Gunny's First Duck Hunt
Mississippi River - Savanna, IL
                                                                          September 19, 2008

  Gunny was born June 5th of last year. He was starting formal OB before he was 6 months old. Last fall, he had the opportunity to pick up dead and crippled pheasants during clean-up after tower shoots. This was valuable experience for a young pup. We had a long winter with lots of snow. There was deep snow on the ground for three months. We used that "down time" to work in a puppy OB class.

The weather finally improved and Gunny was CC, FF, FTP, completed T work, did FTW, completed swim-by, has been "decheated" and is well into transition (can run cold blinds). Marking has him doing multiples with diversions and retrieving shot flyers. He has seen decoys in training, worked out of a dog hide and been for boat rides. His skills were in place. Even though he is 15 months old, in some ways Gunny is still a puppy at heart.

During the early teal season my three older dogs got their turns and each retrieved some teal. Yesterday was the last day. It was Gunny's turn. We weren't going to shoot teal (necessarily) because we were going for all the "other stuff". If there was a chance to shoot that would be a bonus, but it wasn't the main purpose of this hunt.

The boat was full of gear and it was dark when we left the landing. As the sun started to provide early light, stumps were everywhere as we made the careful transition to the main channel. As usual, I stopped the motor, tilted it up and rowed. Soon the pelicans and cormorants started to cruise low (all over) and Gunny's eyes were busy as we moved down river. The view of the Mississippi from the main channel is just plain awesome. Mighty does not begin to explain it. For awhile I had to remind him of where he was to sit during the trip to the blind.

About a half hour before shooting time, I had pushed the boat into the shallow water of a sand flat in front of the blind. Each decoy was taken out and carefully placed in the spread. Gunny had to stay in the boat and was very anxious to take a "closer" look at the "dekes" I was tossing about.

After placing the spinner pole in the sand, the "Mojo" was mounted and turned on. The boat was pushed nearer to the blind to unload. As I was removing gear, Gunny was allowed a free run to explore. Wow! He charged the decoys and got a few quick "NO! leave it". The spinner was left high for a reason.

The huge American lotus and lily pads were fascinating. Gunny frolicked all about checking out anything he could get his nose near or mouth on. He was a puppy in the training mode called exposure. Gunny pranced on cloud nine with excitement and the release of being "free" was part of the plan.........burn off a little energy.

After pushing the boat into the lily pads north of the blind, I covered it with "camo" and tossed some large lily pads randomly on top. Gunny had to be told NOT to get back in the boat......several times.

The weather was warm by duck hunting standards. The small numbers of teal that are using the Savanna pool had been shot at for over two weeks. The sky was high. It was not a perfect day for duck hunting, but then was. Gunny was learning far more about hunting than just shooting and ducks falling from the sky.

For awhile he was very into tasting every stick, stem and weed he could get his mouth around. His interests eventually switched to watching all the different kinds of birds flying over us or swimming out in the flats. He began to sit quietly and stare. I especially liked that.

About two hours later, three teal flew over about 50 yards shots.....and that's all I saw. By design, I had brought along a bumper. Before leaving, as he sat near me outside the blind, I threw the bumper out beyond the decoys and shot. Gunny remained steady and was released on his name. He visibly dodged decoys on the way out and you could see from his head movement that he was avoiding them. On the next two tosses and shots, he took straight lines without even noticing the "dekes". The lunging water was exciting and those three retrieves gave the morning a little more focus.

About 9:30 am, Gunny and I went through a reverse process and prepared to move. Again he had to sit in the boat and watch. The loaded Bluebill was pushed to knee deep water and rowed out near the channel. There were some other islands that Brian M. told me to scout............and we did.

After setting up a "skeleton" spread with the spinner on the "ducky" looking point of one of the islands,  we "hunted" without a blind by hiding in some willows near the shore. Gunny sat and watched. This area was literally covered in geese......early goose season was teal. A few times, he had to be reminded that eating twigs was not what he was suppose to be doing.

After about an hour, to make things easier the boat was pushed back up the shoreline to load. It was simpler than walking through the trees and cover on the island itself.

By now Gunny knew it all. He understood his role. As we headed back, there was plenty of light to try and find the navigable "slot" through the islands near our boat landing which would eliminate having to row through the stump fields and flats to get out into the main channel. Before we got there, a huge barge going downstream was given plenty of room. Somehow my little Carsten Blueblue became even smaller.

Using a navigational map of this section of the Mississippi, the two islands I was told about were finally located. Now I can motor all the way. Meanwhile Gunny was curled up sleeping in his designated spot in the boat. The newness had worn off........he had become the experienced pup........mission accomplished.

We didn't shoot at a single duck, but Gunny's first hunt was a great success. For me a duck hunt is about getting up early, sometimes driving a long way, loading the boat and heading out on to the water in the dark in anticipation of what might happen.  The last step before actual hunting is a pause of relief with an automatic series of responses. You take a deep breath and do the obligatory time checks. Shooting time arrives, a gun is loaded and it's "game on". 

The pleasure comes from having a dog watch you setup the decoys and share the entire morning.  Gunny's antics this morning were normal. Some might consider his behavior a nuisance, but each time he goes Gunny will become more polished......he is learning.  Today great progress was made. 

So in the grand scheme of things, if ducks are flying that's a bonus.........if not.........the final ritual of picking up the decoys and heading back to the landing always completes a fulfilling morning.......with the primary joy of duck hunting being a well prepared dog. Gunny was ready.

                              updated 09/22/14