One cold, wet day, two hunting openers and an adventure in dog training

The rain was dripping off the brim of my hat; it sure was cold. On Thursday, Sept. 1, the opening day of duck season and moose season in Unit 13, it was 38 degrees with a cold rain at 5 a.m., and little improvement until early evening.

You have to be a little demented to go out in that kind of weather. Or, a dedicated hunter of habit who is addicted to the opening day of any hunting season. Ducks would be my first choice. Ducks pack easier than moose.

However, a young pup who needed woods wisdom was the first priority. A good hunting companion is hard to find. Firstly, the dog needs to be bred right and then made. Dogs are not born finished.

My daughter’s 10-month-old German shepherd was an ideal candidate. She had a nose and pizzazz. She also got car sick and thus hated the truck. It took two of us to put the 75-pound dog in the truck.

Sure enough, the 70-mile truck ride made her sick in the back seat. Ah, well; messes come with critters. She was happy to get out of the vehicle at Maclaren River. The rest of the evening was spent calling the little bean-head to the truck with door remaining closed.

She got the picture quickly enough and soon would come to the truck with the door open. The morning almost-snow was dumping at 5 a.m. Sitka was called to the truck and to my surprise put her front foot on the rear floorboard. She was helped in and off we went.

Spotting for moose is a trick on a good day. It is almost impossible in hard rain and sleet because binoculars don’t work. Full rain gear is a must. Most rain gear is far too noisy to hunt in. The answer is polar fleece. Wear it over your rain gear. Polar-Tec does not absorb water. In this it trumps wool.


The pup was already trained not to ever get more than 30 feet from me. Her “heel” command was a bit weak. Dogs can be taught to stay close by taking them for walks and then hiding as soon as they get too far ahead of you. Be certain they already know to come when called.

[An ode to the duck opener, and to the hunters and jesters over the years who have made them memorable]

A couple hours of sitting on a hill freezing my butt was enough. We made our hypothermic way back to the Chevy. Both of us jumped right in. The wood stove got my hands working again. Ducks were next on the list.

Sitka seemed to like water well enough, but had never been swimming, nor had she been shot over. A walk to some local ponds found a group of pintails in a swamp that looked like they could be reached easily enough if the pup hesitated to retrieve. The ducks jumped and two dropped, both in the water. Sitka was not at all bothered by the shot.

Gun-shy dogs can be trained out most of the time. Try dropping a book on floor while the dog is eating. Shooting a .22 over them while eating is the next step. Patience is the key. Don’t expect immediate results. Some dogs train out in a week, some in a month, others may never.

Chest waders are almost a must for teaching a young dog to swim. It is preferable to have a pair that don’t leak. I wish I had waders like that. Mine have drainage holes at mid-thigh. Sitka went in with me and swam five feet to the first duck. Shepherds are not Labs. They dislike the taste of ducks. Little bean-head brought it to me by one wing. The second duck was maybe 15 feet from shore. She readily returned to the water and retrieved that bird also. Success.

Evidently that small flock of birds were the only ones in the valley as we saw nothing larger than a sparrow for the remainder of the walk. Teaching the pup the difference between our chickens and ptarmigan would have to wait for another day.

The rain broke by 6 p.m. Dry socks and a fresh set of hip boots made me ready again. Moose could be getting up for evening feeding a little early after the soaking of the day.

The rain returned within the hour. A creek was waded that was deeper than hipboots. However, a couple of cow moose stood up, one with a calf. Moose may be scarce this season — but that is not forever. In spite of what we do, not because of how we attempt to manage them, the moose population will bounce back.

The snow-capped mountains and the brilliantly-colored tundra will always be here. There will be another young dog to teach. Opening day will come again, maybe the next one will be sunshine.

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.