Joe Balog was born and raised on the Great Lakes, where he's earned a living as a charter boat captain, pro bass fisherman and outdoor communicator. As waterfowl editor for Realtree.com, Balog was bitten by the duck bug while hunting the world famous St. Clair Flats. Between duck hunting, fishing, and dog training, Balog spends some 300 days a year on the water.
Death, Taxes, and Labrador Retrievers
In my world, everyone hunts with a dog, and I own Eukanuba.
I can’t see how anyone duck hunts without a dog. Given the choice between gunning down a limit of mallards without my lab, or handling the dog and not doing any shooting, while other members of the group take the birds, I’ll choose dog work any day. It’s just an undeniable fact: once you have a lab for a sidekick in the blind, there’s no going back.
Before we go any further, I’d like to make one thing perfectly clear: I, by no means, have a perfect dog. He’s far from a Master Hunter, as defined by the AKC. But, for the most part, when the ducks go down, he goes out and gets them. He stays still in the boat, he doesn’t wine or bark, and he doesn’t run away. This year, he even learned to poop in the water, an often-overlooked attribute. But, like other spoiled rotten labs, he’s had his “off days." I’ve seen him “hoard” a duck following a retrieve – taking it to a nearby island and completely ripping all of the feathers out of it. That was fun to check in at the DNR office following a state draw-hunt. The wildlife official looked at me like I was psychotic. I’ve also experienced a few “missing ducks” that my sidekick took from the pile after they were dead, warranting some frantic searching. I still wouldn’t trade him for the world.
In my opinion, the two greatest facets of duck hunting are dog handling and calling. That’s why I don’t hunt divers much – you don’t do either, for the most part. The interaction of each is what makes this such a special sport. Anyone who hunts regularly with a dog can tell you stories of how his K-9 spotted the ducks before the hunters, and watched them circle the decoys with the same anticipation as an eight-year-old on Christmas morning. There are endless stories of the look a Lab gave a hunter after missing an easy shot at decoying mallards. Or the relentless chase of a crippled goose that “must have been a mile across the field."
There’s a level of satisfaction that comes from making a tough shot on a last minute duck. And there’s an even greater level when your dog launches from his platform and retrieves it like there’s nothing more important in the world, while you just stand and watch, acting like he does it so perfectly every time. And, just when you think you’ve got him trained, the dog completely loses his mind, having another “off day," that makes you break out the old Wolter’s training books and start at square one. Sit. OK, let’s move on. Stay…
In my dream world, where I’m the President, and half of the world is marsh, and the other half is water, everyone who hunts waterfowl would have to use a dog. Think of how it would cut down on wasted game. They say a Lab can smell as well as a human can see, and it’s evident when chasing ducks in head-high cattails. Now’s the time to grab the leash and get your buddy in shape. If you haven’t hunted with a dog, and you give it an honest effort, you’ll never go back.
For those of you who do hunt with dogs, tell me about them. What's your pup's name, and what makes him special?