My Duck Dog Reviews the Season

By author of The Duck Blog

Lovett’s retriever weighs in on the high and low points of the 2019-2020 duck campaign

Cold weather and some "interesting" shooting made the retriever's job tougher this past fall. Photo © Phil Kahnke

There he goes with the shotgun. It’s time, it’s time — oh. He’s not loading our duck gear; just cleaning his pheasant gun. Yawn. I knew I got up for nothing.

Well, that’s OK. Back to my chair. I figured duck season was finished a few weeks ago when he made me stand on that iceberg and watch mergansers pile into the decoys.

“We’re not gonna shoot any of these, Birdie,” he had said. “But they sure are fun to watch.”

Yeah, maybe for you, I’d thought. Just sit there comfortably, dressed in warm camo. Freezing my fanny off while watching ducks you won’t let me retrieve isn’t my idea of fun.

But I guess I can’t complain. The season turned out all right. We got a late start this year, as the old man had some health problems in September and October. In fact, we didn’t get out until late October in South Dakota, when the place was already freezing up. But it was pretty cool. Lots of retrieves, and nothing to do but hunt all day. That high water, though. Man, you couldn’t walk two steps into the shoreline cattails until I was swimming.

"Did he really have to sail that bluebill? And that other bluebill? And the ringneck?" Photo © Brian Lovett“Come on, Bird,” he’d said. “Just a few more yards.”

Uh, listen dude, I’ll be hypothermic in about 30 minutes. Let’s find a rat hut or use that fancy stand you bought me. Otherwise, I’ll sit on shore while you sink neck deep in frozen muck. Good luck shooting.

And not to gripe about shooting, but seriously, could he have sailed any more ducks the first day? I’ll allow a pass for one sloppy shot. But another bluebill? And a ringbill after that? At least we recovered them — thanks to me ­— but he basically turned three 40-yard retrieves into about 400 yards of walking and swimming.

Even when he was on, he was off. As he stood and admired an overhead shot on a mallard, I immediately noted that the bird was roughly 75 yards back on thick ice.

“Back,” he’d said.

Ahem. Have you ever tried to swim through a 7-foot-deep ditch and then climb onto 2 inches of ice? I’ll need stilts and ice cleats to pull that off.

But he finally got the hint and found a little dredge bank where I could work toward the bird. I chuckled a bit watching him bust through all that ice, though.

Things never warmed up much the rest of fall. Shoot, there was snow on the ground when we got home around Halloween, and the big lake froze by mid-November. That was good for me, though, as the Blogger couldn’t open-water hunt the final three weeks of the season. So we headed off to the creeks, springs and ice holes for mallards. We didn’t have full straps every day, but there were enough to keep things interesting. Best, we were usually home by 10 a.m., which meant I could snooze the rest of the day while the old fellow “worked.”

Before Christmas, I saw him clean several guns and start shoving gear in piles. I assumed that meant we were done. But then, he disappeared for a few days. He acted innocent, but I knew he’d been hunting without me. And I smelled another dog on his clothing. That rat. Then I saw two suspicious packages, one of which was marked “shoveler.” Those Hollywoods might make good dog treats, though. Just sayin’.

Now we’re firmly locked in the off-season. Pheasants once a week make things bearable, but the Blogger gets on my nerves sometimes.

“Birdie,” he’ll say, “Wanna get some wood ducks in September?”

Puh-leeze. Like he doesn’t know the answer. I’ve been through nine crazy duck seasons and No. 10 still can’t get here soon enough. Sure, I hurt a bit more after a day in the marsh, and maybe I’m not quite as nimble as I used to be. But I’m not skipping a minute of it. If this duck season taught us anything, it’s that time doesn’t slow down, and our window is brief.

So yeah, old man, I’ll be ready. Make sure you are, too. Let’s keep this rolling as long as we can.

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