August 14, 2012
Using your spaniel for jump shooting ducks is a good way to supplement your upland game bag. My favorite spot for jump shooting is the historic Brandywine Creek in southeastern Pennsylvania. The small to mid-size stream offers an exciting way to spend a morning with your spaniel, trying to bushwhack ducks.
I have used my English springer spaniels for years to hunt ducks along creeks and on farm ponds. My Maine friends Cary and Barbara Haupt use their field-bred English cockers for the same chores. The Haupts go a step further and hunt sea ducks from shore on a large river emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
One needs compliant, well-trained dogs for jump shooting along streams or ponds. Your spaniel should heel flawlessly and hup, or sit, immediately when commanded. The best scenario would have your spaniel steady to wing and shot, retrieving on command.
To prepare pup, work several short periods daily on having pup remain steady (sitting) along the stream, as if you are waiting to pass shoot. Pup will not become rock-steady overnight, so hopefully you have laid some groundwork.
Quietly toss three or four decoys into a nice pool on a stream at daylight. If pup will not remain seated, leash him to a short metal stake designed for the task while you place your decoys. Now use natural cover or an appropriate length of camo material as a temporary "blind."
Keep pup seated near your blind. If pup will not remain seated, use your steel stake to retain him via a short lead equipped with a quick-release snap.
Choose your own time limit to wait for ducks flying up or down along the stream before trying another spot.
Remove the stakes after gathering your decoys and tip-toe along while trying to spot ducks hiding on the water. Heel pup during this scenario and hup him if a duck flushes and you have a shot. Whether a duck flew nearby on its own or if you and pup flushed it, drop it as close as possible and send pup for the retrieve.
You must be pup's brain because he will want to retrieve fallen ducks no matter the situation. If there is fast water, a high bank, a strainer (tree in the water downstream with current rushing through the branches or under the trunk) where pup could drown, do not send pup. Well-bred spaniels have a lot of heart, but that does not mean we should allow them to do all the things they are willing to do. Attach pup to a stout lead if he will not remain with you.
Spaniels can also be used effectively when sneaking up to farm ponds while attempting to jump shoot. Naturally, be extra cautious around livestock, and be aware of safety zones.
The Haupts use their English cocker spaniels on all kinds of game, including ducks on local ponds and marshes, and on a large river just 200 yards from their home.
I was reminded several days ago of one very different but efficient way Barbara enjoys hunting ducks in very cold weather. Actually, she does not hunt then, but she helps Cary and his dog with their hunt.
Some cold winter days in Maine are really too cold for water work for many hunting dogs, and that certainly applies to spaniels. If it is too cold for spaniels it is also too cold for Barbara. Cary, however, wants to hunt, and this is how they do it on those cold days.
The river that hosts passing ducks is close to Cary and Barbara's house and is located in the boondocks with no vehicle traffic to speak of on the one available gravel road. Cary hides behind boulders along the river waiting for ducks, and Barbara and at least one of their English cockers wait in the warm living room of the house. Barbara usually reads while drinking hot tea.
When Cary shoots a duck that falls into the river he calls Barbara on his cell phone and she releases one flotation vest-clad English cocker from their front door; it runs directly to Cary waiting along the river. Cary gives the dog a hand signal and sends pup for the downed, floating duck.
This scenario can go on as long as Cary stays warm and within his bag limit...or as long as Barbara stays awake while reading. Or until all four of the family cockers run out of steam, but that does not happen very often.
Stack 'Em Up
Paul Harris, another friend and former professional trainer and guide from the East, spent several seasons guiding at hunting preserves using his English springer spaniels. While he primarily guided upland hunters, he also guided for one employer that owned a large marsh and wetland property with numerous ponds spread about. His employer had worked out a pretty good system for releasing ducks from several locations, and a good percentage of the ducks flew over the various ponds.
While Paul's spaniels were excellent upland dogs, he also worked hard and made them pretty good non-slip retrievers, utilizing them from blinds on the ponds the same way Labs, Chessies and goldens would be used to retrieve ducks.
The morning I spent shooting ducks with Paul and his best English springer spaniel, we had a great hunt. We did not stack'em high, but we certainly bagged enough to feel successful and have several excellent suppers featuring duck a l'orange.
Regular readers know I do not think most spaniels should be used in big, extremely cold or rough water, or on excessively long retrieves. Retrievers were developed for such chores, and those chores can often be difficult for them even though they are significantly larger and stronger than spaniels. Again, you must be your dog's brain and you must protect him by withholding him from dangerous situations.
Jump shooting or pass shooting along a stream or at farm ponds is a great way to utilize your all-around spaniel. Pass shooting from blinds over small(ish) ponds in moderate weather conditions is also a winning scenario for spaniels.
Spend some extra time training pup for water and increase his already versatile performance. You will both enjoy the game.