November 18, 2021
By Tom Dokken
The list of gear you need for the first few hunts of the season could be minimal, or extensive. The small-water, bank-sitter looking to scratch out a few woodies or teal might be able to carry all of the hunt’s essentials in a backpack. The field hunter who has his heart set on a few days of Canada goose limits, or the hunter looking to pilot the flat-bottom to a favorite cattail point on the backwaters of the Mississippi in search of a border-water grab bag has a bigger task when it comes to remembering everything.
While gathering the right camo, decoys, shells, and other hunt accoutrements, it’s easy to forget about our dogs. After all, what do they really need? Not much, usually. But I’m a lifetime believer in Murphy’s Law. I try to plan for the events I don’t expect to happen in any given season, but that absolutely could. I also try to anticipate what could (and probably will) go wrong behavior-wise, and how I can get ahead of that with the right gear.
When it comes to that category, the stuff you should have with you will all center on such an important aspect of taking a duck dog out for the first few hunts of the year—control.
Keeping your dog where you want him can be accomplished in many ways, but the simplest is a leash. I keep a six-footer in my duck bag, and an extra one in my truck. If I’m running a young dog, or I get the impression an older dog is looking to break, the leash comes out. This is a great way to keep your dog safe in the blind, boat, or at the truck when you’re loading up your gear at 3:30 in the morning.
Another must-have is a functioning e-collar. If you’ve trained your dog all summer long to respond to an e-collar and then you get in the blind only to realize the battery is dead or the contacts aren’t screwed into the collar, you’re in trouble. A fully charged e-collar is a must, just as having a charger with you in the truck is usually a pretty good idea. In addition to that, do you have your whistle with you? Whistles are cheap and having an extra tucked into the gear bag and one in your possie’s tote in the truck is a good idea.
If you train your dog to ‘place’ then you should probably have his platform in the truck as well. This can be an amazing piece of equipment to have in the blind or the boat as well, but it only works if you’ve got it with you. An extra place board lives in my truck for just this reason. Ninety-nine percent of duck hunting is just waiting for the other one percent, which means that if you’ve trained your retriever to wait on a place board (and you have it with you), he’ll be welcome on any hunt.
Road Hunt Extras
Packing for a morning with your buddies on the reservoir down the road requires plenty of mind-grinding, but a three-states-over trip is something else entirely. Besides all the stuff you need for yourself, you need to double-check your dog’s gear list as well.
Obvious needs include enough food to cover every day you’ll be gone, plus an extra day or two just in case. You’ll need his crate, of course, along with the straps to keep it in place if he’ll be riding in the bed of a pickup. In addition to that, will you be traveling a lot of dusty gravel roads? What about inclemental weather? In either case, a crate cover should make the list as well.
Another thing that always comes with us on our traveling duck hunts is a probiotic like FortiFlora from Purina. This is to address the stress and excitement of the road that can lead to a dog having diarrhea. More than a few unlucky duck hunters have had the misfortune to wake up in their hotel room to go out for the morning hunt only to realize their Labs had created a horror scene on the floor while they were snoring.
A good probiotic tightens things up in that area, which does more than keep you from having to pay an extra cleaning fee for your room. It keeps the dog healthier, more hydrated, and running in better condition. On multi-day hunts this is a necessity.
Speaking of staying hydrated, water is something we often overlook on duck hunts because we are so likely to be covered in it. But what if the dog is in a blind and its 80 degrees out on a slow morning? Or what if you field hunt and the nearest puddle is one county over? Having a water bottle the dog knows how to drink out of, or having a collapsible bowl is a must.
It should go without saying that you should have a first-aid kit with you, or in the truck. I prefer to tuck a small field kit into my gear bag for those just-in-case moments. Even though I like to survey our hunt area and try to spot (and avoid) potentially dangerous objects, it’s impossible to prevent everything.
With all dogs, I also pack a properly fitted neoprene vest, and for younger dogs I bring a training dummy. The vest, even though it doesn’t seem like a necessity on early season hunts, takes up little space and you never know when the weather will change. The dummy is just for those slow moments when a young dog might be losing interest in the hunt. It’s simple stuff, but important.
Don’t forget about your dog’s needs on the first hunts of the season. And remember, just because you set out to go sit in a specific blind for a certain type of hunt, plans change. You might get a call from a buddy saying the honkers are working a cut field or the mallards have been piling into a slough on his uncle’s land. The public access that you usually launch from on opening morning might be overrun with other hunters, and you suddenly realize it’s time for Plan B.