Some people chase bucks, while others chase ducks! Phil Robertson said something like that regarding his old Louisiana Tech team mate Terry Bradshaw, except the bucks he was referring were hundred dollar bills.
So, let me rephrase that first sentence… Some people chase whitetail deer, while others chase ducks! Me, I like to hunt them both, but I do prefer the flying kind over the 4 four legged and a lot of whitetail hunters here in North Texas would call me crazy for even making that statement, but I cannot help but tell the truth!
My first duck hunt was with a couple of friends in Decatur, Texas on a pond the size of a large family swimming pool about 15 miles North of town in January of 2010. I had not been duck hunting (the proper way) before, only pond hopping and not calling or scouting. I was amazed at what all went into the hunt; the decoys, layout blinds, calls, the spread of the decoys, the wind, duck I.D., limits, licenses, steel shot, shooting time, and the type of camouflage plus so much more. It was all worth it!
The sounds the ducks made as they flew over head reminded me of going to the air show as a kid and hearing the jets fly over head. It was like nothing I had heard in the wild and could not get over that sound. I wanted to hear more, which we did, but could not shoot because we still had a couple of minutes before shooting light, which made the anticipation of so much greater and so much more fun! Before the hunt started there were rules of who would call the shots, so even though ducks were 20 feet in front of me on a pond, I could not shoot until the person in charge gave the signal so everyone could shoot and the same time.
“Cut Em!” was yelled and the shooting began, but at the site of more ducks coming to land on the pond, not at the ducks on the water. I learned it was uncooth to shoot a swimming duck and to wait till he is off the water to give the duck a little chance which also brings out a little more sport to the hunt. Coastal, the 10 year old beast of a yellow lab, almost immediately jumped into the tank and began picking up the fallen jets, at times he brought back 2 at a time. This was also my first experience of a retriever doing work in the field, which absolutely made the experience so much better! The more ducks that we harvested, the more I realized that a duck is not just a duck, but there are many different kinds of ducks.
Ringnecks, Redheads, Gadwall, Mallards; how on earth was I going to figure out all the different names of these ducks? Well folks, it does not take long to learn your duck I.D. if you want to duck hunt. You have to learn in order to be an ethical hunter and there is no way of getting around it! I had no idea there were certain limits on different species of duck, and thankfully, our friend and guide for the day knew what he was doing.
When the hunt ended and the excitement of the hunt was slowly fading away, we had all limited out. There were still ducks coming in, but our limits were made and our guns were empty. We gathered all of the ducks and placed them on the tailgate of the truck and gathered around for some picture taking. I had no idea that this hunt would affect me the way it did and give me a Duck Hunting Obsession!
The 2011-2012 season was excellent! To this day, my best hunt was in 2012 near the end of the season. Thanks to my buddy, Kory, we harvested a 6 man mallard limit on the smallest tank I have ever hunted. I can still replay in my mind the sight of greenheads dropping from the sky around a tall oak trees, to land in the little tank with only 2 feet of water between them and the bottom. It was a beautiful sight!
After an entire season of hunting, there was still so much more to learn and do to prepare for the next season… I decided it was time to get a lab. I purchased one from a family in Cottondale, Texas that had papers and came from a good home. The father of the pup really impressed me athletically. He could jump up off the side of a wall to grab a limb hanging off the roof so I would play fetch with him. I got the first pick of the litter because I was the first one to put my money down. I chose a white pup at first but the changed my mind to a big yellow male that they had named Echo, after the letter E in Aeronautical Alphabet (the husband of the family was a pilot and the wife was a flight attendant). The name stuck with him and I was excited to have a puppy to take home to my wife and kids, but most of all, to retrieve my birds.
There was no way I was going to train this dog myself. I do not have the slightest clue on how to potty train a dog, much less, make him retrieve. Turns out, my friend Kory and I think alike. He purchased a black lab the same time I purchased mine, so we were in the same boat. He had heard of a guy in Boyd, Texas who was training dogs for a living, with the rumor that he had some 10 week old pups going on 100 yard retrieves, so we had to check him out.
In the Spring of 2012 I first met Jason Craig with Dark Timber Kennels and I knew that he was not from around here, but that he fit in great. And when I say not from around here, I mean Texas. He was absolutely awesome with my dog, from the get go. He had him obeying in less than 2 minutes, and had me jealous in less than 1! All I could tell myself was, “I’ve been working with Echo for a couple weeks, that’s why he is doing so good right now!” Jason assured me the dog would do just fine and be ready in a couple of months. Of course I checked up on Echo and took the kids out to watch him train every no and then, but I was still worried if he was going to be a good hunting dog.
If anyone ever tells you Water Dog Training is easy, then they are not a good trainer! Jason worked extensively with Echo, even having him force fetched and doing some small blind retrieves. He was going to make sure Echo would be ready for the season and let me know I could take him for Dove Season to give him a pre-duck hunting workout. I could not have been happier! He wasn’t even a year old, but was doing almost perfect. He liked to jump to the blast of a shotgun and had to work on him staying steady, but that was expected from a 9 month old pup. In my eyes, he was ready!
After talking to Jason more and quickly gaining a new friend, I found out he also had a duck guiding business named DTK Waterfowl here in North Texas and from there, my life was changed! Not only did I have a new friend, but I had a boss at the same time, and not the suit and tie boss, but a teacher with a PhD in waterfowl hunting!
I started guiding for Jason after about 2 weeks into the 2012-2013 duck season. Guiding hunts took me back to the basics of duck hunting and made my list of things to prepare for so much longer than before. I had to add a couple of things to my list like more decoys, lease permits, chairs, blinds, waders, transportation, etc. Not only did my duck hunting skills have to be used, but my people skills as well. Communication was key for the clients and I did not want to jeopardize any of DTK Waterfowl’s reputation, or the clients hunt, by my lack of it.
Jason shared with me how it all works, what to say, what to do, where to go, and gave me the good ol’ football game motivational type speech before I met my first clients. He was good and had full confidence in me, which was nice to know!
My first group to guide made me nervous, but at the same time, they were easy going as can be. I met them at a gas station not too far from the honey hole that would make there day with a limit of ducks. I’ll admit, I stuttered a time or two and was asked a couple of questions that I just played off with the best answer possible, but over all, they left happy and with a limit of ducks, so who can say anything bad about that?
The next week grew easier when it came to guiding and my confidence level soared! The only hick-up was the 2 week break! Getting up at 4 a.m. a couple of mornings in a row isn’t always easy, so the break was well deserved and filled with a little whitetail hunting (which was also a success). It was a little difficult driving by some of our hunting tanks to see them filled with more and more ducks every day, but the anticipation was worth it!
The season started back in full swing with limits for all in almost every hunt. I got to the point where I was enjoying seeing the clients shoot, so I would stop shooting and just start working on Echo a little bit more. He is a beast! We hunted a tank that was completely frozen with about an inch of ice covering the top and had snow covering the ground around us. It was cold, but at the same time, the ducks loved the ice. They came landing in on the tank, sliding on their butts, doing flips, hurting themselves basically. one guy even managed to shoot a Pintail Drake (aka Sprig) that was just beautiful, but then again, the ice made it difficult for Echo to retrieve all the ducks. He managed to get to the middle of the pond before the ice began to break, which is a little scary for any hunting dog owner to watch, but he managed to break the ice and make his way back to shore (with the duck of course).
The season was excellent, the memories were made, and knowledge was gained for me in a lot of different areas. We had managed to guide people to a total harvest of 1203 ducks, which by my book is a lot of ducks. The deer hunters hunt for the big trophy bucks that are aged and have good mass on the antlers, but us duck hunters hunt for jewelry. Not the gold and silver jewelry your girlfriend or wife want for Christmas, but bands that have been placed on the leg of a lot of different migratory birds in the U.S. and Canada to track a birds migratory patterns. Out of the 1203 ducks harvested last year, we did not harvest one duck with a band, which means that the odds are better this year. From what I have learned from ducking hunting talk, 1 in about 100 harvested mallards will have a band, so we know we are well on our way to a banded duck soon. Whether a client harvests a banded duck or me, I will be thrilled about it either way. I can only make this upcoming season even better!
And as we start the 2013 season I have already guided a couple of duck hunts, but am booked almost every weekend till the end of the season. So when a statement about bucks or ducks is made, I think ducks is where my hat will hang! The experience and fun of the hunt as well as the fellowship makes this 9 month break in the season a well anticipated surprise on what is to come…