A great hunting dog is the icing on the cake for waterfowlers

(Photo by Bryan Beatty)

You’ve recently been bitten by the duck hunting bug, or maybe you were bitten long ago, and thankfully never got over it. I’ve been “suffering” from it for over 40 years and luckily, the diagnosis is terminal.

Louisiana is known for its waterfowl hunting, and though some may argue it’s gone downhill in recent years, there are still plenty of birds to be had. When you do put them on the water, what better way to have them delivered to the blind than by man’s best friend — your own duck dog. I got really serious about duck hunting in my teens and early twenties. The next logical step after the decoys, guns, gear, and everything else was to get a dog to make the whole thing even better. It’s the icing on the cake for waterfowlers.

It has gone from the dog being just part of the experience to being ever increasingly about the dog. I, along with a large group of others probably get more pleasure and enjoyment out of watching the dogs work than other aspects of the hunt. Don’t get me wrong, watching a bunch of greenheads helicopter down through the timber so close you could smack with the gun barrel is one of the greatest sights in the hunting world. Now this is just my opinion, but it’s a close second to watching your best friend happily and efficiently fetch them then get ready for the next flight.

A big commitment

The intent of this column is to cover what it takes to develop an accomplished retriever from the point the little fur ball comes home to the payoff in the blind. I have trained two really good dogs and am now training my third with the help of some outstanding trainers I’ve gotten to know over the years in addition to what I’ve learned. In the future, I will share some of their best tips and ideas, too. Have I made mistakes? Yes. Will I make more in the future? Smart money says yes, but that’s just part of it and how you get better.

It all starts with the right puppy like this healthy young black lab. (Photo by Bryan Beatty)

If you are thinking of getting a duck dog, where do you start? The answer is with the puppy, of course. Before you start looking for your next “hunting partner,” here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Barring unforeseen accidents or illnesses, the average life expectancy of most duck hunting breeds is 12-14 years. That’s a long term, major commitment that needs serious thought and consideration by you and your family.
  • Duck season in Louisiana is 60 days. Say you get to hunt 20 of those days, that still leaves 345 days where you own a dog and have responsibilities to it.
  • Dogs aren’t cheap in terms of food, vaccinations, flea/tick/heartworm preventatives, check-ups and the unexpected bumps and bruises. Make sure you are prepared for the financial investment. Plan on $1000.00 to $1500.00 a year on food and routine medication alone.

Man’s best friend

After you’ve considered the points above and decided to pull the trigger, what’s next? You’ve got to settle on breed, color and sex of the puppy you want. Labs are the most common but Goldens, Chesapeakes, Pointers and Spaniel breeds are all very capable. Breeders you’ll want to get a puppy from will have a social media presence so that’s a good place to start as well as those in your own hunting circles. Well bred, capable dogs cost money, so don’t skimp here. That extra $500.00 to $1,000.00 dollars for a top notch puppy is a pittance over that 12-14 year life expectancy. Another way to put it is a good semi-auto shotgun runs upwards of $1,900.00, duck boats $25,000; plus, leases: going up every year and we’re not getting into the ammo, decoys and other gear. Bottom line is that dog, once trained and experienced, is going to be the MVP of the team. Go out and get a first round pick!

Getting a puppy

Now the fun starts: getting a puppy. Look for reputable breeders where the parents are health tested, the litter is registered, references are furnished and the breeder has a solid reputation. Top notch litters go quickly so putting down a deposit on a litter you’re interested in is a good idea to reserve your pick. Titles from AKC or UKC events such as hunt tests or field trials are proof that the puppy comes from lines with the desire and trainability to do the work even though that may or may not be of interest to you and your pup. If possible, visit the litter before the pups are ready to go home to get an idea of your top picks “personality.” Other considerations such as health guarantees, breeding rights, and initial vet visits/vaccinations should be spelled out in a contract. Good luck and happy hunting!

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