OK, all you boat-owning waterfowl doggers: I need some training advice…

I have always been a walk-in duck hunter. In fact, I’ve never even owned a boat. But two things happened to me recently to help bring some change to my waterfowl hunting techniques.


One, I turned 40, which means I am now officially decrepit and therefore can no longer pack in gear on a walk-in hunt without imminent threat of heart attack. Two, last season I very nearly drowned in, oh, about two feet of water and ice while busting through thick reeds with way too much decoy weight on my back. I had a “You’re kidding me? I’m gonna die like this?” moment. I didn’t. At least I’m pretty sure I’m still alive. Then I had the obligatory “I’m too old for this, uh, stuff” moment.

It was obvious I needed a boat. The places I normally hunt were simply getting too thick to reach by foot. Not only that, I’ve really been wanting a boat to take my boys and wife (who’s a fishing fiend) out on local lakes. So I started cruising Craigslist and when I found the right boat at the right price, I bought it. It’s a 16-foot Carolina Skiff J16 (sort of in pieces at the moment) and I’m hoping it will be perfect for my needs. I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I hope it floats. Once that’s been established, then I’m hoping it will be perfect for my needs. I’m not a recreational boater. I just wanted a good, stable, basic boat for fishing and hunting, and I think I got it.

But here’s the deal: I’ve duck hunted out of boats, but always as a guest and never with my own dog. Tess has never been in a boat, so we’ve got a little “get-used-to-the-boat” and “learn-to-use-the-dog-ladder” training to do before October rolls around. This is just as much a learning experience for me as it is for her. Do you have any tips or tricks for getting a retriever used to launching off and getting back into a boat? Anything to watch out for (like the dog jumping out of the boat at full-throttle)?