Duck Blinds Boats and Hunting Dogs 

I wasn’t taller than Harlan, I was standing on the seat with my feet out of water. 

I like the story by Woodswoman Netty Bramble about the duck hunters floating duck blind. In the September-October issue of the U P magazine. That sounded like an educational, and exciting excursion, something that might have happened in my younger days. I’ve always loved the Upper Peninsula and wished I had lived there. Now in hindsight, if I had been there as a child I no doubt would have ended up out in Lake Superior. That would have been a real disaster! With my experience building rafts and assorted floating devices I no doubt would have ended up in Chicago. I guess that wouldn’t have happened either, I never would have designed anything that could have remained afloat for that distance. 

The opening of the duck season really got us kids’ juices flowing. I recall one night we wanted to make sure we were there early enough, when the bird started to fly, we slept by the water in my uncle’s old duck boat all night long. That was another boat with limited floatability time. But it was on a shallow Slough where the water was only about five feet deep at the deepest. 

My cousin used to tell a story about his dad. They were out hunting at first daylight. A moth came by right in front of them, thinking it was a duck he shot a moth, I believe that might have been the first time that ever happened 

My grandparents had an old wooden fishing boat in the 1940s they left that boat at the Lakeshore all winter long and just pulled it up so the ice wouldn’t bother it. Lake Poinsett is the largest natural lake in South Dakota 17.8 square miles. The depth of the lake varies it is close to 20 feet at the deepest places. If a strong wind comes up, you must have a good-sized boat or you going to have a very rough ride. South Dakota winters vary but we can usually depend on about nine months of winter and three months of tough sledding. That old wooden boat sat there drying out all winter long. I was just a kid at that time, but I was scared to death to go on the first fishing trips, it leaked so bad, that the bottom of the boat could have just as well been a screen door. In the 1940s that lake only had half a dozen people around it. Today it’s Wall to wall homes around the complete lake. I don’t think you would leave your boat out all winter now. 

One year before the lake froze there were hundreds of thousands of geese out in the middle. My cousin and I had a brainstorm we would camouflage an old rowboat and float out to where the geese were and shoot about 1/2 a boat full. Luckily that boat didn’t leak, we had barely gotten started on our Kamakasi Mission and the geese got up and flew away. Later it dawned on my feverish duck hunting brain. What if the geese had not left and the wind had come up and blown us across the lake? High waves could have tipped us over out in the middle into ice-cold water. I must think there are guardian angels on special detail looking after half-witted youngsters. 

We lived in Watertown SD for a while the Big Sioux River runs right through the middle of town. We did have a variety of floating devices there, and most of them used discarded rubber inner tubes with holes in. It was our good fortune to have Grandpa old T-Model tire pump. You might say we graduated from bailing out water with a can to pumping tubes with tire pump. 

Before we reached the age of hunting ducks and pheasants, we still built floating devices. I recall one of the first ones my brother and I put together. We used some big old railroad ties; I suppose we were thinking bigger is better. It got quickly assembled on the edge of a sand pit near the railroad tracks. We should have realized it was a sand pit so it must be deep water. We got it built then pushed it off the shore. There we were, submerging like a submarine. We were on our way down to visit Davy Jones Locker; we realized way too late that creosoted railroad ties are not very good flotation devices. We both abandoned ship and scrambled off, we then realized the sides of the sand pit were straight up and down. We both looked like a couple of frantic Beavers trying to find traction to get out of there, the sand just kept sliding under our feet. 

Pheasant hunting rings outdoorsman’s bells in different ways. We had relatives from the lower peninsula come out pheasant hunting for several years. They loved   

to come out here for the pheasant shooting on the Prairie, and pheasants were plentiful in those days before the raccoons and skunks got into the nest so bad. We were having breakfast where they camped at a nearby State Park. They had a big deer hunting tent they used up in the UP when they were at home in the fall, it looked like a government field kitchen. They had a fancy stove and everything for their deer hunting trips. The one guy I recall was a veterinarian, I don’t remember what town he was from, northwest of Detroit. The guys were talking before the magic shooting time of high noon, later in the season, it’s 10 AM. One fellow said Doc’s wife said, “he got so excited yesterday getting ready for this trip, I don’t think he got that excited on our wedding night.”   

Will Ketcham certainly reminds me of a warden we had, he even wore the original Smokey the bear Forest Service hat. My parents frequented the only resort on the lake for Sunday morning refreshments quite often. Our Warden Ed white would come over and make small talk with us boys. There were 3 Olson boys at that time. He would visit for a while and then quickly say, “did you catch any fish last night.” We learned very early to be wary of visiting with the Warden. Using gill nets kept many families alive during the depression days. If you had a good nylon net, with proper care it could last for decades.  

The law frowned on nets with big wrinkly foreheads. Mr. White suspected our family because we had a grampa on the north side of the lake and our family was on the South side. All the barn walls had rows of nails for hanging nets. Ed White was a famous well-liked man, the one that replaced him was a different story. He could not catch my uncle and his friend one night with a net. He saw they had a broken seal in the car, so he radioed the highway patrol they got stopped a short time later with a broken seal. That guy didn’t win many friends he did influence his enemies. 

 During the dry years, we had one lake that had thousands of muskrat houses on it. Warden White opened the trapping season by firing his shotgun. All the trappers were lined up along the highway on one side of the lake when he shot the shotgun in the air. it resembled the Boomer Sooner Land rush in Oklahoma. They had rules, you had to open the house set a trap, and close it back up before you could claim it with your flag. Trappers were an honest group and they respected each other. That was during the dry years. Pocket Gophers increased by a trillion-fold everyone’s land was full of pocket Gopher mounds. The counties all got together and put a bounty on pocket Gophers. You needed to bring in the front feet from your pocket gopher to claim your five-cent bounty. The muskrat trappers had been around the block a few times and they knew It would take a very good forensic scientist to know the difference. So, a lot of courthouses paid the five-cent pocket Gopher bounty for muskrat feet. 

The last floating device that I built with my own hands was when I was supposed to be a grown-up young fellow. We were renting a house in Sioux Falls South Dakota add the landlord liked me because I did a lot of work for him on the house. He had a Shop Smith in the basement, I decided I would use that and make myself a flat bottom duck boat. I had an 8-foot-long duck boat not quite four feet wide. I sealed all the seams with fiberglass. I spent most of one winter working on that boat. it was a really fun project. I thought about the doghouse I built first in the basement, I had to remodel part of the roof in order to get it out of the house. I did measure to make sure the boat would fit through the back door, but I found out I needed a lot more muscle than I had to get that boat outside. I used that boat for many years hunting ducks also I did a lot of muskrat trapping from that boat, it paid for itself many times over it would float in about 4 inches of water.  

After I started feeling some old age showing up I bought a Chesapeake Bay retriever. She was the best dog I ever had, she made me a nervous wreck when she was just a pup. A diving duck got her attention it would dive and swim further out. That duck had my dog completely hypnotized. It’s just like the duck knew exactly when to come up when the dog was ready to turn around. The duck led her into the middle of the lake, finally, I couldn’t see the dog anymore. I went back to my pickup thinking so much about my new dog. Pretty soon she came back, all that ice water never bothered her a bit. She had one bad habit I had trouble with her, the first duck she retrieved she would climb up on a muskrat house and have the duck herself. You have a lot of memories of a duck hunting dog. 

 My brother shot a green-winged teal one time it came down in some tall cattails. I told my dog to go in and fetch the duck she plowed through the cat tails and came out with a young Mallard. It was a young duck not quite big enough to fly yet. I sent her back in three different times and she brought out three little mallards. Finally, she came out with my brother’s teal, he scratched his head and said I can’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like that before.

My Best Hunting Dog

The best hunting dog I ever had was a small Brittany Spaniel, she was an outstanding hunter. Her breed could hypnotize a pheasant the way Fox can. The pheasants did not fly until she made them take off. Once I walked up she had a hen pheasant about a foot in front of her nose. It blinked its eyes at me then looked at the dog, but it did not move. Hen pheasants stay put a lot better than Roosters. Sam would stay on point. I walked up and made the pheasant fly one time. Sam grabbed it as soon as it took off the same way a Fox would do. I took the pheasant from her and turned it loose, that poor dog looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face, her head cocked to the side, like what did you do that for? Sam always rode up on the back of the seat right behind my head in the pickup. That was her favorite spot to ride, she could see out the back window or the front, it gave me a warm headrest also. You could take a lunch break if you wanted, she would point until you got back.

She only had one litter of pups, but it was huge. She had a baby every hour for 10 hours. Those ten pups were draining her energy. Feeding that many babies got to be too much, I bought milk replacer and helped feed them.  A friend of mine got one of those pups, it turned out to be a good hunting dog for him for many years.

There was a pasture across the road from our place. A trapper set traps out there every year. One day I saw Sam out in the pasture by herself, she wasn’t moving. I walked over there she was laying there with a trap on a front foot. She had a look on her face like “look what I have done” she didn’t fight or try to get loose as a wild animal would do. She was just lying there waiting for me and let me get her foot out of the trap. We walked home with her limping all the way. From that day on, anytime we were out hunting she would smell a fox trap and slowly back away from the area, exactly the way a fox would do. They know where the trap is at by smell.  

Sam loved to eat field mice fox also have a diet of field mice. They must be tasty little critters. One day my son-in-law Gaylord and I had been hunting all afternoon. Sam was doing her usual good job of hunting for us. I notice she was filling up on field mice, half the time the mice must have gone down her throat still alive. She just loved them, couldn’t get enough. After hunting all afternoon we were driving home, Sam wasn’t on the back of the seat behind my head likes usually rides she was between us. I could tell she didn’t 0feel good. We were almost home, Sam jumped up, let out a few loud burps and then regurgitated half a gallon of field mice onto my son-in-law’s lap. I stopped the pickup quick Gaylord bailed out leaving a trail of mice parts all the way to the road ditch. I think he also lost his lunch.

We lived about 30 yards (ca. 27 m) away from busy County highway with traffic going past 60 to 70 miles (112.65 km) an hour. One morning I looked out as a neighbor was going past. He was going very slow Sam was coming across the road. He ran over her right on the center line and didn’t even stop. I quickly ran out there, picked Sam up and cried all the way back to the house. She died while I was carrying her, that was a horrible day.

My Best Bird Dog

suzie 2suzie.jpg

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a large-sized breed of dog. The breed was developed in the United States Chesapeake Bay area during the 19th century. They were used by area market hunters to retrieve waterfowl in the ice cold waters of the Chesapeake Bay area.

My Best Bird Dog.

The best bird dog I ever had was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. She ended up coming to our house under an unusual set of circumstances. We were on a Fourth of July picnic at the Lake, a pickup with some young kids and a liter of Chesapeake puppies drove past us. One of the puppies fell out onto the road and got up limping. My son-in-law picked up the pup and went over to the pickup with the little dog and talked to the pickup driver. He said. “this little dog looks like it has a broken leg, maybe we should take it home and take care of it, the driver agreed with that.That little brown puppy named Suzy went home with us and lived at our house for many years.

Little Suzy had no permanent injuries, she was all dog from the words ‘lets go.’ I have hunted a lot of ducks and pheasants throughout my life. Suzy became the best hunting dog I ever had. I would like to share some of our hunting experiences with you in this story. Dedicated to the memory of Suzy

She was a natural born hunter she didn’t need a lot of training, hunting was in her bloodline. She worked equally well hunting waterfowl or upland game birds. She would even point a pheasant at a very young age, not a retriever trait. As she got older and bigger 75 pounds, the pheasants would flush. I would imagine while she was on point the ground was almost shaking from her excitement over the pheasant in front of her nose. There were times when a pheasant flushed and she jumped and caught it in midair. One opening day I got my three pheasants without firing a shot, a crippled bird rarely was lost.

When she got near water she ran and jumped many feet through the air before she landed, with a huge splash. She loved to swim, water temperature seemed to make no difference to her. As a young dog, one time a diving duck pulled a dirty trick on her. It would dive and swim under water, then come up after 40 or 50 feet. Suzy thinking it was crippled, kept swimming after it. That dirty duck kept repeating this game until it had my little dog almost out of site swimming away from the shore toward the middle of the lake. I could barely see her head, almost out of site in the waves. I thought for sure that was the end of my dog, no way she could swim that far. I waited and waited, Suzy must have decided enough is enough and finally swim back to shore. She learned a lesson about diving ducks that day.

There was another time my brother Harlan shot a teal that was flying about 70 miles an hour, that little teal came down dead in some tall cattails. I told Suzy, dead bird and pointed into the cattails, she immediately jumped out into the tall cattails and came right with a duck, but it wasn’t the teal. It was a young Mallard, didn’t have quite enough feathers to fly with. Suzy repeated this ordeal two more times to my brother’s amazement, each time it was a young Mallard. I sent her in one more time and she brought back my brother’s green wing teal. Truth is much stranger than fiction, I bet Suzy dreamed about that trip a long while.

One time at a road side slough a fellow was trying to get his black Labrador retriever to go after a duck he shot about 50 feet offshore. The Labrador did not want to retrieve that duck. I asked the fellow if he wanted me to have my dog retrieve the duck, ‘sure go ahead.’ I sent Suzy after the bird she brought it back and set it by my feet. I told her this duck belongs to the other fellow. I put her in the pickup and brought the duck to the other hunter. Suzy gave me a real puzzled look with her head cocked sideways when I got in the truck.

There was another outing, very cold November day. The lakes were almost frozen, I visited an old fellow who had been sitting out all morning with the Northwest wind blowing into his face. George said, “You got to shoot the ducks over land, the wind will blow them away if they fall in the water.” I told him go ahead shoot what he wanted, Suzy will go retrieve them. George shot a couple of ducks, Suzy brought him the ducks delivered right to his feet. We were sitting there awhile in the wind, teeth chattering. George took his extra hunting coat and put it over Suzy’s back. Another great memory.

Pheasant hunting one time in the winter after the birds were all bunched up. We had a bad experience. The pheasants were so thick, so much scent, Suzy went completely bonkers. There was a two mile square area of cattail swamp, pheasants everywhere. She flushed birds that got up, flew a little distance and set back down. She would chase them up again. This went on for about an hour, it was getting dark and very cold. Suzy would not come back when I called. I left my hunting coat at the place we entered the huge slough. I went home, about five miles, had supper then went back after a few hours. Suzy was sleeping on my hunting coat, waiting for me.

Another time when I thought she was just getting good at her waterfowl training. She proudly made her running dive to retrieve a duck. She was swimming straight back to me, duck in her mouth, pretty as a picture. She saw a muskrat house and crawled up on it with the duck. She proceeded to eat that duck with me ten feet away, going crazy. I didn’t have my waders on and not wanting to freeze to death, I watched the whole agonizing event. Suzy had a warm duck lunch while I was watching, doing some cussing I would imagine too.

One other time we got to our duck hunting spot early because the place, usually had quite a few hunters. It was still pitch dark, Suzy and I were sitting waiting for the 1/2 hour before sunrise shooting time. Somebody was walking up behind us in the dark, Suzy let out the deepest growl I’ve ever heard in my life, ground shaking type. I talked to the fellow later he said, ‘I made a big long detour around where you and your dog was sitting. I said that might have been a good idea.

This memory isn’t hunting related, I just want to give you an idea on how possessive Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are. I was helping a neighbor do some type of fix up project and I needed my hammer out of the pickup. So I asked him if he would go get my hammer from the pickup. I guess when he put his hand on the pickup door handle he woke Suzy up from her nap. The barking and growling scared the crap out of the guy. He said, “go get your own hammer, sure glad that door didn’t open.”

There is nothing that can take the place of a good, faithful, hunting dog.