Lake family hunts onboard a customized one-of-a-kind boat

Marie Krolikowski
Lake Lifestyles
Mark, Blake, Dylan and Tyler Charlton on their duck hunting boat at Lake of the Ozarks. Their black labs, Harper and Diesel, received specialized training to retrieve ducks from the water.

Various types of boats utilize the Lake in the Ozarks. It’s not unusual to see pontoons, tri-toons, cruisers, fishing boats, and even racing boats. There’s one boat that frequents the Lake, however, that’s particularly unique. That’s the duck hunting boat owned by the Charlton family.

Mark, Annette, and their three boys Blake (22), Dylan (21) and Tyler (16) reside full-time in a St. Charles suburb. They also own a Lake-front home in the Four Seasons neighborhood down Horseshoe Bend. It is here they build memories boating, swimming and even duck hunting.

Mark’s interest in hunting in general started when he was just a young boy. 

“I grew up in a rural area called Taos, Missouri and I always hunted with my dad – deer, quail and rabbit,” he said. “I was in 6th or 7th grade when I started. My brother is two years younger than me. We would come home from school and go hunting together.”

It wasn’t until after college that Mark took an interest in duck hunting. He had moved to Hannibal, Missouri — a town right on the Mississippi River and home to many duck hunters.

“The season was only 30 days long then,” Mark explained. “Because of that, the sport wasn’t as popular, and you didn’t see the equipment you see today. As the duck population grew, the season was extended, and the sport grew in popularity.”

Prior to getting married and having a family, Mark would begin his hunting season in Iowa in mid-September, and end in Arkansas in late January. This was a ritual for himself and a group of fellow hunters. 

“You need to have the drive, passion, schedule and flexibility to do that,” he said. “Duck hunting slowed down after I had a family of my own.”

In the early days, Mark didn’t own a duck hunting boat. He eventually purchased a cheap 13-foot boat with a 10- horsepower motor. That led to a 16-foot with a 25- horsepower motor, and then a 19-foot boat. Seven years ago, Mark purchased the boat he still hunts with today. This unique watercraft is a 20-foot, commercial grade aluminum boat with a 150- horsepower motor and a 72-inch width on the bottom. It’s even equipped with a GPS system. But what really sets this boat apart is the customization.

A custom blind provides shelter and camouflage for the duck hunters. The boat carries  40 pounds of propane to fuel an oven, gas burner, and four – 15,000 btu heaters. Ice breakers mounted on the underside of the boat enables it to plow through up to three inches of ice. The boat comfortably seats four adults and keeps the hunters toasty in single-digit weather. 

“I knew this was going to be my last boat,” Mark said. “When I had my 19-footer there was a guy in Iowa who had a boat like this. Someone in Cedar Rapids, Iowa customized it for me.”

When it was originally ordered, the boat was nothing more than an open shell. The aluminum frame is covered with aluminum sheeting to create a rafter like setting. The boat is then covered with the hunters preferred material. Wire mesh is screwed to the outside of the boat and grass matts are attached with zip ties. 

“Every October, a group of us go to South Dakota on what we call the tumbleweed trip,” Mark explained. “We hunt and we cut a bunch of tumbleweed and attach that to cover the boat. We use tumbleweed because it’s tough, lightweight and withstands the trailering of the boat.”

Missouri is divided into three hunting zones, with the Lake area being in the middle zone. Duck hunting season lasts for 60 days, and there are limits on how many ducks each hunter can shoot, and how many they can keep. In addition, there are areas that are off-limits to hunters. Mark also hunts in South Dakota, St. Joseph, Truman Lake, Mark Twain Lake and the Mississippi River. Further destinations from home become overnight trips.

A typical hunting day begins at 4 am. Once a location is found, the hunters spread out the decoys and set up. Coffee is brewed, and breakfast prepared on the boat and can include everything from biscuits and gravy to pork chops and eggs. Hunting resumes until lunch, when chicken and dumplings, deer chili, elk stew or a variety of other meals are served. The day ends when the limit is met, or legal hunting hours are over.

According to Mark, custom boats like his are more popular in the Dakotas, Northern Iowa and the Great Lakes regions. 

“The waterfowl world is a huge industry,” he said. “The equipment has become so much better. Everything from clothing to shotguns to the numerous types of decoys.”

This season, Harper and Diesel joined the Charlton duck hunting family. They initially set out to get only Harper, but Diesel worked his way into their hearts and their home. Due to time restraints, these black Labrador puppies spent three months at Southern Influence Kennels in Missouri to learn their role in the hunting process. Although Mark continues to work with them on a daily basis, he describes them as hunting dogs 10 percent of the time, and pets the remaining 90 percent. Just this year, each dog retrieved about 120 ducks.

“When I first started rabbit hunting with my dad, I didn’t have a dog,” Mark said. “I was the dog. In the mid 1990’s I had a female black lab named Lexi. I trained her to duck hunt. I bred her and kept one of the nine puppies. I named him Bailey, and they both hunted.”

For Mark, duck hunting is much more than shooting your daily limit. At the young age of 5 or 6, each of the Charlton boys were introduced to the sport. As years passed their commitments to sports and activities filled the calendar, but the family still found a way to create hunting memories. 

“It started as a unique relationship with my kids,” Mark said. “And it has evolved into a hunting relationship between them and their friends. One thing you need in order to duck hunt like I do is an understanding wife. I’ve seen couples divorce because of this sport.”

For Annette, the rewards of having a family of hunters far outweigh the sacrifices.  

“I don’t like that hunting season consumes so much of Mark and the boys time, but I love that it’s a sport they can all do together as a family,” she said. “They make special memories together. They are always telling funny stories and laughing about all their adventurous hunting trips, and that makes me very happy to hear how much they love it.  They are all together, so I can’t complain.”

The Charlton boys, who have their own Instagram page named Mo Mallards, unanimously agree that hunting with their dad is something special.

“My dad showed me what hunting was all about,” Blake said. “It’s not always about hunting the animal, but the memories you make out there with your friends and family. He taught me not just how to hunt, but everything I know today. He taught me that hunting is supposed to be fun and something you do with the people you love.”  

“My favorite thing about hunting with my dad has always been the memories that were made on the duck trips we have been on,” Dylan said. “No matter how many ducks we kill, it’s always a great time and there are always great stories that come from being out there.”

Echoing what his brothers said, Tyler added “I love hunting with my family. It’s a great way to hang out with my dad and brothers. It’s a great way to get away for a couple of days and just be with them and the dogs. It’s the most fun when we take the long trips with everyone, those are the ones that are the most memorable. It’s great to be able to see the dogs have fun and retrieve the ducks. Sometimes they work harder than us. On the long 12-hour days, out in the below freezing weather, is really when everyone bonds and has a good time. It’s a very special time when we all get to spend it with our dad. It’s something you remember for the rest of your life. There is nothing like it.”

In addition to duck hunting, the Charlton family hunts turkey, deer, dove, squirrel, and they fish. Mark explained that some of the other types of hunting are a solitary sport. Duck hunting, in contrast, is more of a social event. Mark added that he hasn’t met many people who went out duck hunting for the first time and didn’t get hooked on it.

“Some people get the impression hunters are just out there to kill,” he said. “When you’re younger, the success is in killing something. As you get older, have kids and go out with them it’s not necessarily about killing fowl. Every time you go out, you don’t necessarily kill ducks. It becomes less about the number of ducks you kill, and more about the whole experience. It’s about everything that happens from the time you leave the driveway to the time you get back home. Pulling the trigger is such a small part of the whole experience.”