Kaia retrieved her first duck on New Years Day! She tagged along with Vee and me for a duck hunt on our favorite local creek. Vee has been hunting for 8 years, so she has the patience necessary for a slow morning in a duck blind and a low odds hunt during the late season. It was a little bit tougher for Kaia who lacks the patience that only comes with age, regardless of the species.
Kaia had never been in a duck blind before so I had her sit on a plastic deck chair that’s usually reserved for a hunting partner of the two-legged variety. I was hoping the chair might give her a chance to watch some of the action if there was any.
We hadn’t been waiting too long when a small flock of mallards swooped in over the decoys, obviously interested but too high to shoot. Vee’s head turned as she watched the birds circle. Kaia looked upwards at the flying ducks and then down at Vee where she sat with every muscle tense as she watched the birds descending towards our decoy set. Each time the birds turned away I would call softly on my duck call and the sound of the calling made Vee tremble with anticipation. Whenever Vee started to shake she would set up little ripples in the water that had flooded the floor of the duck blind. The excitement was obviously contagious. Kaia had no previous experience to tell her what would happen next but she sat in her plastic deck chair watching everything and whining softly.
The ducks made their final approach with their wings cupped, gliding downward toward the empty space in the decoys that we had left as a landing zone. They were well within gun range when I stood up, picked out a big, fat, green headed drake, swept the bead of the shotgun along his flight path and pulled the trigger when the point of aim intersected a place about 2 feet in front of the flying bird.
From the corner of my eye I could see Vee’s gaze lock onto the falling mallard. I turned to look at Kaia. She was standing in the deck chair shaking with excitement and poised to leap from the blind. I grabbed her collar and in a low voice commanded, “Vee! Fetch em up!”
Kaia jerked as Vee jumped out of the duck blind and splashed into the flooded field, plowing through the foot of water and leaving a waked behind her as she raced out to retrieve the fallen drake. Vee grabbed the floating bird and started back towards us as Kaia twisted and bucked in an effort to free herself from the grip I had on her collar. She whined loudly as Vee brought the dead mallard into the blind and delivered it to my hand.
I knew that Kaia’s desire to retrieve was stronger right now than it had ever been. She had never retrieved a duck before and I was a bit uncertain if she was ready for a bird as big as a mallard. My desire to see her retrieve was almost as strong as the instinct that made her want the bird.
I commanded both the dogs to sit and repeated the command again for Kaia as I let go of her collar. Then I took the dead bird and gave it a heave-ho so it landed about 20 yards in front of the blind. I waited just a second before I gave Kaia her retrieving command, “Kaia, Back!”
She flew out of the front of the blind and splashed her way towards the floating mallard, snatched it up and splashed her way back, holding the duck high, her head cocked back in an apparent attempt to keep the duck out of the water. The look of pride on her young face made me chuckle to myself as I took the wet bird from her mouth and praised her over and over again.
I knew that nothing else we could accomplish that day would top what we had just achieved so rather than forcing her to sit there and endure the boredom that often ends a protracted hunt, I exited the blind and called both dogs to follow me. I teased Kaia a bit with our bird as we walked out of the flooded field.
By the time we had slogged our way across the field Kaia and Vee seemed to have forgotten the dead mallard. They raced ahead of me, teasing and nipping at each other. I stopped at the edge of the field and looked back at my duck blind. I stood there watching as another small flock of mallards circled around to have a look at our decoys. I felt a wet nose nudging my hand and looked down to see Vee where she sat looking up at me.
Vee watched the ducks circling in the distance, and then she looked up at me again. I know she wanted to go back to the blind and continue the hunt. Just then Kaia ran right past us and splashed into the flooded field. She stopped about 30 feet in front of us and picked up a piece of a fir branch she found floating there and turned back toward us. She ran right by us at full speed and stopped, shaking the fir twig and challenging us to chase her. I laughed out loud and Vee made a sort of snorting sound as we left the field and headed for home and a warm spot in front of the wood stove.