Like I have stated before I probably shot more ducks before I was 18 years old than some pretty devoted duck hunters will shoot in a life time. On our ranch in Idaho we had two shallow year around creeks that didn’t freeze over, some ponds, and we were in an area right off the Snake River where the ducks headed to fields to eat. We jump shot ducks on ponds and creeks, and we sat in blinds and shot ducks. Sometimes we would sit on top of the haystacks and shoot passing ducks in the evenings right next to the dairy cow pens. We always had lots of ducks in the freezer and my mother made duck every way possible. It can be a challenge to make a duck taste good. We never once used a dog for retrieving. The only time we might have needed a dog was when a duck dropped right in the middle of a pond, but most of the time it didn’t take long to float over to a bank with the current. I really can’t even remember ever losing a dead duck and at the time this always made me think why people were so fascinated with Labs for duck hunting. I couldn’t see the need for a dog when most of the time I just went over and picked up the dead duck on the ground. It was a much different style of duck hunting than sitting in a blind with thick cover in lots of wetlands like you see on TV shows. If you hunt ducks about any other way than I did growing up you will need a dog unless you like swimming in cold mucky waters.
Now this next paragraph will probably make people think I’m a conceited when it comes to hunting. Most of the time I don’t think duck hunting is actually hunting. I think it is shooting. Dove hunting, would be the same thing in my mind. If you are sitting in a tree stand deer hunting the black and white area between hunting and shooting blurs to gray a bit to me. I have shot antelope from a blind on water holes with my bow and I think this is shooting, and not hunting. I have shot antelope on spot and stalk, and by stalking with a decoy with my bow. This would be more hunting to me. I think hunting is where you are on the ground pursuing wild game and your weapon of choice isn’t as important and the actual pursuit. I have my own thoughts about what is hunting and what is shooting and I have done plenty of both in my life. I’m sure many people will not agree with my thoughts, but that is just how I feel. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I realize we are the ultimate predator with all our advantages, high powered rifles, binoculars, shot guns, and more developed brains than our quarry just to mention a few. We also have bred and trained dogs to use their nose to locate game for us. That being said wild game of any size or species can still be very difficult to hunt in many situations. I bring this up in part because a GWP can be both a true hunter and just a retriever of dead game as well at the same time. I think the GWP is probably the best dog out there when you want one that can do both.
When it comes to ducks a GWP is well suited for most applications. If it is extremely cold they might not be able to perform like a Lab or Chesapeake. In some strong current river retrieving situations you will be better off with a GWP that is on the larger size to hold up in the current with a green head in its mouth. Many GWP’S are very strong swimmers. If you plan on using your GWP for waterfowl where you are shooting them out of a blind it would be a good idea to spend some time doing retriever training. In reality you are not using your GWP as a hunter, but using it as a retriever of dead or wounded waterfowl. A GWP has plenty of natural ability to swim and find dead or wounded ducks, but when it comes to retrieving in the areas that most people shoot ducks some training will be very helpful. Training for blind retrieves, and basic whistle commands would be a must. I would also spend plenty of time swimming your dog to get them conditioned for swimming. I take my dogs swimming in the summer a lot. Most of the time I just play fetch in a lake or pond mainly for conditioning when it’s too hot to run them, but also it is good retrieving training.
As you have probably guessed I don’t sit in a blind duck hunting “shooting” very often. I like to walk too much to sit around very long. However I do shoot some ducks every year for the young dogs I happen to be evaluating during that hunting season. I like to jump shoot ducks on stock ponds, or creeks and rivers. Many times when I’m hunting prairie lands or open country in the western states there will be ducks on any water source. If I know there are stock ponds, creeks, or rivers that might hold ducks, and if it is duck season I will gear up for duck hunting. Obviously that means putting on my vest with just the steel shot, and probably lugging around my heavy side by side 3 ½ inch chambered 12 gauge. When I think there might be ducks on a pond, or in the bend in the river I will call the dog in and heel it. With the young dogs that usually means actually putting them on a lead. Then I will sneak over the bank of a pond or creep up on the river. If I encounter ducks I will turn the young dog loose, and start blasting once the ducks are airborne. Usually the young dog is running or swimming after the fleeting ducks by the time I start shooting. If I have a trained dog they will still be standing by my side until I send them for the retrieve. You want to be careful with your young dog and not shoot right over their heads with the big bertha duck guns. Most of the time I will keep an eye on the dog and try to shoot a duck that is going the other direction just to make sure the noise isn’t right over their heads. Older dogs I’m not too concerned with where I shoot because most of the time the louder it gets the more excited they become.
On a few occasions with the stock ponds or small creeks on the open lands I have had dogs point ducks. One time in a canyon in Idaho I had a dog go on point with another backing down in a big pile of thorn bushes and Russian olive trees. The creek was very narrow and shallow. The dog pointing didn’t have a lot of intensity or style which to me usually means they are not real comfortable with what they are pointing, or they are a bit confused with the animal they are pointing. I was actually expecting a porcupine or maybe a rabbit in the bushes. When five mallards came flying off a kidde pool size spot on the creek I was wishing I had actually brought my steel shot. This was out in an area where I would normally just see chukar and huns up on the ridges so the ducks were a surprise.
The best point on ducks I ever had was on the Cheyenne River in South Dakota. I was hunting with a big solid liver male dog named Harry who was not a warm weather dog at all, but if the temperature was below forty degrees he was as good a hunting dog as I have ever hunted behind. He had hunted the open grass lands and was headed towards the river for a drink and a cool down when he went on point twenty yards from the bank. I was about three hundred yards away from him and above him on the ridge at the top of the valley. After he locked up I could see what I thought were ducks on the other side of the river. The river was around forty yards wide and fairly shallow. The river was close to as low of water volume as it would get all year. When I thought about a plan to get to the ducks nothing looked like I could get within range before they saw me and flew away out of range. This area is covered with rattlesnakes if it is hot out, but with the temperature hovering around twenty five degrees I felt safe to get on the ground if needed to creep up on the ducks. I actually had steel just in case I found some ducks on the river. I walked up to about fifty yards behind Harry and I then hunkered down some for another forty yards. Then I got on my hands and knees and went crawling by Harry while he stood on point. The last ten yards to the bank I was on my belly wiggling like a rattlesnake myself. When I finally ran out of cover sure enough I could see a couple dozen ducks sitting on the other bank. I glanced back at Harry and he was still a statue. I got to my knees and picked out a green head as they were rising. A broken wing brought him to the ground, but he quickly made it to the water. Harry was not broke so he was already past me when he took off with the shot and in the water downstream from the duck. I went ahead and shot it dead on the water because I didn’t think Harry could catch up to it going against the current. It came down river right to Harry who scooped it up and brought it back to me.
Just like when I was a very young kid I still don’t see the fascination with Labs. But, I do think a good dog for ducks is a necessity. I just like using a GWP.