- Rob Oliver
In A Galaxy Far Away...
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
My most recent Mack's Prairie Wings catalog came the other day and as I studied the pages two things occurred to me. First, just about the time you think you are well equipped and have everything you need for waterfowling someone comes up with a new piece of equipment that you just can't live without. Second, we've come a long ways in the development of waterfowl hunting gear and equipment since I started duck hunting 55 years ago.
I remember when I first started out, no one used decoys. Most of our gunning was pass shooting. There was a lake on the northside of the town where I grew up and after school just about every kid in town would make their way across town, shotgun in hand, to shoot at the lake. Imagine a bunch of teenagers walking right through town with their shotguns over their shoulders and no one ever got excited in the least. Contrast that with the current situation where a person walking with gun in hand through a urban area would likely be the target of police reports galore. On their return trips most of the teenagers carried a few dead ducks which would also be a source of complaint in our world today. Times have certainly changed.
Duck hunting attire in those days was not specialized, just about any type of clothing would do. Many of us wore Kahiki canvas coats with a corduroy collar. Some of these coats had a game pocket in the back which served as a place to store your harvested game. They usually had plenty of pockets to store your ammunition. As I recall, a box of 25 Imperial shotgun shells which were manufactured by Canadian Industries Limited (CIL) were $2.97 at Woolco. The canvas coats were not very warm but they served the purpose.
I remember when camouflage came into vogue. I was probably thirty years old. I thought it looked like a pretty good idea so I had to get me some. After a lengthy search I found a pair of camo coveralls at a local archery shop. The pattern was what is referred to today as old style and they had a lot of greens in the pattern but it was camo and I wore it everywhere even though it did not match most of the vegetation where I hunted.
Today there are more camo patterns than one can even stay current with. These camo patterns coupled with space-age materials that are wind proof, and water proof and stain proof, and heat-retaining are a far cry from my old canvas coat. Somewhere, along the line they discovered the practice of layering so most of the waterfowl hunting clothing today is actually meant to be implemented as a system and not stand alone items. Selecting the system that is best suited to your hunting style, pocket book and preference is a study that rivals the quest for any secrets of the universe. All I can tell you is about the time that you make your selection and procure your new article of hunting attire, someone will come out with a new product that you just have to have.
When I first started hunting with retrievers I used to go out into a marsh as deep as my chest waders would allow, find an opening in the round stem bulrush and cattails, put out some decoys and if fortunate find a muskrat house for my dog and I to sit and wait on. My first dog was Kelly. She was a great female in many ways. If I failed to find a muskrat house I would have her tread water next to me and I would stand hidden in the bulrushes. Fortunately, the waders in those days were simply canvas with a rubberized coating and were not very warm so Kelly and I would become cold together after a half hour we would have to wade ashore to get warm. There were lots of ducks in those days and a half hour was usually all that was needed to get your limit. However, if we needed longer we would make our way out to our hole for another stand after we warmed up.
Now there are marsh stands for retrievers and warm insulated waders for the hunter. These are both welcomed improvements and certainly save on the wear and tear of both dog and hunter.
Another welcome advancement for the retriever is the vest. If you have ever had a dog become hypothermic on you because of cold conditions it is a bit of scary thing. I remember the first occasion I experienced it. We were hunting on a day that had an ambient temperature in the high -20's Celsius. It was December and so the water temperature would likely of been near freezing or a little below, since we were hunting on a river. We were shooting geese and ducks and after several retrieves my dog came out of the water and had trouble standing. It hind quarters kept collapsing and even when it was standing still it would just weave from side to side. Luckily, I had just read some research on Hypothermia and recognized the symptoms and we got the dog in the truck and turned on the heater full blast. Not to be deterred, we grabbed another dog off the truck and hunted that one until it got cold and then switched for the one that was now warmed up again. Since the advent of vests I have not had that problem although we still hunt in very cold conditions as late as January here in Montana.
However, even the new and improved waders are not impervious to cold conditions. I remember a day when I was hunting geese on a very very cold day. Ambient temperature that day was in the -30's Celsius with about a 45 Kilometer wind blowing straight out of the north. My decoys kept icing up which necessitated wading out and knocking the ice off of them periodically to keep them looking somewhat realistic. Each time I came out of the water my waders would freeze immediately, making it very difficult to stand the next time I had to go deice the decoys. Finally after repeated deicing, my waders just broke in half. Now I was faced with the dilemma of how to retrieve my decoys with no waders. I finally just waded in and got the decoys and then made my way back to my truck. I remember that hike well to this day because I was not sure I was going to make it under those conditions. That day I was the one experiencing hypothermia. Obviously I did make it because I telling about it.
Seems like a long time ago when I remember how equipment for waterfowl hunting was limited and perhaps life was simpler. I must admit the comfort I feel on a raining day with my rain proof hunting gear does not make me long for my canvas coat of yesterday. With the fancy gear we have now I can't even feel a breeze when the wind wails out of the north. I enjoy my new 1600 g insulated, neoprene waders as I wade in cold water and don't even feel it. Although I must admit that I now covet those new zipper front waders (I guess I'm getting old). I like sharing the corner of the marsh stand with my dog, not just because it comfy but because it's a chance to cuddle with my bud as we both eagerly await the ducks. It makes me feel good to put my hand under my dogs vest and to detect she's dry and warm. I think that trying new equipment is part of the allurement of waterfowling. All and all I am grateful for progress and the advent of these new products but I am also grateful for the memories of yesterday in a galaxy far away when may we weren't so advanced but we still got the job done and had fun doing it.