All duck hunters know that this year in Arkansas has been iffy and best. The duck numbers are not as good as in years past, and they seem to be scattered in different places across the state. You hear of folks killing a good number of birds, some kill just a few, and some never take their guns off safety.
Hunts like that last one, with no shooting and hardly seeing any birds can be frustrating, no doubt. But if you duck hunt with a dog, it is important to remember just how close of a bond you can have with that ole dog. Even if you go out alone, without any of your hunting buddies, that dog is your constant companion.
If you are like most of us, and have other responsibilities such as work and family obligations, your time bonding with your dog can be limited. Duck hunts, no matter how productive, can be great times to strengthen your bond with your dog. Set up, eye to eye, you standing in waist deep water and your dog on the stand, you really get close to your pup.
Although any experienced dog realizes that you are not shooting any ducks, their main focus is usually you. They want to please you, but they also value that time spent with you. It is important to take advantage of this time and not be so frustrated that you allow it to make your relationship with your dog sour.
If you are not shooting or seeing ducks, you can always turn the poor hunt into a good training session. What better way is there to have a good training setup than to have an actual hunt set up?!
You can bring a bumper or two in your hunting bag, and if the ducks do not show up, you can throw some bumpers for your dog. You don’t have to turn it into a full out training session, but you can throw a few bumpers for him/her, then wait a little bit. If there are still no ducks, throw a few more. This is a good way to work on a few skills that sometimes get overlooked. First, is actually retrieving from a stand in the water, or from a pit, or whatever your hunting setup is. It is easy to work them in the yard or standing next to a pond, neglecting the actual hunting set up. This will get the dog more experience with that.
Another skill this will help with is patience, maybe for the both of you! When we train, we get the dog out and immediately start throwing bumpers, not making the dog wait. But, when we get out hunting, obviously there is always some waiting involved, sometimes more than we would like! This will help the dog to get used to having to wait. If you wait for the first hour with no ducks, then reward the dog with a few bumpers, that is reinforcing the waiting skill.
One other thing you can do is if you do happen to kill just one duck, you can use it as a real “bumper” and throw it a few times for the dog. These will all help, especially a young dog, get used to important aspects of the hunt.
No matter if you limit out in a half-hour, or go three hours without putting your gun to your shoulder, if you hunt with a dog, you will always go into the woods, or water with your closest hunting companion. It is important not to forget this, and to appreciate the time you get together.
About Backwater Cypress Retrievers
Owner and trainer Chris Yielding has been training labs for years. His love of the dogs shines through in his training and in how the dogs perform under his guidance. His dogs hunt and train hard, are obedient, and love to retrieve. Located in Central Arkansas on 180 acres of fields, woods, and 3 ponds, Backwater Cypress Retrievers works tirelessly to get the most from our dogs. More information can be found at www.backwatercypress.com.