By Mark Fike
It’s the time of year that many of us are hoping for a good push of ducks in this last segment of the season. Therefore many of us are loading our four-legged companions into our boat in the dark to head to our blinds.
Dogs are awesome companions in general, and even more so as hunting companions. They will run out into icy water, swim, find our duck or goose and bring it to hand. However, with our dogs comes some additional considerations as we head to the duck blind.
Location, location, location
As a hunter education instructor for my state, I get to see the accident reports and hear of others that possibly weren’t reported. I have hunted waterfowl with a dog for years and never had the issue I am about to bring to readers’ attention, but I am more watchful these days after reading the accident reports.
It’s amazing how a retriever can discharge a gun, but it happens. More than a few boats, and sadly, a few hunters, have been the victims of a paw in the trigger guard or possibly a dog knocking a gun out of place that should have been unloaded and cased while traveling.
The first lesson here is gun safety. When the boat is moving, your gun should be unloaded and cased. When I am going to or from my blind, I put my gun in a floating case too. That way if it falls overboard, I can easily retrieve it.
If you are hunting out of your boat, your dog should have a special spot where he or she remains until given the command to retrieve. This keeps a lot of things from happening.
If the dog is in a spot where it belongs, you don’t trip over it, you don’t have to wonder where the dog is when getting ready to shoot, and you don’t have to worry about the dog falling out of the boat if you move the boat suddenly.
In short, everyone and everything should have a spot in the boat where it belongs.
The same goes for a duck blind. This is where training is crucial. Your dog should not be standing up looking over the wall to see what is going on. You can make a doggy door for that. Guns get knocked over by dogs moving about.
In and out
In my duck boat, I have a wide front deck. All it took was one icy early AM for me to learn to put a little no-slip tread on that deck. My dog had jumped into the boat ahead of me and slid right off the deck and into the floor of the boat. Thinking it was because he was wet, I never thought twice when I stepped in and did the same thing. I don’t have any idea how bad the dog felt, but I know I had a hard time sitting down for the rest of the day I hurt so bad.
The no-slip tread stickers for stairs works wonders on boat decks in wet or icy conditions.
When coming to the blind, you should have a procedure that you use to get everyone, including the dog, in and out of the boat. This eliminates chaos and confusion. Have one person get out first, then the dog, and then hand gear to the person in the blind. Reverse the procedure to leave.
Cold is conducted through metal
Keep in mind if you are hunting out of your boat and it’s metal, that metal conducts the cold very well. Dogs can get very cold standing or lying on the metal. I throw a piece of burlap on the floor of my boat to keep the dog warmer or you can always put some decking down with outdoor carpet on it to do the same thing.
Boat rides can be cold
Boat rides are cold, so consider letting your dog ride behind someone or something as a windbreak if they look cold. A neoprene vest is a help as well. Just like us, dogs perform better when they are in good shape and warm. Once I get cold, I am done. I don’t care about putting effort into anything other than staying as warm as I can. I let my lab get cold a time or two and he curled up tight as he could and tried to get warm.
Towels are a great thing to have on hand
Throw a few in the storage box. They can be the old ones your wife won’t let company use. A towel can be used to dry off a cold dog and a cold hunter too! While dogs, particularly labs, are cold hardy, some of us keep our dogs in the house a lot, so they’re not as acclimated to the cold as they could be.
If you plan on doing a lot of waterfowl hunting, it may be a good idea to leave your dog outside for a few more hours each day if they are normally in the house. This will help acclimate them to the cold.
Just don’t do it cold turkey and leave them out on the most bitterly cold day you have. Remember, these are our companions. Putting them out a little more so their winter coat comes in nice and thick is a good thing. Freezing them to death without sufficient shelter is not.
Keep safe out there this season and keep your dog in good shape so you both have many more hunts to enjoy in the future.