_by Chad Love
Phil Bourjaily’s blog on his beautiful hooded merganser mount brings up an interesting and admittedly novel dog training tip: using hoodies to teach steadiness in the blind.
This trick may or may not work for you, depending on how much gunning pressure the ducks in your area get, but in my area, hooded mergansers are both plentiful and gullible, partly because there are relatively few duck hunters, but mostly because the hunters in the area don’t generally shoot hoodies. As a result, even on dead-calm bluebird days I can always rely on any number of hoodies landing in the spread and happily paddling around in blissful ignorance, often right in front of the blind.
So if you have a dog that’s prone to breaking, use the opportunity to reinforce the sit command. Nothing screams temptation to a young retriever like a flock of hoodies swimming ten yards in front of his nose, splashing, diving, and “grrrrrk-ing” (no really, that’s what they sound like) at each other. It’s a cheap and easy win/win: it teaches your dog steadiness and it adds some motion to your decoys. And the beautiful part of it is, if your dog breaks and flushes the birds, no problem: they’ll be back in a few minutes for another training session (let’s face it: hoodies are gorgeous, but definitely not the brightest birds on the water).
Try it some time. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m doing in the picture above with my chessie, which would explain the somewhat exasperated look she’s giving me. There’s a group of hoodies a few yards off the reeds antagonizing her, and even though she’s eight and knows well the futility, she’d still like nothing better than to bust and give chase. Even old dogs like being pups sometimes.
As for the two ducks in the pic, that’s actually a pair of…mergansers, but of the larger common flavor. Extremely handsome birds in their own right, and for whatever reason distinctly un-common in the areas I hunt. Hence, they are currently residing in my man-freezer (right next to my own taxidermist-bound drake hoodie) and will, at some point, adorn a wall in my house.