cleaned and prepped, Stephen cooked the birds over the fire for a delicious meal.
One of the really unique things about the Oru Kayak is its translucency. Oru sells a set of solar inflatable lanterns, that when placed inside the kayak, to make it glow at night!
Look close and you can see the paddle strokes!
Paddling at night, under the stars, solely by the glow of your own kayak is a serene experience.
We awoke again before dawn and had high hopes for the morning's hunt. The previous night, we had placed a canoe on the far side of the lake, then hiked back. This morning, David hiked back to it and was ready to flush the birds toward us while we waited in eager anticipation. Unfortunately, the birds foiled our plans and just bailed out of the side of the lake, leaving us empty handed once again.
The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 is my absolute favourite truly two-person tent. It is my go-to tent for just about any adventure when I know that comfort is key. And at less than 1.4kg, it won't break your back. We slept without the rain fly and enjoyed an amazingly clear desert sky night.
Bacon over the fire, all a man can ask for while camping.
Stephen took Benton, along with food and water, and hiked 3km back to the truck. They would meet us down river at the next official lake. At this location in the river, we had floated 8km in a horseshoe, but were only 3km over land from where we had put in.
Piloting a fully loaded canoe by yourself is pretty difficult, so I folded up the Oru Kayak and stowed it in one of the canoes, then hopped in with David.
No sooner than he had cast his line did Steve pull this guy out! He was using a trout lure so this bass must have been hungry!
The morning float provided us with amazing views the whole way.
Remember what I said about these surviving ducks being wise? Well they again proved so. Anytime we saw one off in the distance heading for us, he would fly straight towards the other side of the river and hug that shore line.
Once folded, the Oru Backpack holds the kayak and makes it super easy to transport. At $US250 it is a steep addition, but well worth the investment if you plan to take this thing anywhere, like I do in the future.
Once back on dry land, we ventured back into the hills, looking for coyotes and quail. We stumbled upon this arse who wasn't camera shy at all! We had seen the burro tracks all over the hills earlier, but seeing this guy up close was awesome. It is amazing that they can survive out in the harsh desert like this.
While driving out through the hills, I had my eyes peeled for what would be a good spot for coyotes. To my surprise I saw a cubby of Gambel's Quail scurry along right next to the truck! I shouted "QUAIL" and we all jumped out of the truck, loaded up the guns and were on the pursuit. What was really strange was how the quail did not scatter. They just kept scurrying along up the wash away from us. We set up a line and briskly walked up the wash toward them. We could see them, 30 yards out. 20 yards out. They weren't flushing, they were starting to run and just all grouped together. I could see seven of them. We didn't want to just shoot them on the ground, but I could have probably taken out half the group with one shot, they were that tightly packed together. Getting impatient, I threw a rock at them and they finally flushed; it was the end of them. In a flurry of shells, they came falling back down one by one. A few managed to fly away a little quicker and we had to hurry after them. Once all said and done though, we had all seven of the cubby. We were fired up! This was such an aggressive change from sitting and waiting for ducks.
We packed up the truck again and set out further down the road. We found another wash and set out on a leap frog tactic. Stephen and Patrick would walk up the wash, and we would drive a 1.6km down. We'd park the truck, leave it for them, then they would come and pick us up another 1.6km down the road. After a whole lot of nothing, we again moved to a different spot and all set out together.
Steve spooked another cubby and called us all over. Again, this group would not fly away. We chased them into a small steep canyon. I was on the outside edge of the group and there only if one managed to get away. One did fly low and up the hill, but I took it down just as it crested. I tracked it down and saw two more heading right back for the guys. This was amazing fun.
The Gambel's Quail is a beautiful bird. About the size of a softball, each bird provides a few ounces of meat from the breast.
We each had a pair of birds to take home for dinner.
Overall, this adventure was one of the most fun hunts I have ever been on. It was such a different tune from deer hunting. Even though I did not take down a duck, I will be prepared for the next hunt.
We plan an in-depth review of the Oru Kayak in the near future. Just want to backpack with it and use it in the ocean before we do.
If you go: Just like all other hunts, you will need a licence and specifics tags for the animals you plan to hunt. In our case, we needed a Duck Validation, a Federal Duck Stamp, and an Upland Bird Validation.
What will you need: A shotgun, a boat, camping gear and friends who always make an adventure more fun. IndefinitelyWild has a slew of articles covering the gear that we use and recommend. There is a federal mandate that requires the you carry only steel shot when hunting ducks. Because we were on the hunt for quail too, we needed to make sure that our smaller shot for quail hunting was steel only. In California, finding this #7 steel shot was a major pain!