Duck season opened Saturday morning, and many hunters, local and non-resident alike, headed to the Kansas Wetlands Education Center for the annual hunter’s appreciation breakfast after an early morning of activity in the pools at Cheyenne Bottoms.
“Reports have been okay, but we haven’t heard anything stellar,” KWEC Director Curtis Wolf said. “It still kind of seems, duck wise, flocks are still stopped up north in Nebraska and the Dakotas.”
The biscuits and gravy and hot coffee were a welcome respite, and groups came and went, making sure to check out silent auction items available for bid from the local chapter of Ducks Unlimited.
According to Jason Wagner, Cheyenne Bottoms area wildlife manager with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, there were fewer hunters than expected Saturday morning.
“It was pretty tough to actually get birds within range with the amount of pressure that we had,” he said. “There was a good mix of birds present, a lot of teal, pintails and redheads.”
Teal are smaller, more petite ducks, while pintails and redheads are more the standard size duck. All are attracted to shallow water in marshes and flooded agricultural fields.
While cold weather to the north is expected to push ducks further south, they aren’t expected to stay long, a result flooding in late spring and early summer.
“What we need is low water during the summer to allow the food plants to germinate, but what we had was high water, so we got stuck with cattails and water, and that’s pretty much it.”
Earlier this week, the first Whooping Crane of the season was sighted at Quivira, and again, colder weather will push more.
“If we have them here, we shut down the pool that they’re in, and shut off the firing lines,” Wagner said. “We’ll put signs up and let people know that pool is closed.”
The Jayhawk Retriever Club held a retriever demonstration at the KWEC grounds Saturday morning. It was an opportunity for members to test put their dogs through the paces for various American Kennel Club designations, and to allow visitors a chance to witness the dogs in action and learn more about what goes into the art of training a dog to read hand signals.
Chris Nagy brought her five-year-old black Labrador Retriever, Gunsmith’s Little Miss Sure Shot “Annie”. Standing at attention, waiting for her signal, Annie watched three ducks fall to the ground following three shots fired by test organizers. The ducks were tossed by members hiding behind blinds set up in the field south of the center. When she received her signal, Annie raced out to pick up the first duck and return it to Nagy on command. Then, she retrieved the second, and then the third.
There area different levels of hunt tests the American Kennel Club recognizes. There is the Junior level, where a single fowl is retrieved, the senior level where two are retrieved, and the Master Hunter where three are retrieved.
Annie also performed a “blind” test.
“All of this is meant to simulate an actual hunt,” Nagy said. “The blind simulates a person having shot a bird and the bird’s gone down without the dog having seen it, but the person knows where it’s at. You guide the dog to it by whistle and hand signal.”
When put to the test, Annie eagerly performed the task at hand. There are local and national events staged by AKC throughout the year, and when a dog has passed the Master Hunter course three times, it earns the designation of Master National Hunter.
A lot goes into training a hunting dog to the Master level, but it starts with regular, consistent training. With a young dog, Nagy spends 10 to 15 minutes a day or every other day depending on how the dog is responding. She also does setups in the field about three times a week, each of which takes either the morning or the afternoon. Spending time together in the field makes it all worthwhile.
The Jayhawk Retriever Club is made up of members from around the state, and can be found on facebook at Jayhawk Retriever Club.