For more than 40 years, Bruce says he hunted with Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Still today, he contends that they are the best all-around waterfowl hunting dog that there is. While the Chessie is a superb waterfowl dog, Bruce says hunters really need to consider how much they hunt and let that dictate what breed of dog they choose. Most waterfowl hunters across the country are likely weekend warriors that spend around 20 days a year hunting waterfowl and a breed like the Chesapeake Bay Retriever needs more field time than that. As a very active hunter, Bruce spends around 100 days a year hunting and for that reason he says the Chessie was a good fit for him. However, for hunters who don’t spend that much time chasing birds, he suggests getting a dog that is a little more laid back. For Bruce, that breed is a British Lab. After the passing of his last Chessie, Bruce says he decided to get a dog that was almost the total opposite of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. He landed on the British Lab, a dog that when full grown is only about 60 pounds, a stark contrast to a 100+ pound Chessie. Bruce says that the British Lab is an excellent hunting dog, but it also makes a great family dog as well.
Starting a puppy and taking it to the point of being a well-trained hunting dog is a commitment and challenge. Many hunters opt to have their dogs started for them by a professional who can lay the groundwork of obedience and basic skills. The caveat to taking that route, he says, is that you miss crucial bonding time with your dog. He also notes that many dogs that are started by professionals often have to be somewhat re-trained for hunting purposes as their obedience training keeps them at the owner’s feet instead of ready to break out and retrieve.
When it comes to late season waterfowl hunting, hunters have to be prepared to change their tactics. Scouting is still crucial in the late season and Bruce discusses how he uses that scouting information to maximize his success afield. He also talks decoys and spreads. In Michigan for example, he says, when hunting geese the spreads need to be larger. He still sets family groups like he does in the early season, but makes the decoy spreads much larger this time of year using up to 12 or 13 dozen. In a place like Kansas, it’s not uncommon to use 30 to 60 dozen decoys in order to attract the attention of the lesser snows and cacklings that frequent the area. Thousands of birds can come in at once and there is comfort for those birds when they see greater numbers on the ground so your spread has to reflect it, Bruce says. Changing up your decoys and making your spreads larger to attract new migration birds is key in the late season. Bruce talks about the late migration patterns he has seen in the last few seasons and the reverse migration he experienced while hunting Missouri a few weeks ago.
Finally, one factor that many hunters don’t put enough of an emphasis on is being cautious with dogs in cold weather. With cold temperatures comes ice and ice can be deadly for dogs. Bruce highlights an ugly encounter his British Lab had with an iced over pond he didn’t know was there until his dog broke through the ice while retrieving a goose. While his dog narrowly avoided disaster thanks to some hunters and another dog saving him, Bruce says dog owners really need to be aware of the terrain and topography of the area they are hunting. Know your surroundings and don’t let your dogs get anywhere near the ice, he says.
Be sure to watch “Gun Dog TV” on Outdoor Channel, Tuesdays at 10:30 pm ET. You can also find previous seasons and episodes on MyOutdoorTV where you can binge watch upland and waterfowl hunting action and get tons of insight and tips on hunting dogs. Check it out.