This section is from the book "The Dogs Of Great Britain, America, And Other Countries. Their Breeding, Training, and Management in Health and Disease", by John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge). Also available from Amazon: The Dogs Of Great Britain, America And Other Countries.
The shooting of water-fowl is a sport attended with too much labor, fatigue and exposure to render it very attractive to any but experienced and eager sportsmen, who have perhaps become sated with the commoner recreations of grouse, snipe, quail, or woodcock shooting. Familiarity with this sport is only arrived at through many hardships, if not risks, and exposures in all sorts of weather. Consequently, there are few persons besides those who hunt for a living, who have acquired the necessary knowledge of the habits and natural history of the birds, and the proper methods of circumventing the instinctive wariness of water-fowl, and taking advantage of their peculiar ways, to shoot them successfully. Yet when a taste for the sport has been once acquired, or the first experience of it has been agreeable, there is no other that becomes more fascinating.
Water-fowl may be divided into two classes, those which are found in shoal water, and those which inhabit the deep waters of the sounds and inlets of the sea-coast. The mallard and the different teals are examples of the former, and the canvas-back is the type of the latter. The shoal water birds rarely go under water when feeding, although they will dive and swim long distances under water, when wounded or alarmed. This class of birds includes the mallard, the blue and green winged teal, the summer or wood duck, the pintail, the grey duck, shoveler, widgeon, and the black or dusky duck, together with the wild goose. The deep water varieties include the canvas-back, the broad bill, tufted duck, and the buffle head.
The methods of hunting wild fowl in general use require the exercise of considerable ingenuity and knowledge of the habits of the different species, their feeding places, and favorite food. Their extreme wariness and the necessity of finding the game without the help of dogs, retrieving being the only help afforded by them, add much to the labor and excitement of the sport. The ground, or rather the water, where the fowl abound, is generally inland rivers and ponds, bordered by reedy marshes and the tidal fiats of estuaries. There is scarcely a river or marsh in the country East or West, or North or South, where ducks of some variety or other are not found at some season of the year, and sometimes in fabulous numbers. The opening of the spring and the fall are the sporting seasons The birds are taken either by means of decoys, or by awaiting their passage over a place of ambush in which the hunter is concealed. A boat is generally used, else the labor of wading through the marshes and picking roundabout paths to avoid deep sloughs is intolerable.
Sometimes two persons hunt in company, yet at a distance from each other, one driving the birds towards the other, and the latter driving them back again. In this way many heavy bags are procured. Blinds or screens are provided, behind which the hunter keeps himself concealed until the moment when the game are within range of his gun. These blinds are made in various ways. Full information for their construction is given in the volume by J. W. Long, entitled "American Wild-fowl Shooting."
Decoys are employed to allure the passing flocks or stragglers to alight, being placed in such positions as are habitually chosen by the fowl. These decoys are mostly selected for the deep-water varices, which can not be so well approached as those which haunt the ponds, rivers, and marshes, from the banks of which, screened from observation behind his blind, the hunter can easily reach the approaching game. Decoys of various kinds are used. Those made of pine, and thoroughly coated with priming of raw oil, are to be preferred, as they are light and durable. The main thing in the decoy is to have it as natural as possible in form and color, and so built up and weighted that it will sit steadily in the water without rolling or losing an upright position. A finishing coat of varnish will spoil the best made decoy, on account of its glaring and glistening in the sun. A dead surface is the best The weight needed to steady the decoy should be made of a strip of sheet lead, placed in a groove at the bottom, and formed like the keel of a boat. Where smooth water only is to be met with, fiat-bottomed decoys can he used.
These may be carved out of a piece of soft pine plank, but for rough water use, two pieces are needed; one for the top and another for the bottom, which are hollowed out, then put together and painted. Decoys are provided with a line suited to the depth of the water, and a weight of not less than four ounces, made of a quarter length of a pound bar of lead of the kind used for bullets. The line is wound around the body of the duck, towards the tail, from-which it unwinds easily as the weight is thrown out, when the decoys are set. A long string is usually tied to one of the decoys by which it may be shaken so as to ripple the water, and cause the whole flock of them to move. A "duck call" being used at the same time when birds are passing will almost surely attract their notice. The decoys are best placed, so that the sun shines on the side towards which the ducks are expected.
A Water Retriever, or a dog that will take to water readily and is furnished with a coat of a nature that resists water, is used in duck shooting. Whatever kind is selected, whether a well-bred curly-coated retreiver, a water spaniel, or a Chesapeake Bay dog, he must be well trained for his work, and not averse to taking to the water however cold it may be. The only native dog of the right kind we have, is known as the Chesapeake Bay dog. Though a descendent of the curly-coated Irish retriever without doubt, he has been educated to his work by breeding and training for some years. There is no better hunting ground in America for wild fowl, than the Chesapeake Bay and its inlets and the sounds along the North Carolina Coast, and here this useful dog has his home and vocation. The dog used for this sport is trained first to know his name; then to instantly drop, wherever he may be, at a word or a signal of the hand, and to lie quietly until ordered or signalled to rise. He should be taught to remain quiet after the discharge of the gun, until ordered to work. This is the most important part of his education, and if not well trained in this, he may easily spoil good sport and lose game by rushing out and spoiling the effect of a second shot.
Dead birds need not be gathered until the shooting slackens or good opportunity occurs; otherwise, the dog may alarm the game and prevent birds alighting by his frequent appearance. It is best, however, to secure the cripples as soon as possible, and this a well trained dog will do of his own motion and without waiting for orders; while he will leave dead ducks until ordered to retrieve them. A dog when taught to fetch should never be permitted to drop the game at his master's feet, lest by doing this, when at work, some wounded birds may flutter away and be lost or give much trouble to recapture them. , He should be made to deliver only to the hand. Water-Fowl retrievers naturally grip their birds tightly and should be taught to hold them tenderly yet safely. The season for training is the summer when the water is warm; some dogs will refuse to enter water that is very cold after having experienced the discomforts of it in training. When being trained, he should be taught to search for the object he is ordered to retrieve, and to do this, the trainer should secretly throw the object to a distance and then bid the dog search and find it, or motion him with a wave of the arm in the direction he should go. Short and easy lessons will be found the most useful.
When punishing a dog for a fault, the castigation should never be so severe as to overbear in his mind the memory of the offence for which it was given. Punishment ought to be administered gently but firmly and instantly. Never delay punishment until it is necessarily disconnected with the fault, and do not be chary of praise for good conduct
A ducking expedition can hardly be worth much, without the necessity for camping out for a longer or shorter interval. The sportsman should therefore not only know how to make camp, but also be provided with the means for making and furnishing it. In the spring when bark of nearly all kinds peels very easily, a com-12 fortable camp is soon made. Two forked poles set up for the front, a cross bar resting upon these, form the opening and a support for the roof; two saplings reaching from the forks to the ground giving slope for the roof, and a few poles resting on these, and fastened with some withes, finish the frame. Slabs of bark laid upon the top form the roof, and the ends are closed up in the same way; the front is left open. In place of bark, pine or hem-lock brush, or coarse grass, will furnish substitutes. Otherwise a pair of gum blankets, or when one has plenty of means, a A tent complete, can be provided. Cooking apparatus and comfortable furniture and folding boats or canoes are supplied by the dealers in sporting commodities. A genuine sportsman will always be independent of these appliances, an ax and a box of matches serving to supply all his wants in the way of furnishing camp and cooking materials.
As to supplies for camping, it is hardly necessary to mention these, further than to caution the young sportsman never to forget to provide salt, pepper, and sugar; everything else will follow. These are most frequently forgotten, to the great disappointment of those of the party who never trouble themselves about the arrangements.
The camp should never be set in a hollow; a round knoll being safe in case of a sudden heavy rain which might overflow a hollow and make matters very uncomfortable. A shelter for the camp should be chosen where there are no tall trees. Low brush will protect the camp from heavy winds without such danger as would exist among heavy trees in case of sudden gusts. The camp should always face southward.
The color of the dress is an important consideration. This sbould always be of a neutral tint, matching the surroundings. The light brown waterproof hunting suits made for this special purpose, offer very little contrast with the color of the ground or with faded weeds, grass, leaves, and trunks of trees and brush. Ducks are more suspicious of dark colors than of light, and next to the yellowish-brown clothing, a light grey will be found desirable. A waterproof coat and rubber boots covering the thighs are indispensable.
As to the supply of ammunition that "goes without saying," and as no one would make a secondary matter of this, it may be safely left for each one to please his fancy in this respect.
A pocket compass is indispensable to avoid trouble, for in thick marshes upon cloudy days the direction of the camp is other-wise difficult to find. A man used to the woods is not easily lost; there are many signs which guide him in his course, but so many accidents may occur that it is prudent to have a compass on all occasions. A "pocket pistol" charged with the best quality of any good spirit may be needed in case of sickness. As a safeguard against chills, there should likewise be a supply of quinine on hand. Little hunting should be done before breakfast, and the coffee should be made hot and strong. The drinking of impure water is to be carefully avoided. Lastly, woollen flannel underclothing will be found a great protection in warding off ague.