As an outdoor enthusiast, I always enjoy when all the leaves are off the trees. This is a true sign that winter is soon to arrive, but more importantly signals the best time of the year for hunting.
A hard frost is usually right around the corner and also means the fall waterfowl migration is ready to start! This will give both my hunting dog “Bumper” and I a chance to test all of our hard work from the past summer training season. Even though he has already made more than a handful of retrieves early this fall, this time of the year will truly allow me a chance to see what he has learned.
The first thing I always expect him to be while hunting ducks is steady. What I mean by this is that he should stay in a position I put him in until I say he can release. Whether it is in a boat, dog blind or simply sitting next to me, he should not go anywhere, until he is told. This type of behavior will not only improve on his marking ability, it will also keep him safer if any low birds happen to be coming into a decoy spread. This control will make any retriever a much better hunter by allowing it to mark multiple birds going down, as well as not alarming any incoming birds.
Late season can produce great mallard hunts when all your hard work can pay off!
One thing I noticed “Bumper” do opening weekend, which I will not tolerate, is whining when ducks were working our spread. Even though this annoyed me, I took into consideration that he was just anxious with the new season. However, I did let him know that this behavior was totally unacceptable by giving him a strict, “No!” command. This was then followed by a remote collar correction. I even used the paging feature on the collar as a warning, followed by the electrical stimulus so that I would not have to correct him as often. He soon realized that when he did start to whine, the vibration on the collar would start, and what followed was not what he wanted. The whining soon came to a quick halt. I knew that if I let him continue, this may turn into a full-blown bark, which will really cause problems.
Taking A Proper Line
After a few birds went down, I noticed some sloppiness with the lines that he took from the boat. Considering we were in a canoe in the cattails, I let him get away with this early in the hunt. That was because there was only a small opening for him to run in and out of the boat directly in front of him. I let him take a perpendicular leap when making the early retrieves. However, as the vegetation got knocked down in front of his position, I started to really concentrate on him taking a proper line on each bird regardless of its location in the water. What I mean by this is if the boat is sitting east and west, and I dropped a bird to the northwest. I expected him to jump out heading northwest.
This may not sound like a real big deal to some, however, consider the importance of this when making multiple retrieves. For example, my buddy and I would often drop two birds one landing on the right side of the decoys, the other on the left. Now if the bird on the left was crippled, and started to swim away toward the cattails, I would line “Bump” in a northwest direction, and expect him to head that way.
There were some challenges early on especially if his eyes were fixed on the bird on the right side of the decoys (toward the northeast). Most dogs will usually go after the last bird they see fall, or a bird in the water that is flopping around. Most duck hunters know that a flopping bird is not going anywhere, but that bird making a B-line for the cattails might be lost if not retrieved immediately. After a few corrections for improper lines, he soon realized what I expected, which helped us recover numerous crippled birds that might have been lost.
Like I said before, the true test is yet to come. Now is the time of the year when all the steadiness work, lining drills, and multiple retrieves I worked on the past summer will truly show. Hopefully, with the combination of hard work and early season discipline will help us bring home more ducks!
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Jason Dommeyer has a lifetime of hunting experience and 15 years experience as a dog trainer. He has turned many pets into expert hunting dogs at Cannon River Kennels (http://www.cannonriverkennels.com/) In addition to training hundreds of hunting companions, he has trained dogs for premier pheasant hunting lodges in South Dakota along with duck hunting lodges in Mississippi and Mexico. His experience also includes both hunting and guiding for upland and waterfowl game from Canada to South America. If you have any questions, Jason can be reached at 507-663-6143 or visit (http://www.cannonriverkennels.com/) He provides dog training tips twice a month.