Category Archives: hunting dogs

Sammy: 11 1/2 years old and still going strong

We left the young dogs at home the other day in favor of Sammy, Rob Spicer’s 11 year old lab. 11 years old and still going strong!

Sammy found and retrieved all of our birds at her own pace, which is just slightly slower than we move during these icy winter hunts. Pretty good for an 11 year old, or 77 in human years if you prefer.

The highlight of the afternoon was the drake canvasback she retrieved- she waited for the bird to come back to her after it dove under an ice shelf. The big drake came back out right at her feet and she bent over and picked it up, like it was no big deal. It made our day watching her work.

Black lab in coffin blind

Sammy waiting for some action.

Black lab with a pintail

Sammy brings in a pintail.


Sammy brings in another pintail.


Sammy retrieving a canvasback.

Follow the birds!

Yellow lab with a greenhead

Sugar with a greenhead.

Clearly every waterfowl season is different. It’d be great if our favorite spots produced consistently from year to year, but it doesn’t always work out that way- conditions change and force us to adapt. It may sound obvious but if there is one thing we’ve learned over the years it’s this: Follow the birds!  

This year we’re experiencing drought conditions in the west, brought on by a winter of little snow followed by a  summer with hardly any rain.  There was six to eight more inches of water on the mud flats along the Great Salt Lake last year, and there were birds using it everywhere. Not so much this year. There are plenty of ducks and geese, they just have fewer places to go. As a result, the birds are sketchy and more sensitive to hunting pressure,which is more normal for sure.

duck tracks in the mud

Teal tracks on the mud flats.

Teal, pintails, and mallards feed on a variety of food on the mud flats: alkali bullrush seeds, algae, salicornia, and midges make up most of their diet. The birds love to get into areas that have recently flooded. Recent scouting and reports from friends confirmed the birds were using an area that has recently received some water through a series of culverts.  As expected, there wasn’t as much water in the area as we’d hoped for, but enough to make a great looking spread. We deployed SoftShell mallards on the exposed mud flats, with foamers for the floaters.

Duck decoy spread

Softshell decoys and floaters on the mud flats (click to enlarge).

The shooting was anything but fast, but we had a great morning watching mallards, pintails, teal and shovelers come into the spread.

Our conditions are changing rapidly as the weather gets colder and more irrigation water is being released on the mud flats. I have a feeling we’ll be hunting a lot of different locations depending on where the birds go, adaptability is critical to success this season.

hunter with a green head

Lucas with a greenhead from the mud flats.

Feathered Friday: Green-winged teal

Looking at some pics from the 2012 waterfowl season and recalling how awesome the teal flights were. Flocks like the one  in the picture were common, which made for some great shooting late in the season.

flock of green winged teal


My labrador Sugar sure enjoyed it.

labrador retriever with duck

Bringing back the groceries- time for some curry duck!



How was your 2011 waterfowl season?

labrador retriever with a canvasback

Sugar looks proud with a New Year's drake canvasback

As I was sitting in my blind on New Year’s Day, I started to reflect on the 2011-2012 waterfowl season even though it’s not quite over yet. As a waterfowl hunter and wildlife observer, I tend to use my own anecdotal population observations to measure the season against others. I’m guessing that we all do this with our own hunting experiences so we can neatly catalog the season. This season started for us with a warm and mosquito-filled September Utah youth opener and continues for another couple of weeks in Utah, into the middle of January. As always, there were a couple of  observations that stood out in my mind:

  • Nothing helps out the hatch like water! We had a great water year in Utah, and it looked like the local waterfowl responded with a strong hatch, green-winged teal in particular. I saw more birds overall this year than I have seen in years. The abundant water also led to one hell of a mosquito hatch!

Pintails passing by

  • The estimate of a record breaking mid-continent snow goose population was dead on; there was a tremendous snow goose flight this fall through Canada and the midwest, with loads of juveniles in the flocks. It looks like the spring hunt in other parts of the country should be good.
  • There were a lot of pintails, green-winged teal, and cinnamon teal in Utah this year, more than in years past.
  • The majority of mallards and Canada geese are hung up in Idaho again this year, which happens some times. Warm weather and lack of snow allows those birds to stay north of us, never pushing down into the state.
hen pintail

Hen pintail passing overhead

  • This warm weather is great to hunt in, but it better start snowing around here or we’re going to have some water shortages in our marshes next year.
  • I’ve heard that other areas of the country have struggled with the warm weather, from California all the way to the east coast. I believe northern tier states benefitted from the warmer weather, while southern states haven’t seen strong flights of migrators.
  • My son, Lucas, and I need to get back to the skeet and sporting clays range- I don’t know what the hell happened to my shooting! It’s supposed to get better as the season goes along, right?

Overall, this past season was one of the best I’ve seen for quite a while. The water conditions really helped with the local population and also kept the migrators here longer because of the improved habitat. I hope you had a great season in your area, I’d love to hear about your own experiences and observations.


Dogs are such great hunting partners. They all have their unique qualities just like we do, and our current hunting labrador  Sugar is no exception. She is 2 years old and has really started to figure this game out, despite my lack of training over the past year. She lines out on blind retrieves as well as any dog I’ve hunted with, sits quietly when we’re in the field, and has a good (and developing) nose.  On the flip side, she’s also learned I’m not paying close attention to her when I am taking photos and/or filming during hunts which means she has figured out when she can break on a retrieve- but we’re working on that!   These are just a few of my favorite photos from the past 2 years, with many more to come I’m sure.

Labrador puppy

Sugar at 8 weeks

Two labradors

Sugar with Wile E. Coyote


Sugar with Canada goose

Sugar loves geese!


Sugar at Farmington Bay

Sugar with a face full of mud on the GSL.


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