As an amateur dog trainer who was very excited and impressed by what to me was the "new" world of gundog training, I read the book The Training and Care of the Versatile Hunting Dog by Bodo Winterhelt 5 or more times and consequently joined my local NAVHDA chapter. Like the other members of the so called "Continental Breeds," the German Shorthaired Pointer was developed in the mid to late 1800's to provide the emerging German middle class, people going afield "on a budget," with an all-purpose dog. Whether the task at hand was pointing upland birds, chasing furbearers, retrieving waterfowl, or tracking big game, Shorthairs were intended to be equally well suited for each task, and the tests developed by NAVHDA were designed to evaluate each of those abilities in a non-competitive environment were the dog was judged according to a set standard - not against the other dogs in the test. From the start of the MN Woodcock season on Labor Day weekend to the end of the small game season on December 31st, Kelty and I would go afield in search of birds nearly every day except for a two week break during the firearms deer season when dogs were not safe in the woods, but it was only due to mild curiosity and for the sake of improving her score on the next NAVHDA test that I agreed to join a friend on an early season duck hunt with the hope that she'd be given some work. Over the course of the day we saw one duck fly down the middle of the lake several hundred yards away from us, and that very well could have been the end of the story, but a couple weeks later something happened that quite literally changed my life forever. Fate brought me to the garage of a local carpenter whom I'd hired to help me with some windows as he excitedly ranted about his amazing morning while standing over a line of 10 or more Greater Scaup. These were large and impressive ducks, and with them as a backdrop to his colorful narrative, I warily agreed to accompany him to the same lake the next morning. The details of that experience alone would fill several pages, but suffice to say that while standing on a floating bog in the gathering grey light with a gusting wind and stinging sleet as great flocks of giant northern Bluebills rocketed over the decoys, I was overcome with the strange feeling that I'd been there before...or at least that it was a place I very much belonged.
My commitment to getting Kelty out to find birds on an almost daily basis gradually turned to a pattern of early morning duck hunts, a nap, and then an evening in the grouse woods, but by the time she reached 10 years old and was unofficially "retired," Lucy the Lab had joined our family and my primary activity in the fall shifted almost entirely to pursuing ducks. I should note as always that my motivation to dedicate countless hours and dollars to what the uninformed layperson could so easily write off as nothing more than a primitive "blood sport" in reality has very little to with any sort of thrill or satisfaction derived from the killing of unsuspecting birds. Nor is it related in anyway to the misguided quest for dominance or "male affirmation" sadly exhibited by so many of the folks who appear on the unfortunate hunting shows on the Outdoor Network and the like. I go afield in the autumn at sizeable expense and even considerable risk to honor and carry on a centuries-old American tradition. I'm fascinated by the history of waterfowling in America, and I love sitting out in the garage on ever cooler August and September nights painting decoys, working on duck boats, and fine tuning gear. Giving a loyal and dedicated dog like Lucy the opportunity to fulfill the purpose for which she was bred is highly rewarding, and the fact that I'm able to combine my enthusiasm for duck hunting with my passion for canoeing allows me to chalk up nearly 20 trips a year that many people who live far away from my part of the world would consider individually to be "a trips of a lifetime." I actually pull the trigger on a very small percentage of the total number of ducks I see every year, and I make it a point to be the most careful and ethical waterfowler that I know. Beyond that, looking into my mouth will instantly reveal to all but the dumbest and most delusional among us that I am an omnivore, and wild duck, partly due to it's lack of any sort of chemical additives or corruption by evil corporate agriculture, is one of my favorite foods. There is but ONE way to acquire that great delicacy, and the ducks I bring home every fall make up nearly 30% of my personal meat consumption over the course of the winter. All that being said, due in part to the conflict of open seasons and also because of the stigma attached to the sport by countless well-documented "accidents" and other forms of unspeakable idiocy, I have no interest in deer hunting.
Dressing in high-tech camouflaged clothing and sitting in a duck blind during the firearms deer season in the State of Minnesota is problematic at best and just plain dangerous at worst. Like it or not, there are an upsetting number of irresponsible deer hunters who actually shoot at movement without taking the time to positively identify their targets. I am (with a number of qualifications that would instantly reveal my preference for non-motorized modes of wilderness travel) a believer in the concept of multiple use for public lands, and there's no way that I would ever hide indoors during deer season the way that so many people do. Asserting my right to sit in the duck blind for the duration of the season has been the source of a number of unique adaptation and techniques, and many of those along with an entertaining and compelling account of my adventures from last weekend will appear in my upcoming post on this blog. Stay tuned. ;-)