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.
I'm NOT In Shape for Duck Season
Well, I officially entered the marsh for the first time this week with one primary goal: get the dog in shape for duck season. Wasn’t I surprised to find out that he’s ready to go, while I’m definitely a year older, and light years away. Last season, I remember thinking that waterfowl hunting can be incredibly hard work. It still can be.
I put the stress and strain of wading through knee-high mud up against any other outdoor activity. I know a few guys who go out West each year to hunt elk with a bow (crazy…), and they tell me it feels like their lungs are coming out through your mouth when they climb those mountains. And I believe them. But yesterday’s little stroll through the muck made me remember what I’m about to go through for 60 days.
So we got the boat stuck while training the dog, and had to strap on the waders and push. It was horrible. Each fall I really look forward to getting in shape while pursuing ducks and geese. But I’m pushing 40 now, and I can’t believe guys do this in their sixties, and older. There’s no way I’ve got 20 more years of this in my body. It probably doesn’t help that my three favorite foods are beer, ice cream, and fried fish, but it felt as if the lake was trying to suck me down, prohibiting me from even making an attempt at another season. So I’ve got my work cut out for me.
Ernie the Wonder Lab was as happy as, well, a pig in mud. He got a few good retrieves in, and got used to being in the boat and on the marsh stand. But he mainly played, and that was the whole point. I really feel it’s important to have the first couple rounds with your dog be just as much play time as anything. He’s 7 this year, and probably right around my age in “dog years." So he’ll be feeling it a little more, too, come October. But his enthusiasm seems to increase each season. I often said I’d rather hunt a day with a dog than a season without. There’s nothing better than realizing just whom it was that coined the term “man’s best friend”: a duck hunter.
The season is coming quickly for us in the North. Soon I will realize just how out of shape I truly am. The trip to the marsh really got the blood flowing. There were teal, wood ducks, gadwalls. It would have been so easy. My buddy and I must have reminded each other a dozen times how great it would be to just have a box of shells and a call. An instant limit, for sure. But it’s never that easy. By then time the season officially opens, the ducks will be wiser. Quickly soon after, they will be downright smart. And we’ll pull out all of the stops with new decoys, the latest gadgets and well-practiced calls. It’s never easy; if nothing else, the mud’s always horrible. But I know it’s near; the signs of summer ending are all around. The ice cream shop down the road closes this weekend, and I get a VIP discount.