Duck Opener '07

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Agency Lake -- Buddy's First Retrieve!


Can a young pup teach and old dog a new trick? Buddy, my seven month yellow lab, taught Max how to rumble with and retrieve a pissed off Honker on Sunday of the opener. I left Buddy home with Pauline on the opening day. I had invited Steve Barrows to join me, and I didn’t want to be distracted all morning disciplining Hyper-Baby. After my great success last year, I headed out on Saturday prior to opening day. Duck hunters were already out scouting one week in advance. When I climbed the levy to check out last year’s spot on the BLM land, I was disappointed to see dry fields. Last year numerous parties had set up on the corners of the Four-Mile Slough adjacent to Agency Lake. When I went to one of the corners, I could see only a feint trail leading up and over the dyke.

Climbing out of my boat and busting through the willows, I was surprised to see little water except for the long channel, which had very little cover. No one was around. I returned Wednesday, and still I found no established spreads or evidence of passage. I hiked out pulling a decoy cart about three-quarters of a mile and spread out a dozen duck decoys and eight floating honker decoys to hold my spot. A smaller channel drained into the main slough. The closest cover was forty-five yards from the main channel, but there was a small pocket of water that bulged from the drainage ditch just before dumping into the main channel. It seemed like as good a spot as any, but I was troubled that no one was around.

Friday I returned with another two dozen decoys and my portable blind and all the materials that I would need to hide two hunters and a dog. This time there was another boat, but I had no idea where they had headed. I set everything up for the next morning. Shooting time came and went without incident. Miles away everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The other party had walked another half mile past us, and they were very active. A few ducks flew by us along the water’s edge too far to shoot. I theorized that we would get some action mid-morning when fleeing ducks looked for quiet water. But then the geese started flying. We called one or two small flocks towards us for one or two passes, but each time they would flair or fly by us at about fifty yards. Finally, we saw four Canada Geese cross the channel about two hundred yards down from us. We called to them and pulled them in for five wide, looping passes. We were sure they would land, but then on the last pass they refused. Again, they crossed in front of us at about fifty yards. We picked up three ducks and then broke for a nap in the afternoon.

Sitting up from a rest, I watched as about a hundred mallards dropped into the field of tulles about two hundred yards behind us. I had rejected going into the tulles because the water slicks floating over the mud are treacherous and lethal to a lone hunter. Putting out my decoys two feet from the shoreline the previous day, I had dropped into the mud up to my chest. I could barely extricate myself. Fortunately, I could reach a rusted metal fence post to help me ashore.

I decided to explore. Steve found a willow staff and walked across two small rivets of mud. I was encouraged and left Steve in the blind and took Max out into the tulle field. Two hundred yards out I found inter-locking, skinny patches of water and jumped all those mallards, knocking down one drake. We set up six decoys there for the late afternoon. We had numerous mallards slip behind us, surprise us or land just out of range. The next day I decided to pick up my decoys and knock down the blind. I arrived late in the morning, after wandering in circles in the fog out on Agency Lake in my Gator-Trax boat and Mud-Buddy motor. Hyper-Baby and Max were out of control on my approach to the water slick. I didn’t dare yell at them as they got out of range for fear of jumping a bunch of birds. Both dogs were ahead of me and off to my left. Breaking out into the open, they put up about forty honkers.

I dropped down into some high grass and fumbled to shuck my decoy bag and un-sling my shotgun that was strung over my head. As luck would have it, a small group broke my way, and I had just enough time to rise up from my knees and dump one goose. I am a man with limited expectations, and low levels of success satisfy me in the field. I declared my weekend a success. I quickly selected a patchy island in this prairie pot-hole and tossed out a dozen dekes. Within twenty minutes I worked a flock of green-heads around my blind twice. They didn’t brake for a landing as they flew over me at twenty-yards. I decided I wanted to bring them in for a classic landing. I peeked up and could see their eyes, their beaks, their green heads, their feet, and of course, they could see me. Pale-white face with shinny glasses, say goodbye, dummy. Some duck hunters are destined to repeat the same old mistake over and over again.

Ten minutes later I called in a flock of geese. They made two passes, and locked their wings fifty yards out heading straight into my back. I squirreled down into the mud and watched their silent approach through heavy foliage of green tulles. Both of my dogs were frozen in place totally visible to the approaching B57 bombers. At 63 I am a bit slower to stand up from a squatting position. When I did rise and throw up my shotgun, the leaders were eye level at ten yards. Bang! I dropped a goose that broke to my right. I moved the barrel up into the sky to pick up a second goose. Bang! He wobbled but did not fold so I dropped him with my third shot. I have never taken three birds in the air on three shots. Had the second goose dropped with one shot, I believe I would have had my first triple, a feat that has eluded me with the exception of shooting out of a scull boat.

Both of the geese were up walking ten yards away having been shot with number two steel shot in three-inch casings. I couldn’t shoot them in the mud as my dogs were right on top of them. Buddy charged right at the closest goose and knocked the goose down with his chest. In his charge he lost his footing on impact and flipped over the goose. His feet flailed in the mud and air, and by the time he spun around, the goose charged him and boxed him with both wings. Buddy feinted and lunged at the goose, but not before he had been pecked and hissed at. Max, my timid eight-year old black lab who will not retrieve a wounded goose, jumped back out of the way of the brawl before him. He sat down and watched the fight safely out of the way.

Buddy had knocked the goose down twice, but each time the goose would jump to its feet and attack Buddy. Buddy was unflinching and kept charging the goose, knocking it down and then trying to grab a good hold. Each time he attempted to drag the goose across the mud, the goose would escape his hold and attack. At one point Buddy was dragging the goose by its ass while ignoring the pecks to his head. Finally Buddy nailed the goose by the neck and held the goose’s head under the water. The goose expired, and Buddy made his first retrieve dragging the goose ten yards to my feet. I set the two geese along the mud bank behind us and returned to the blind with the two dogs. Not to be out done, Max had run to the other cripple and brought him to me. Buddy would not let me hug or congratulate him. He stood sentry staring at the two geese. About five minutes later I saw Buddy jump to all fours. His goose had stood up and was walking out onto the mud flats! Before I could shoot it, Buddy charged, and it was round two. This time Buddy took him by the neck and dragged him back. I wrung the goose’s neck. I always shoot a wounded bird until it is dead. I never want a downed bird to experience fear and panic. At no time was I able to shoot either goose without endangering my dogs. The goose’s second demise, however, proved a valuable learning experience for Buddy. He took the goose by the neck and brought him to me. Hunting alone in the field just got safer. I won’t call Buddy anymore names like, Ugly Buddy, Hyper-Baby or Needle Nose. He’s my good old duck hunting Buddy!

Second Saturday of the Season


I packed light this time, and I carried everything on a cart, and yet I am still exhausted. I worked a flock of specs right over me with no goose decoys and dropped one. Later I brought in a large flock of Honkers. I could have had...should have had...might have had a double but I had only one shell in the gun! I was a great day, and in addition to the two geese I dropped four ducks. Max still refuses to retrieve a goose, although he will lead me through the tulles to the downed bird. Buddy was stubborn, uncooperative on the retrieves and bolting out of the blind, usually in the wrong direction, every time I shot. He was a pain in the ass, but I realize he is only seven months and we have much work ahead of us. At 63 I am feeling my age when I have to haul materials and supplies a mile out into the marsh. The cart helps, but the last 100 yards I have to haul everything on my back, and two geese and four ducks really adds to the load. I think I will design an aluminum cart with heavy bicycle tires or motorcycle tires. It will be a two-man cart pulled in the front and pushed from behind. It will have two swivel seats and a breakdown blind. I still haven't got around to painting my boat blind. Everyone I have talked to has done quite well on Agency Lake this year

If any duck hunter stumbles on this entry and has experience with carts, email me.

Dave Archer /

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