June 19, 2023
Right now It’s Jan. 11, 2023, 9:37 a.m. I went duck hunting this morning. The man I was supposed to meet couldn’t make it, but I didn’t find out until I was nearly to the hunting spot. I didn’t bring my dog. He was supposed to bring his.
By daylight I had a dozen floaters and two dozen Big Al’s silhouette duck decoys strategically placed on a small section of sheetwater. Two minutes after shooting time I dropped a drake wigeon as it backpedaled into the decoys. I walked out and picked it up.
Five minutes later a pair of mallards cupped in. They committed from a long way. How my dogs would have loved watching that. I shot the drake and picked it up.
I went back to my little one-man blind, sat there for a minute, unloaded my gun, picked up the decoys and drove home. It was the first time in nine years I’d hunted solo without one of my dogs. I hated the feeling. It was a beautiful morning and ducks were thick. My dogs would have been in heaven. Continuing the hunt without them wasn’t happening.
If you’re a dog owner, you get it. If you’re a hunter looking to invest in a dog, read on.
I’ve seen some great dogs over my 47 years of waterfowl hunting, but the past two hunting season I’ve seen some of the worst-trained, out-of-shape dogs of my life. We have the pandemic to thank for that. It’s great that hunting dog sales reached an all-time high during the past two years. What’s not great is the number of dogs that were bought on impulse and not properly trained.
What You Need to Know
A hunting dog is an investment that will impact your life until it dies, for 10 years or more, hopefully. Once my wife and I got our two pudelpointers, our lifestyle changed. With our sons now grown and out of the house, we don’t go on vacations together like we used to. Now she goes with friends while I stay home with the dogs. And when I go on extended trips, she stays home with them. We prepared for this and we don’t want to burden someone to care for our dogs for a month, a week, even a day.
My wife and I were married 23 years before we got hunting dogs because we didn’t live a lifestyle that was conducive to working with dogs every day, like they deserved. Not until I knew there was going to be a 12-15 year window, did I get the dog I wanted. Two years after that, I got another pup.
What You’ll Need
Not only must the timing be right for you to invest in a dog, but you also need to have space for it to run. One of the worst things you can do is confine a hunting dog to a small space with nowhere to run, play and train. If you’d buy a Ferrari and keep it parked in the garage, a high-energy hunting dog might not be for you.
I trained my dogs and have worked with many others. People often ask what the best resource is for training a hunting dog. Honestly, I didn’t read a single book on dog training; I started some, but didn’t finish them. I observe the dogs, communicate with them and help them learn and grow based on their ability to take in information, process it, and progress. Dogs have their own personalities and learn things differently, and when considering breeds, you’ll want to research dog temperaments, too. How you teach them can change from one dog to the next. There is no short-cut training program. If you want a good dog, it takes time, every single day.
Choosing a Breed
Once you have the time and space for a dog, figure out what breed you want. For me, I wanted smart, athletic dogs that would sit in a duck blind from daylight to dark. I wanted dogs I could hunt chukar with, grouse and quail in the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, gray squirrels and turkeys in the fall and ground squirrels in summer. I wanted dogs that would hunt for deer and elk sheds, and ones I could hunt crows over decoys with in the morning and have them retrieving problem nutria in farm ponds I shot later that afternoon. I narrowed my search to Griffons, Drahthaars and Pudelpointers.
Because of our sons’ allergies, we wanted a breed that didn’t shed, at least not much. We wanted one that would hunt hard, be willing to put it on the line on every hunt, and curl up at our feet at the end of the day. I wanted a versatile dog and researched breeds and bloodlines for seven years before settling on Pudelpointers. Jess Spradley of Cabin Creek Gun Dogs in Lakeview, Oregon, is the breeder of our bloodlines.
If you only hunt ducks, breed selection gets easier, and it’s hard beating a good Lab. And by good, I mean good bloodline. If you’re serious about having a solid hunting companion, the dog must come from a quality bloodline.
Once a pup comes home at seven or eight weeks of age, the training starts. Be committed to teaching it about life the instant you bring it home. Set boundaries and train it to do what you want. Have fun and enjoy the ride, knowing the sooner you start the training, the easier it will be to manage the dog as it matures.
With a dog, your waterfowl hunting will increase, as will the number of birds you shoot. You’ll be shooting ducks in place you’ve never been able to retrieve them yourself–brushy sloughs, rivers, lakes–and on those mornings when you want to sleep in, you won’t, because you’ll want to take that dog hunting.
As hunters and dog owners, we owe it to our canine companion to bring the best out of them, and it starts with getting the right breed for you, then building bonds through daily interaction, and teaching it to do what you’d like.