I started the truck and cranked up the heat. After drying "Bess" off with a towel, I put on her fleece-lined horse blanket and "kenneled" her into her crate. I also changed into some dry clothing and boots. Both hunters, now warm and dry, headed back to the ranch.
Working thick cover can be very productive during the “late season,” with less pressure from other hunters; bag limits are often easily filled.
Photo by: Author
Along with upland hunting, late season waterfowling can be extremely productive. Cold weather forces ducks and geese further along on their migration south, and when waterways and small ponds ice over, any open waters can become a honey hole full of traveling waterfowl. However, another important point to remember about late season hunting is that no matter how good the action is, you have to be smart enough to know when to "come out of the rain..."
The snowflakes, being illuminated by our headlights, were slowly beginning to mix with sleet and freezing rain. Our late season duck hunt had already gotten off to a late start and the freezing rain was a warning of things to come! We sat in the mixture of drizzling rain and sleet for nearly two hours. Since dawn, flight after flight of ducks were setting into our blocks. It was one of the best shooting days we had all season. We were only a few birds away from limiting out! But as luck would have it, the drizzle turned into a downpour. The once calm, slow moving water of the northern Delaware River was rapidly raising and the current was building. We decided to pick up the decoys and start back down river to the truck. From experience, we knew the river’s conditions could change rapidly. As tributaries rose and floodgates were opened, this section of the river could rise very rapidly, trapping us on the island on which our blind was located.
I decided to carry "Bess" across the river as she was tired from the cold water retrieves and the current was growing in strength. Jimmy had the decoy bag and the ducks. My shotgun’s sling was across my chest with the gun resting on my back, I placed "Bess" over my shoulders, holding her front and rear legs in each hand, and we began to cross the river. About three-quarters of the way across, I stepped into a chest deep trench and momentarily lost my footing. Falling backwards, "Bess" dove off my shoulders and I took a very refreshing plunge into the cold clear waters of the Delaware. Jimmy, who was just about to reach the beach, had missed the action. It wasn’t until "Bess" passed him up and climbed ashore that he turned around and noticed me pulling myself out of the water. My waders were full of cold water and weighted me down. A combination of the weight of the water in my waders, the strong currents and the numbing cold drained most of my strength, but I managed to get to land.
Once ashore, I emptied the water from my waders and we quickly headed back down the bank to the truck. The half-mile walk back was cold, but my "high-tech" clothing had done its job! My four-in one jacket, fleece jacket liner and pants, wool socks, synthetic long john’s and turtleneck were all soaked, but were maintaining my body heat. Lesser quality clothing would not have kept me warm enough to get back to the truck. Had this accident occurred in some remote location or had the truck been several miles away, the situation might have become serious.
When waterways freeze-up any open water can become a waterfowl ‘honey-hole’. Here “Bess,” Jimmy and Jim Caltabellatta show off a limit of big late season greenheads taken on a small New York stream.
Photo by: Author
Quality equipment and clothing, training, experience and common sense all play a role in successful late season hunting. Knowledge of game habitat and a good dog can also help you fill your game bag when most other hunters are home watching TV. However, late season hunting can have unseen dangers that you must be prepared for. Particular dangers include cold related injuries and illnesses such as exposure, frostbite and hypothermia. Late season hunting is usually synonymous with cold weather. All hunters who venture afield during the "late season" must be prepared to deal with these weather extremes. Prolonged exposure to cold and wet weather can become life threatening very quickly, not only for you but for your dog, as well. As a dog owner, you must also be aware of the injuries and health related problems that can affect your dog’s performance in cold weather (for more information on cold weather gun dog care see the November 2000 article "Keeping Them Warm").
More hunters should take advantage of the opportunities the late hunting season has to offer. With less crowds and plenty of game still around, the only real obstacle is the weather. But with the right equipment, preparation and planning, both you and your dog can easily adapt to extreme weather conditions and continue hunting well into the New Year!