A Duck Hunt and a Dog Named Harley
Over the years I have read lots of duck hunting stories directed at giving praise to a great retrieving dog. Most of these stories are written near the end of the loyal and faithful dog’s life by their owner, who feels it was their privilege to share time over several years with such a fine hunting dog. This story is different in at least two ways: One is that Harley is not my dog, and two, I don’t feel any attachment to Harley that might make me overlook his tendencies as a duck hunting dog.
Harley was a yellow lab that I first saw at a public boat ramp in Kansas. His owner and their hunting party had just gotten off the water with a limit of ducks. Harley was sleeping in a crate in the back of the pick up and looked to be worn out when we pulled up to do a little scouting. We said hello to Harley’s owner and asked how they had done. He was happy to tell us they had limited out and had seen a lot of ducks. They shot a lot of mallards and he commented "they were even responding to a call if you can believe that. " We must have talked for fifteen or twenty minutes about the boat he had, the boat we had, how the ducks flew, the weather, and other normal duck hunting stuff that comes up at the boat ramp between groups of hunters. Before leaving they asked if we would be out tomorrow morning and we told them we planned on it. They said they would also and that they got there today just before shooting time and it wasn’t at all crowded. As we got back in our truck and left the ramp we said to each other how nice that guy was and that it was great to see a "good guy" at the ramp and not get the cold shoulder from a fellow hunter. We had high hopes for tomorrows hunt.
Well before shooting time the next morning we were motored to our spot and almost finished setting up when we saw a boat heading up a channel of the lake near our set up and behind us out of sight. We didn’t really know where they were going, but there was a lot of room in this area and we hadn’t seen anyone else up here so we didn’t think much of it. We had lights on and were sure they knew where we were set up. As it neared legal shooting time, the anticipation grew amongst the three of us in the boat. The lake was quiet and birds were starting to fly. Redheads scooted through the decoys and we checked our watches again. As a group of mallards settled into the decoys just after legal shooting time we had our first birds in the bag. I made the quick retrieve and was back in the boat in time for a flock of teal to offer fast moving targets right through the decoys. Guns roared and I was out to pick up the dead birds. I couldn’t have been back in the boat for more than a minute when we knocked down three redheads right in the goose decoys twenty yards off the boat. On the way back to the boat from this retrieve I heard shots ring out much closer than I expected behind us and saw a high single finally fall from the sky on shot 6 or seven of the volley. Now I couldn’t see what was starting to unfold from our set up, but I could hear it without any problems.
"No Harley!" "Harley… Harley… Come on Harley! Harley No… HAAAARRRLLLLEEYYYYYY!"
I wasn’t sure what they wanted Harley to do, and judging from the length of time the yelling continued, neither was Harley. This went on for ten minutes or more and finally quiet was restored to the marsh. Yes, ten minutes, and all this for one duck that had fallen. We shot a few more birds, but it quickly became apparent that was going to become more difficult now that Harleys owner and hunting party were set up and quick to shoot at any bird that made the mistake of getting within seventy yards of their guns. Several times during the next hour groups of mallards would set their wings from eighty yards high over our decoys and begin to work the spread, turning hard on the corner at a call and dropping closer to the decoys. As is often the case, it takes a little time for them to cautiously close the distance to the decoys. This was time we did not have as inevitably gunfire would again erupt behind us as some duck had the misfortune of flying over Harley and the gunners who accompanied him. Typically this led to a seven to nine shot volley resulting in one or two birds falling from remarkable heights.
At this point, knowing our chances of good shooting opportunities were diminishing quickly, I was more interested in standing in our boat and looking over the 15 ft high brush behind us and watching "the show" then I was in watching for birds. I was able to clearly see each flock of birds begin to fly over their setup, begin to gain altitude, flare hard, and then hear the shots.
While directing Harley took a lot yelling when a bird was knocked down, it took just as much yelling to get him back to the blind when nothing fell. I watched as big volleys of shots rang out at high flying ducks as they climbed higher into the sky. As the last shot rang out I heard, "Harley NO, Harley NO BIRD!" "Harley get back here no bird!" "HAAARRRRLLLLLLEEYYYY!!! NO BIRD" "HARLEY YOU %$@?#! GET BACK HERE!!"
The dog must have been fast because it took a long time for him to get back to the blind based on the time that passed before the yelling stopped. It was at this point during the hunt that one of the hunters in our party looked at me and said "Who is that enjoyable for?"
The third hunter in our party answered quickly, " for the guy with the dog, I’ve got a buddy who has a dog that he knows is a bad dog, but he still likes to bring him hunting. The dog can’t smell, and doesn’t listen. He knows that and still likes to have him there. "
I’m not a "dog guy". I don’t own a hunting dog. Mostly because I don’t have the time or knowledge to train one. I have hunted with some that are incredibly well behaved and trained and they are a true asset. I have hunted with more that are poorly trained and in my opinion take more away from the experience than they add. Of course I know that the training an owner provided or didn’t provide for Harley, or any other "hunting dog" is not the fault of the dog.
We finished the morning with a few more teal and headed for the ramp. Harley and his hunters were still in the marsh when we left. I know that unfortunately none of the things that happened in this story are all that uncommon on public hunting areas. For me the uncommon part was to meet a guy who was so nice and cordial at a boat ramp that he left me thinking he was a nice guy I might not mind hunting with. Yet after two hours of being one hundred and fifty yards away from him on the water the next day I had a new opinion of how polite he was. In a perfect world we would all be able to hunt in a way that gave us each enjoyment and did not take away from the enjoyment of anyone else’s hunting experience. I didn’t have a terrible hunt this day, but I know that every time the yelling at Harley started birds flew higher with no hint of working decoys for the next ten minutes until the yelling stopped. While there is no official book on hunting etiquette that I know of, common sense goes a long way. I was reminded on this morning, that if you bring a dog to hunt with you it might affect more than just your hunt.
Tight Lines & Straight Shots,
About the Author
Jay Longhauser is a member of the Zink Calls Pro Staff and is waterfowl guide in Kansas. He hunts over 50 days a year from the prairies of Saskatchewan to the Texas coastline. Jay has over twenty years of hunting experience and a desire to share his experiences with other sportsmen with the hope that it makes their time in the field more enjoyable.
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