Brian Lederhaus says the best part of the hunt is the camaraderie he shares with Hank, his canine companion.
Dogs and ducks
Waterfowl hunting is best when you pay attention to detail and share the experience with a friend.
I've had the good fortune of accompanying my daughter's fiancÚ, Brian Lederhaus, and his silver Labrador retriever, Hank, on a waterfowl hunting foray to a scenic backwater slough in Waupaca County.
I came armed with my camera; Brian was loaded down with a couple of duffle bags full of decoys, several pieces of camouflage clothing, a matching shotgun, two ammo boxes, assorted duck and goose calls, and a pair of chest-high waders.
Even Hank slipped on a camouflage vest to help him blend in with the surrounding cattails and marsh grasses. All of the gear was put into a dark green Jon boat, and we headed for the duck blind strategically hidden on a hummock in the middle of a scenic Little Wolf River bayou.
From this vantage, I began to observe the attention to detail that goes into being a successful and ethical waterfowl hunter.
I noticed that Brian seemed to be putting a lot of thought into the decoy placement. At about the age of 13 or 14, his grandpa introduced him to duck hunting and his dad got him into grouse hunting. Both his dad and his grandpa taught him how to group duck and goose decoys that closely mimic the way real birds are seen in nature. These formative outings provided him with the experience and confidence to begin to hunt with his friends a few years later.
Becoming an expert bird caller is another necessary skill. Bringing waterfowl in close enough to give oneself a decent shot at them is a trait that takes some time to develop.
Brian honed his duck and goose calling talent over several years while commuting to school. He practiced quacking and honking as he drove down the highway. Now he continues to perfect the craft by making trips to a local game preserve where he tries to call in ducks from the shore.
Success is indicated when the birds "talk" back to him or if they fly in close to the blind when he's back on the river. Learning to identify duck species is one of the most challenging parts of being a proficient waterfowl hunter.
"I watch them flying around and look them up on the Internet and in books," Brian explained. "That's taken a long time."
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the hunt is the camaraderie of being in a duck blind with a good companion – especially man's best friend. In Brian's case, that's his silver Lab, Hank.
"The dog does a lot of the work I don't want to do myself. He can get the birds," Brian said. "If I lose sight of one, he can find it."
Brian chose Hank because he wanted a dog that would be good at duck hunting. Brian talked to various breeders hoping to find a puppy that came from parents with strong hunting lines. Hank learned to fetch and heel at an early age. Lots of repetition helped to develop greater retrieving proficiency. Then Brian spent time working with a professional hunting dog trainer who had Hank fetching rubber bumpers with duck wings tied to them.
Retrievers have a characteristic "soft mouth," meaning that they hold onto a bird gently without squeezing down too hard on it.
When asked about what he enjoys most about the sport, Brian replied, "Just being out there with friends and the dog – it's the camaraderie."
He also likes the attention to detail that is required to be successful.
"Ducks and geese will notice if a decoy is pointing the wrong way," Brian said. "They can spot one speck of bright-colored clothing. You've got to hone your eyes and ears to spot them before they see you."
My first visit to a duck blind certainly proved to be an enjoyable outing. Watching Brian set out his decoys, don camouflage clothing, call in birds and eventually shoot and retrieve four ducks with Hank's help was quite a thrill.
I can now see and understand why Brian is hooked on the adventure of the hunting experience, especially sharing the kinship of being with his well-trained dog.
Timothy Sweet writes from his home in Clintonville.