March 20, 2023
The stories about unlucky hunters capsizing their duck boats in the dark, or of retrievers dead-set on grabbing wounded divers as they paddle farther out into big water, abound. They stick with us. They represent the scariest scenarios we can imagine.
There’s no reason to underestimate the danger of cold, rough water combined with frigid air temperatures, either. But the biggest threat to us, and our retrievers, might just be the drive to, and from, our spots. This is true whether you hunt local ducks 20 minutes from home, or plan your season around a road trip that takes you to far-flung destinations in search of a duck fix you just can’t get in your neighborhood.
There are a few agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that track traffic accidents. Here in the U.S., roughly 35,000 to 40,000 people never make it home every year due to fatal crashes. For obvious reasons, those agencies don’t track dog deaths, but they do track circumstances around the human fatalities.
The list of the most common circumstances around crashes reads like it’s a narration of an average duck hunter’s life. Saturday nights, after dark, with numbers peaking in October, and a high prevalence of rollovers involving light trucks (not semis), all make the list.
We have seatbelts and vehicles built to ever stringent safety standards. But what do our retrievers have?
At this point, the understanding around a quality dog crate is ubiquitous across our ranks. Several companies have jumped into this market with products and messaging that paints an obvious picture—if you don’t crate your dog properly then it’ll be in real trouble if things go sideways while you’re traveling.
That’s not just a great way to sell more gear to us duck hunters. It’s also the truth. An unsecured dog in a vehicle is a retriever that will become a flying object during a crash. There’s no way around that, and it’s a huge danger to both dog and man.
The rub is that the crate has to be secured, somehow. If your retriever rides inside your vehicle, the rear seat belts are the ticket here. If your retriever rides in the bed of your pickup, it’s time to bust out the ratchet straps. In either case, make sure your crate is outfitted with proper tie-down cleats or other design features. Most of the options marketed toward the hook-and-bullet crowd have these built-in, but many of the general pet market crates don’t.
Worth The Cost?
An obvious downside to a quality dog crate is cost. With most of them running in the $500 range, it’s not an insignificant swipe of the credit card. This can be hard to justify, especially if you ask yourself what the odds are of an accident happening while you’re en route to your favorite mallard honey hole.
The good news here is that it’s a buy-once-cry-once scenario, with today’s better crate options capable of outlasting a few generations of duck dogs.
It might never happen. You might go through life without ever experiencing a serious car accident. Unless you have the brainpower of a brick, you probably wear a seatbelt just in case. After all, why wouldn’t you protect yourself in the off-chance that you could become a statistic?
Extend the same courtesy to your retriever if you have the option. While a serious crash will probably never happen, if it does, your dog will appreciate not becoming a furry wrecking ball with little chance to survive.