Saturday, February 12, 2011

The heresy of hunting ducks without a dog


Hi. My name is Holly. I hunt ducks without a dog.

For a long time, Hank and I viewed this as a temporary situation that would be remedied when we had more money, more time and a sense that we were ready.

But this past duck season, we realized it just wasn't going to happen, because ... well, we're actually fine hunting ducks without a dog.

Seems like such a simple choice, doesn't it? Except here's the thing: For some people, the fact that we hunt ducks without a dog freaks them out.

Here are some of the reactions we've gotten:

"You don't hunt with a dog? You mean, you get your own ducks??? (Which is like saying, "You actually mow your own lawn when there's abundant illegal immigrant labor that will do it for you?")

"Oh, you have to get a dog!" (As if we just haven't been made aware of the necessity.)

"That's how n***ers hunt."
(For the record, I despise racism and ethnic slurs.)

I have never experienced greater peer pressure than the pressure from fellow duck hunters to get a dog. Seriously, my mom was more OK with me deciding not to have kids than many duck hunters are about me not having a dog.

Some people seem to take it personally - as if my doglessness is a condemnation of their choice to hunt with canine partners.

I once wrote an article for a magazine in which I mentioned that I hunt without a dog, and that it feels weird letting a dog do my work for me. The editors responded with a defensiveness that took me totally off guard. They touted the joy of watching a good dog work, the deep history of hunting with dogs and dogs' superior ability (more on this later) to find ducks.

They wanted me to delete the passage - to omit a central fact of my hunting - because it bothered them.

The funny thing is that I'm not opposed to hunting with dogs at all, and I never condemn fellow duck hunters for hunting with dogs. Hell, some of my best friends have duck dogs. And when I hunt with those friends, I love watching their dogs work, whether it's in the marsh or in upland fields.

So why do we not want a hunting dog of our own? Allow me to explain:

Hunting space: The place where we do most of our hunting is a shallow, walk-in marsh with lots of big water. This means that unless we sail a bird really far away, we've got excellent chances of finding it before it burrows into any tules and cattails.

If we routinely hunted deep water from a boat, of course we would have a dog. It's an obvious necessity in that case.

And if we routinely hunted places with lots of thick tule beds, we would get a dog. On the rare occasions we find ourselves in such areas, we simply choose our shots carefully - we won't pull the trigger on a bird if we think its flight path and likely angle of descent would put it in thick tules.

We never say, "Oh, eff it! Take the shot - the dog will find it."

And that works really well for us. Hank and I had loss rates of about 10 percent this past season, well below the 18 percent loss rates that hunters themselves report in surveys.

For the record, I lost nine ducks hunting my regular spot this season.

One was a ruddy. I'd knocked her down, but my gun jammed so I couldn't take the finishing shot. She dove, and that was it - never saw her again.

The rest were ducks that sailed a long way, then got up and flew again when I got close to them. Pretty sure a dog wouldn't have helped.

Commitment: A dog is like a child, not just a commitment of money - though the cost is significant - but a commitment of time. Dogs need to be walked. Dogs need maintenance training and practice.

Since I started hunting a little over four years ago, I have gotten more busy, not less. I work all day, and then I work all night, doing photography or writing. Hank's schedule is similarly crammed, though you can insert "cooking" in lieu of photography.

I keep having to jettison things that used to be important to me.

Giving up cooking? Who cares - Hank cooks better than I ever could.

Giving up exercise? That's bad. Literally, chasing ducks is the only exercise I've gotten since November.

Giving up regular housekeeping? That's gross.

I've given up all three, and I'm really not sure what else I can stop doing.

Then there's the travel. Hank and I do a fair bit of traveling, and our travel plans for this year are starting to look staggering. Our kitties are fine with food and water when we leave the house for four or five days, but that just doesn't fly with dogs.

Fear: The first two reasons are, frankly, compelling enough - having a dog isn't necessary or practical for us. But there is a third reason, and it's what I see and hear all around me when I hunt.

While we all admire the well-trained dog, we've all come across dogs that are the exact opposite: The one that bays at incoming ducks (thanks for wrecking the shot, there, Rover). The one that mauls ducks (unacceptable - we hunt for the table). The willful dog (always easy to locate by the repeated yells of "NO! NO! NOOOOO!").

Frankly, if I were going to get a dog, I would beg, borrow or steal the money to have it trained well.

But I know even the best-trained dogs sometimes have problems that make them more of a liability than an asset. Then you're faced with three choices: Get rid of it (yeah, send it to a pet shelter or back to the breeder, despite having welcomed it into your home as a member of the family), retire it to petdom (meaning it will howl every time you pack up your duck gear and leave without it), or - as many people seem to do - just keep hunting with it until it finally dies.

I would be the third person, because I LOVE my animals, and I would never get rid of a dog or leave it at home just because it wasn't perfect. And I really don't want to put myself in the position of having to make that choice - I mean, why should I when I don't have to?

So that's it. That's why we don't have a duck dog and aren't going to get a duck dog unless something major changes.

If history is any indication, I'll now get a lot of comments from people who want to convince me that the reasons I've given for my personal choice are wrong. I'll be made to feel like a heretic. A disgrace to hunting.

But deep down, I'm really hoping people surprise me, and perhaps engage in a little introspection about why they have such a visceral reaction to our doglessness.

After all, I'm not asking you to give up your dog, or tell you that you're stupid to have a duck dog. I'm just saying it's OK for me not to have one.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Chris in Music City, USA said...

Great post, as usual, Holly! I am an all too occasional rabbit hunter in Middle TN. I could really use a dog but it just isn't worth the time or expense for me to buy and train one. But it also wouldn't be fair to a hunting dog that only gets to go out 5 or 6 times a year to do what it has been bred and trained to do. SO I will keep stomping through the thick stuff and hope that during deer season I have enough orange on that I am not mistaken for a white tail! I really enjoy reading both yours and Hank's posts, keep up the great work!

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


I know just what you mean, I'd love a dog, but strewth the commitment!

Maybe there's a dog pool scheme for gun dogs?


Greg Damitz said...

I have always had a dog whether it be to hunt pheasants or ducks. I get far more from the relationship than the dog ever gets. That's my choice to have one. As long as one doesn't hunt tules and shoot 15 mallards to get their 7 because they lost the rest I have no problem with people hunting without a dog. Knowing your limits is much more of a factor han owning a dog. I enjoy hunting with my dogs and will continue to hunt with dogs. There are tims when I do leav them home such as not enough cover to hide them. A dog is a huge commitment of money and time. My newest dog has been driving me batty all week. Duck season is over and I want to rest, get my yard cleaned, and prepare my garden. He wants to duck hunt or atleast train with bumpers. I'll deal with the annoyance of having a dog with such drive as it is great during the season.

I just serviced my woodduck boxes. If your still interested you can come along to check them around the beginning of April. I'll try to get Robert from CWA to come and band some hens. Are fridays still good?

Wolfy said...

Like always, your posts are inciteful and clear. I think the problem may be easily explained. Sort of.

You already addressed it - the area you hunt IS unlike most other duck hunting areas, where retrieval of wounded ducks w/o a dog is difficult at best, impossible at worst. If the comments you're getting are from LOCAL waterfowlers, who do understand where you hunt, well - I'm at a loss.

You're not alone - I have a few very good friends who hunt grouse withour a dog. They are viewed in the same light as lepers and Ebola carriers.

Sorry I missed you at SHOT - we'll connect next time.


Todd said...

I understand your points. As the breeder of my dogs says, "There is no reason to sell a pudelpointer. There aren't enough for the people that want them."

I deleted what was to be my argument. You will come to dogs if/when you choose to. Until then enjoy your hunting.

Anonymous said...

I don't' hunt enough to even consider a hunting dog, but my husband and I are just not interested in owning a dog anyway. We get a surprising amount of pressure from our suburban friends about the joys of having a dog, and don't we want to know what we are missing out on!? We just don't want one, and we've recently committed to getting 4 chickens, who will be our first pets together. We couldn't be more thrilled with our choice.

Galen Geer said...

Great post and I understand your decision. Me? My Cookie is sound asleep on my feet and you know how much she means to me. I think the dog/hunter thing is more emotional than a lot of hunters are willing to admit.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

As a dogless new hunter, I'm just glad to know a season as fruitful as yours has been is possible without a dog.

Our cat is on her last legs, and we've talked about whether we're going to upgrade to a dog, or just re-cat. But, like you, I find the commitment daunting. Even though we have livestock, we can go away for a day or two without making special arrangements, and that means a lot.

On the other side of the equation, I think there's a real majesty in a well-trained working dog, and a clean retrieve is a beautiful thing to watch.

Barbara Baird said...

Uh, do you think you could train a cat to hunt duck? ;)
As usual, your post is full of angst and also, words to ponder. Am gonna post this in OpEd at The WOMA and feed back thru to your site.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Great post, Holly. As you say, I imagine that hunting shallow vs. deep water would make a huge difference in the importance of having a dog.

I should write a post: "The heresy of having a Lab without hunting ducks."

Richard Mellott said...

I also hunt ducks without a dog, and since I live in an apartment right now, a lab is pretty impossible. Besides, I've had dogs all my life, I have one now, and while I'd love to have one, no way can I add another body to the family. The upland situation almost inspired me to get a dog, because I've seen so many cripples get away there, but so far, I haven't been a good enough shot to get that many cripples, so it isn't an issue there, either.
Snipe hunting is where I could really use a dog, though. I went out one morning, and hit four, collected one. I'm probably going to make plans to go snipe hunting with a friend who has a dog, if I can find one. I live in Southern California for the moment, and have no friends at the moment who have the hounds. I think it's because everyone is just as busy as I am. Do you think, after watching the
"Doritos Dog," that my Pug might have a chance as a catch dog for pigs?

Gary Thompson said...

I admire your decision, even though I have a different perspective on the value a dog adds to the hunting experience. All too often I come across would be hunters that purchase a dog and then fail miserably to make the investment in time and effort to see it properly conditioned or trained, yielding many of the unfortunate associations you describe.

I pursue skills that contribute to my outdoor activities in order to extend my enjoyment of those sports. In so doing, I benefit from a more robust understanding of history, the technical attributes of success, and the comfort that comes from knowing what I'm talking about.

I tie flies because it gets me through the frustration of winter when ice covers many of the rivers in Colorado, or feeds the fantasy that will be fulfilled when I reach a particular exotic destination. I practice my Spey casting all year... well... because it's calming and simply beautiful when done correctly-a skill I may never fully achieve. Similarly, I reload shells and refurbish sxs shotguns because if fills the long months between bird hunting seasons and gives me a new affordable gun to look forward to when the next season rolls around. Lastly, I train my dog all year because I love watching a properly conditioned and obedient dog pursue it's birthright. Being a tool of grace, companionship, and unbridled enthusiasm, his contribution to my season outweighs that of my shotgun, yet I foolishly hope to earn my way toward his tireless dedication.

Dogs fill an alpha role in my home. They go to work with me and train throughout the year. When I'm on vacation and they can't come, they are boarded at a gundog kennel where they continue their training. Sometimes, I think they don't want to come home when I pick them up! They are a part of my exercise regimen and keep me going when sometimes my enthusiasm is lacking. They are a commitment and deserving of that dedication as they will return it ten fold when the earth tilts in the fall. It's pointless to half-ass your bird dog.

I don't know you very well, or rather not at all, but I suspect once you decide to take on an activity, you do it full choke. To that end, I hope you and Hank will find yourself in a position one day to invite a four legged hunting companion into your life. That will be one happy bird dog for sure.

Dave Proulx said...

Sounds like you are dogless hunter for all the right reasons.

You've also called out two points that (sadly) not enough hunters consider. First, you've decided to be disciplined in shot selection when hunting in cover. Think too many folks simply let the steel fly without regard for game retrieval.

Secondly, the 10-15 year ownership commitment, including ongoing training, is too easily ignored when many folks decide to buy a pup. My impression is that some hunters believe that the dog will essentially train himself, or that after six months of basic yard and field work, the dog is "trained" for life. Your post decribes the outcome of that faulty logic as well.

Recognizing the significant time and money commitment, I can't think of anything that adds more enjoyment to waterfowling for me than good dog work. Dog training also helps to scratch the itch for me until the next hunting season. The satisfaction I get from hunting with my dog is the biggest reason that I'm far less passionate about other forms of hunting, such as deer and turkey hunting.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Chris, our first flirtation with the idea of getting a dog was when I wasn't hunting yet. Hank was hunting rabbits a lot and wanted a beagle. We both worked a lot of 12-hour days at the Capitol. I successfully convinced him that a lonely beagle would be a bad thing to do to the neighborhood.

SBW, some upland bird clubs will let you rent dogs for a day. And if we did more upland hunting, we'd for sure get a dog. I've hunted pheasants without them - it's mostly pointless.

Greg, you've hit the nail on the head: We know our limits. And please let me know when you'll be checking the boxes. Fridays are still best, though I may be doing some traveling in April - not sure when.

Wolfy, we've gotten comments from a variety of places, some local, some just people commenting on our blogs. But good lord, I can't imagine hunting grouse without a dog (though I wouldn't consider anyone a leper for doing so).

Todd, for the record, your recent comment was NOT one of the ones that bother me - you were super respectful about your point of view. And Hank's encounter with you got him really interested in pudelpointers - he was very impressed.

Jannamo, isn't it weird? That's the whole crux of this, I think - when people see other folks spurning what seems essential to them, it's almost as if it's threatening in some way. As if me not hunting with a dog threatens to unravel the fabric of a 25,000-year-old partnership between hunters and dogs. It really doesn't!

Galen, you know how much I love Cookie! And I think dogs are the one subject I've seen that can bring hunters shamelessly to tears. Last fall I was at an event where one of the guys asked me to photograph his dog doing something really cute. I was perplexed until we parted company, and he told me the dog was probably in his last year of hunting, if not his life. This guy said only two things have made him cry - the births of his children, and the deaths of his dogs.

Tamar, if you plan to hunt divers lot, I regret to tell you that you're going to need a dog, desperately. (Although I've seen divers elude dogs too - lots of mental images of dogs paddling, swinging around, trying to figure out where the duck will pop up.)

Barbara, I have invited my cat to go with me many times and she just says it would interrupt her rigorous regimen of sleeping and cleaning herself. Thanks for the post!

Tovar, now that IS a sin! Retrievers were born to retrieve. My hair stylist was telling me the other day that he has a golden, and that dog loves to retrieve his chickens. Fortunately, the dog has a soft mouth, so the birds are none the worse for the adventure.

Richard, snipe are tough - I've lost more than I've retrieved. But someone told me - maybe it was Charlie - that dogs aren't as helpful as you'd think for snipe hunting. Not sure why.

Gary, yours is a perfectly lucid explanation for why dogs are important to you. And you have nailed it completely: I don't do anything half-assed. If I had ever had children, I would've been the most dedicated and diligent mother you'd ever seen. And if I had hunting dogs, the same would apply. If things ever change - if upland hunting becomes a more important part of our life - we may well get dogs. It's just not in the cards right now.

Dave, that's really important. And I feel very, very strongly that we shouldn't shoot animals carelessly - if I shoot it, I want to eat it. I don't want to wound it just to make it hawk food.

And I really do enjoy watching good dogs work - it really is art. One unforgettable day for me was hunting pheasants with my friend Dana and her huge pack of labs (she breeds them) - it was really beautiful. I wrote about it here.

Ryan Sabalow said...

I'm glad you're not getting a dog since you're not 100 percent committed to giving her the best life possible.

They're really not for everybody, especially folks with busy lifestyles.

As my trainer told me, the hardest dogs for him to train are the ones whose owners buy them and leave them in a kennel for weeks at a time.

Then they take them out to the blind and get mad when the dog runs off like a spazoid.

Those are usually those guys you hear screaming at their dogs (though to be fair, my dog's pretty well trained and I've been known to dog holler with the best of them from time to time).

But I wouldn't rule out the possibility of getting a duck dog someday, Holly, especially when you and Hank get some free time later in life, or when Hank's book deal takes off and you guys become gozillionaires. :)

For me, my chocolate Lab Gaddy is my best friend and truest companion. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true.

I've been hunting hard now for the last six years or so since I graduated college.

Aside from the last two seasons, I hunted almost exclusively by myself.

Now that I've got Gaddy, it makes those lonely days out in the blind so much more special.

All doubts about whether she'd be my full-time hunting buddy disappeared one day two Octobers back on an island up at Ash Creek.

She was just a little pup, less than a year old.

That morning, we had a great lonely blue-bird day shoot. She'd brought me five birds by about 10 a.m. No one was around and I was lounging on the island watching the quiet marsh while she sat beside me.

Gradually, I felt this little muddy puppy snout start resting on my shoulder.

She'd fallen asleep sitting up, and she was making contented little puppy snores in my ear.

My heart melted.

But Gaddy's more than just a loyal hunting partner.

She quivers with excitement when I take my running shoes off the shelf, which of course makes me feel extra guilty about being lazy. Who needs a gym membership when you've got a trail-running Lab?

She's also a playmate for my baby. Just last night I just watched Layla giggle uncontrollably while she tapped her upside the head a half dozen times with a half-eaten bagel.

Gaddy didn't once try to sneak a snack, though it took every ounce of control she had.

And the wife and I sleep soundly with her on the floor next to us knowing that if someone breaks into the house while we sleep, Gaddy will most certainly let us know.

That's on top of all those times this season she swam for me through half frozen ponds carrying hissing, snapping 15-pound wing-shot honkers.

I can't imagine my life without a Lab in the house, and I bet if you get a dog someday, you'll feel the same way.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ryan, I'm sure you're right about the spazoids (and I know some high-volume correction is necessary at times even for the best of dogs).

One of the reasons I said we wouldn't get a duck dog unless something major changes is precisely what you said: If we suddenly found ourselves in the money and I could quit my day job, I could see fitting a dog into my life. Though truth be told, I could totally get away with taking a dog to work - my students bring their dogs to school all the time. One of the editors has a nice dog bed by his desk, and another one keeps a dog bowl just outside her office.

As for how wonderful dogs can be, watch this video, and I dare you not to cry. It shows a dog getting hit on a busy freeway in Santiago, Chile, and another dog coming to its rescue, literally dragging it out of traffic. Seriously, I cry every time I see it.

Phillip said...

Holly, I think I've said before that I totally understand your rationale, and agree that it sounds like this isn't the right time for you guys to have a dog. I can appreciate where you're coming from. I think I've quit harping on it by now, except for the rare occasion when I feel like giving you a hard time... and we know that almost never happens.

I believe a lot of the criticism and comments about your not having a dog have stemmed from well-meaning folks who've read some of the self-flagellating posts you used to write about losing birds. Of course dogs aren't 100% either, but most of us can say that they can reduce the number of lost birds.

On the other hand, I'm sure there are also the elitists who think of bird hunting without a dog in the same way elitist fly fishermen look at using worms or corn for trout. Can't speak for them and don't want to... I believe you have no one to please except yourself. That's really what it all comes down to.

For my own part... I think if I didn't have a dog I'd probably quit bird hunting altogether. It's not that I think you can't hunt without a dog... just that I don't believe I'd enjoy it nearly as much. Yeah, it adds that much for me. But that's me.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Holly: When you figure out how to clone yourself or squeeze 48 hours out of each day, so that you have the time to devote to a dog, let me know how you did it. Maybe I'll try the same thing, so I have time to take up waterfowling, upland hunting, turkey hunting, etc.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, that in your situation, you don't NEED a Retriever necessarily.

Having lived and hunted in the same general area as you at one time, I too didn't have a dog.

(That didn't mean that I didn't WANT a dog, but at the time it wasn't a practical consideration)

Hunting on most of Cali's WMAs and NWRs where the water is only knee deep in most places, I'd normally wear Hip Boots rather than Chest Waders. The Waders only came out if I knew I was hunting an area with deeper water or it was a rainy day.

IMO the "need" for a good Retriever is more geographically dependent than anything else.

Sure, down there you're going to lose a bird or two on occasion. There's just no way you're going to find every wing clipped Teal that makes it to a dense clump of Tules; that's a given.

But up where I live now, where once it starts raining in earnest the water gets DEEP, there are many places where you're not going to be able to wade after a fleeing Duck on the water; a dog's a necessity.

Also we're often hunting the edges of flooded timber, sometimes out of a boat. There all a Duck has to do is hold still amongst the branches, brambles and fallen leaves and it requires a good nose to locate it.

Having a dog is a big responsibility. It's very much like having a young child. It definitely limits things like trips away from home, unless you can take your dog with you, or arrange for boarding.

Maybe in the future, when your living situation is different (like a larger place, with some land) you'll have one?

All I can say is, after having many, once you've had a good one, you'll never be without one again.

My 2 Cents.

Bill C.-Orygun

NorCal Cazadora said...

Phillip, I know that whenever you give me a hard time, it's just your way of saying you'd like to be punched, so I totally understand that. ;-)

And I can understand people reacting that way to my stories about lost ducks. But show me the dog owner who doesn't lose ducks every year. Two of the ducks I got on closing day were shot first by guys who had dogs with them. One just died, and the guys didn't bother to take their dog out. The other landed 60 yards from me in some grass, and despite several of us yelling at the guy that his bird had landed there, he didn't go get it, so I did - that one took some water swatting.

And many of the ducks I couldn't retrieve were lost while I was hunting with someone who had a dog. So I just don't get why people act like a dog would solve that problem.

Tovar, you need to get rich with that book you're writing. Being independently wealthy has got to be helpful...

Bill C, the door is always open to dogs should my hunting style change. But I enjoy a certain amount of freedom by being dogless, much as I do by being childless, and I like it.

Ryan Sabalow said...

I make it a policy to tear up only at the end of sports movies like Rocky, so I'll pass on the video.

That sounds terribly touching/heartbreaking, too much so for this lazy Sunday afternoon.

Regarding your students bringing dogs to class, I remember watching a group of frat boys bring a Lab puppy to campus back at Chico State.

The girls they passed went gaga, which I'm sure was the point.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Funny thing is that most the students who bring in their dogs are girls!

Ryan Sabalow said...

I did a blog post based on my comment above.

Peep it, yo:

Mike at The Big Stick said...

Holly - having a gun dog is certainly a labor of love. As a waterfowl hunter I always felt like a lab was the final piece in the puzzle, a friend and a tool that would allow me to hunt deeper water and be able to show off a bit to my hunting buddies. Murphy has been just that. Training him was challenging but also very rewarding. Watching the way he has developed from a 6-month pup that would run out of the blind when we started shooting to a solid field dog that wags his tail when we open up on geese. What i never thought about beforehand was how the intelligence of a well-bred hunting dog would also make for a wonderful pet. My daughters love him to death and his intelligence and good nature makes him so fun to be around.

I've also become so protective of him that he's never become the complete terminator of a gun dog I envisioned. I don't send him on super-cold water retrieves and I even let him stay home on the coldest of days. He's not just a hunting dog. He's a member of our family and he deserves to be treated as such.

With all of that said, I respect your choice completely. If you don't need a dog and you know your lifestyle is currently compatible with one, you're making a responsible choice. Enjoy the dogs of friends you get to hunt with and don't feel bad about not having a pooch of your own. I use to take grief for hunting ducks out of a kayak instead of a big boat. Never let it bother me and you shouldn't let this decision bother you.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I think it's better to have a friend and partner than a terminator. Gotta make room for joy in the blind.

And kayak hunting! One of these days I'd like to try that. But I bought a kayak before I started hunting, and it is, unfortunately, blaze orange...

Dan said...

I get a lot more ducks when I DON'T hunt with my dog. I just have to be more careful and often don't attempt doubles so I can track my own downed birds. I do take him out often, because of the great work he does on pheasants and for companionship.

Todd said...

When/if you guys decide to get a hunting dog, buy from a breeder that hunts wild birds. If the dog breed and and breeder you want to buy a dog from charge a price that seems too high....understand that you will feed a POS dog the same amount over the next 9-12 years as a top performer. That being said money doesn't guarantee a great dog. Neither does a pedigree. A breeder with a solid breeding program, defined goals, and most importantly one that hunts should be able to show you tangible improvement.

I never kill more birds than when I hunt with my dog. That being said, I never hunt birds without a dog. In the uplands Gunnr and I have lost 1 Hungarian Partridge and 1 Pheasant since 2007. I often hunt ducks and geese on the Yellowstone River. Ducks and geese give us a higher loss rate due to the nuances of the river. I feel good in saying that our loss rate is still sub 10%. Next year I will keep track.

Sorry for the rant, but I couldn't take too many more of the..."I do better without my dog" comments. A well bred, well trained gundog can only add to the enjoyment and success of bird hunting. If this is not what you are experiencing as a hunting dog owner, please see my qualifiers.

Blessed said...

As a hunter who hunts with dogs I have to chime in with the others and say that I completely understand your current position and decision to not get a dog right now.

I can't remember exactly how many ducks and geese Hubby killed this year but I know our retrieval rate (with a dog) was excellent - 90-95%. I think the key is in being careful with your shots, and not taking long shots, risky shots, and etc... long story short - being an ethical hunter - with or without a dog.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Blessed - amen!!!

Todd - you've hit the nail on the head: well-trained, well-bred. But what percentage of retrievers out there fit that bill? And while we're at it, what percentage of hunters... oh, never mind! ;-)

DarrenM said...

Speaking of willful dogs... At the Junior hunt we were setup next to a dog whose name we thought was "Willy-NO!"... turns out its name was actually "Lilly-NO!" but you're spot on. Dog broke after bird that got near it and every shot fired.

I love my dog, wish he knew how to hunt... but I do agree with what you say.

The best thing for me (much like kids) is to hunt with people who have well trained dogs (or kids) and then let them take them home and deal with all that at the end of the night! :)

SimplyOutdoors said...


If it makes you feel any better, we tend to get the same reaction around here because we hunt rabbits without dogs; people look at us like we're insane or something.

I wish I knew why they react the way they do, but they have to understand it's not anything against dogs at all, because I love dogs. Like you, though, I simply don't have the time, nor the space for them. We had one once, and it was a mistake (we did make sure he went to someone else we trusted, I might add).

Dogs are a huge commitment, and not the right fit for a lot of us. Our fellow hunters just need to understand that, I guess.

Hunt Like You're Hungry said...

Holly- Fantastic post.. I've been in my jobless hiatus but I'm back, procrastinating my studies and catching up on your fine blog.

In terms of duck hunting with a dog... if you can do without one- props to you! If you can't, go buy one. But it is obvious that you're doing fine so keep up the good work. (You are most definitely the antithesis of a disgrace to hunting.)

In related news, we bought a black lab from the pound when she was 14 weeks. She barely retrieves but loves going out in the boat. She can't hunt yet but we do fine without her. DU claims that even if she doesn't like retrieving the ducks, it's still nice to have a companion when he's alone.


NorCal Cazadora said...

I hear pound pets can turn out to be amazing, so you never know. Either way, kudos to you for taking in an unwanted animal. If I didn't have Hank saying no, I'd totally be a crazy cat lady, because I hate, hate, hate knowing how many cats out there are abandoned or unwanted. One of my students volunteers at the county pet shelter, and it's hard just to look at her photos of unwanted pets.

Todd said...

I went down the road of looking for a retriever and knowing that I also wanted to hunt the uplands, a pointer. Thank god for a show called "What the Dogs Taught Me." One episode profiled the pudelpointer breed and I knew that these were the dogs I was looking for. The pudelpointer is only bred for hunters, is not AKC recognized, and has never been in a dog show.

They are hard to come by as there are only a few breeders in the US and they strive to only sell to hunters. So while you might say "How many retrievers?..." It is rare that I ever here such a sentiment about pudelpointers. The only downside as I can tell is the silly german name and the popularity of designer dogs like the labradoodle. A pudelpointer from a breeder that belongs to the North American Pudelpointer Alliance is the essence of 'well-bred.'

NorCal Cazadora said...

That does sound good - I've heard about what's been done to Labs in the name of show breeding, and it ain't necessarily helpful. I like the idea that they're focused on the breed's work, not the breed's show potential.

During the time when Hank and I talked on and off about getting dogs, the plan was we'd get an upland dog and a duck dog, but we were always intrigued by the dogs that could do both.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

What you're talking about Holly is what a lot of peopel refer to as 'versatile dogs' and there are a lot of great forums for folks who believe in the concept. Some of the breeds they really like are boykins, griffs, GSP and GWPs and labs. I don't upland hunt much for birds so I was happy with a solid retriever and that's why I went with a lab. We got our first one from a good line and he was tough to train. Our second lab came from a backyard breeder and has been as solid as a rock. You just never know.

Also - kayaks. Mine was banana yellow. I just bought some cheap camo burlap and cut it to fit the boat. You just put it on and splash a little water and it will give you the concealment you need. I never actually hunted out of mine much. It was more a tool for getting around the lake easier and not needing a $2000 boat. When I was in high school my buddies and I also use to hunt a lot of wood ducks here in KY out of a canoe.

sportingdays said...

I, for one, would love to see you or Hank get a dog, but mostly for selfish reasons -- because it would no doubt result in all kinds of hilarious new blog material.

But it's very much a personal choice. I tend to agree with Phillip. I'd mostly give up bird hunting -- certainly upland bird hunting would hold very little appeal -- if I couldn't do it with my own dog. A hunting dog adds richness to your overall life in addition to your experience afield and has very little to do, in my personal opinion, with such practical considerations as recovering lost birds or being a more productive hunter, although those are certainly benefits of a well-trained dog during its prime hunting years.

Some of the very best duck hunters I know hunt without dogs –- and they kill far more ducks than those hunters I know with dogs. They can focus on hunting ducks to the exclusion of everything else.

They are free to roam the wildlife refuges without considering the needs or comforts of a dog; they can hunt in layout blinds or from coffin blinds out in the open water and use other effective techniques that don't always lend themselves to hunters with dogs.

I pass up many good hunting opportunities each season in deference to my dogs. But, then again, few things in life are as satisfying to me as a snoring Labrador at the end of day’s hunt.

NorCal Cazadora said...

So glad you weighed in! You were one of the first people who really spoke honestly to me and Hank about not only the joys of hunting with dogs, but the downsides - limitations such as not being able to hunt certain places because they're not dog-friendly, or trying to decide whose dog(s) get to go when multiple dog owners want to hunt together. Hearing that from someone who clearly loves hunting with dogs (and seeing yours, I know why) was nice.

I also believe that if we'd do a lot more upland hunting if we had a dog - I totally get why hunters often say they go out more for their dogs than themselves.

Swamp Thing said...

I retired my dog 5 years ago, at age 10. Since he hasn't passed on, we haven't gotten another one. And now we have a toddler. So it'll be awhile.

In some of our tidal marshes, it's nearly impossible to hunt without a dog, especially if you sail a bird into the marshgrass.

Some of our public spots legally require you to have a dog for this reason. Weird, huh?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Makes sense to me! Guess I'm luckier than I thought to hunt an area that works so well without a dog. Funny thing is that's been my whole experience, except for annual trips to Klamath and two SF Bay diver hunts this year.

Glen said...

I hunt with a dog most of the time. Is she a great dog? No. Has she found birds that I might not have? Yes.

Of course you do not have to have a dog to hunt ducks. Nor are you less of a hunter, morally, ethically or functionally if you hunt without a dog.

You have more than justified your reasons for NOT having a dog and that is all that matters. You know your limitations and you abide by them. The problem I have with your post is that it seems as if the driving force behind it was the comments from those with dogs and their condescending tone. I get the vibe that you feel as if they are making assumptions on your skill level, ethics, etc. and you don't like it yet you turn around and say "We never say, "Oh, eff it! Take the shot - the dog will find it". Aren't you doing the same to them? That's the way I took it...if I'm wrong, so be it and I apologize, but for me the integrity of the entire post rolled out the door with that comment.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Nope, Glen, I don't think people who made those comments were making assumptions about my skill level or my ethics, though obviously some of those comments were classist. If I thought people were making such assumptions, I would have said so, because I am nothing if not direct.

My issue is that I resent people shoving their lifestyle choices down my throat, much as I would resent people telling me, "Oh, you have to have children," or, "You have to believe in this god."

Glen said...

Cool, so I mis-interpreted. That's the bane of the written word, I guess. All is well...cyber thumbs up!

Tox said...

Thanks for the post, Holly - your and Hank's writings have led me towards learning to hunt (at 40) even though I've no family tradition to start from. I've been thinking about hunting the refuges around Sac (I live in the bay), and was worried about whether I'd need a dog (or a partner with one). This makes it that much easier for me to get out there next season.

As for the kayak - try cheap contact/shelf paper. I used to use it for friskit when doing graphic work a couple of decades ago. There should be something low-tack that would be less garish, and cheap enough you could spray it with krylon if you want, without damaging your kayak.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Boy, I'm really glad to hear this helps! Duck hunting is super fun, but requires a lot of specialized gear. I can see how being able to scratch one thing of your list makes it more achievable. Yay!

Unknown said...

I'm a bit like you... just started hunting at 46yrs but like the honesty of it. Can't fit a dog into my normal life so have to settle for less return on the marsh. I read a lot of people use fishing rods to snare shot wildfowl and reel them in so I may try that to up my returns and opportunities a little.