Late Season Waterfowling

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Late Season Waterfowling

by R. Michael DiLullo

The demands of late season waterfowling on both hunter and dog requires prior planning, some specialized equipment and a bit of determination. But, the rewards of a late season hunt can be very productive, if you are prepared.
The sun rose in a dull pink glow against a threatening steel gray sky. The temperature was barely in the teens and our breathing resembled smoke from a series of small fires spread out in a row of snow-covered corn stubble. We had set our spread of more than eight dozen Canada decoys well before dawn in a field the big birds had been using for the last few days. The season was waning and there were only a few more days of the late resident goose season left in New Jersey. As we shivered and tried to get comfortable in our set-up, I could feel the frozen ground draining my body heat, even through the neoprene mat I was laying on. We had all come prepared for the hunt, however, the morning chill had set-in and even through the layers of “high-tech” clothing I felt a shiver run up my spine.

My male springer, Buck, who was lying next to me on his mat, curling-up to stay warm, was also shivering slightly. Even with his camouflaged horse blanket on I could tell he was cold. I knew, however, we would not be out for very long, either the birds would come in early or they would head to another field somewhere else. “Buck” lifted his head inquisitively raising his ears and I began scanning the sky. My discomfort was soon forgotten as we began hearing geese far off in the distance. They were coming!

As the calling of the flight grew closer, we began to respond with a serenade of greeting honks, clucks and growls in a repertoire of “Her-UT, Her-UT, Hut-huts…” I gave them several more greeting calls and the birds began to respond back. They began to circle our set-up, just out of range. On the fourth pass about, a third of the birds committed. As they descended into our decoy spread their calls were answered with an excited response. When the birds reached the twenty-yard mark, I yelled to my partners to “take em.” We threw back the white sheets and burlap covers we had been hiding under and greeted the “Honkers” with the business end of four twelve gauge shotguns. The shotgun reports, pumping of actions and thuds of geese hitting the ground combined with the frantic calling of geese and yelling and cheering of our group. We were all instantly warmed up!

Late season hunting is usually synonymous with cold weather. All hunters who venture afield during the “late season” must be prepared to deal with extreme weather. 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 be aware of the injuries and health related problems that can affect your dog’s performance in cold weather (See related article “Keeping Them Warm”).

Weather conditions, your dog’s physical condition, age, nutritional intake and activity level can all play a role in his performance during the stressful environmental conditions of the late season. Under “normal” waterfowling conditions, Springers are well adapted to handle just about anything nature can throw at you. However, if the conditions are too extreme the dog’s safety should always come first.

During the late season you must be aware of the dangers that cold and partially frozen waters hold. Care should always be taken when hunting over frozen waters; a dog can fall through or slip under a hole in the ice and drown. Also, hypothermia is an insidious but deadly ailment. Common sense should dictate when deciding whether to hunt your dog in adverse conditions, but some simple precautions will also help to reduce the chances of injury.

Late season waterfowling requires some specialized equipment and clothing plus a bit of ‘grit’ on both the hunter and dog’s part. But, it can be the most productive part of the season for those prepared to brave the elements.
Photo by: Author
During late season waterfowling, all my springers wear camouflaged neoprene vest while waterfowling. Camouflaged neoprene vests are a great benefit to the waterfowlers as they serve several purposes; besides acting like a wetsuit and helping to keep the dog warm, they provide extra buoyancy and an added measure of protection against sticks and rocks which can cause cuts, abrasions and punctures. They also help to break-up the dog’s outline, which can often increase your odds of detection by savvy late season birds.

With springers, the vest helps you to extend your season. However, once again, common sense should always dictate when deciding to hunt any dog in rough conditions. I do not hunt big or fast moving water with my springers in the winter, and would not subject them to such conditions. There are some jobs that should be left to the breeds best suited to handle them.
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