Memories of hunting with a dog named Sierra – “The Duck Call”

I got up at 6:00 am yesterday morning, and apparently there was some truth after all to the blood moon heralding in the “END OF TIMES!!!”  because there was the sound of non stop gunfire coming from the direction of Newport…either that, or it was the opening day of duck hunting season, 2015, and the gunners on Sebasticook Lake were letting the ole mallards have it!

I used to hunt ducks in my younger days.  Not very well, but I certainly worked at it!  I had the pleasure of owning an exceptional little black lab named Sierra.  Sierra was a very well-behaved dog, and she seemed be very well-trained.

To say she was well-trained would give credit to the trainer, which was me, and that simply wouldn’t be fair to the dog.  She was very eager to learn, and loved to please. So training her came easy!

She was retrieving ducks at 6 months old…She was also retrieving my buddy’s very expensive L.L. Bean Magnum cork decoys, floating shotgun shells, sticks, leaves, and other floating debris, but a quick command of “Sierra!  focus!” would have her looking back to shore for a hand signal pointing her in the direction of the downed bird.  When she finally found the old red-legged black duck, and grabbed it, she was a sight to behold!  A gawmy little lab pup that was all paws, and ears with a mouth full of huge duck paddling furiously for the shore!  I was so proud!

We hunted together a lot, and in the coming weeks as I recall hunting trips with her, I will share them with you.  One trip in particular comes to mind, as autumn starts to set in, and the weather is nice.  Most of the time, hunting ducks is not such a nice experience.  Often, the best time to hunt fowl, is when the weather is foul!  I spent many a day hunkered down in a cold wet blind.  But some days, it was less about hunting, and more about being outside, in Maine, on a beautiful autumn day with your best friend.  And this story is about one of those times!

Sierra and I were duck hunting along the banks of the Kennebec River, just a few miles down stream of Merrymeeting Bay in North Bath. We were moving slowly down the river, on foot, hoping to catch a few ducks resting in an eddy behind some rocks, or a fallen tree. It had been a pretty rough hunt duck wise. But it was a warm sunny day, and the sky was blue! In other words the WORST time to hunt ducks!

The few birds we did see were too far out in the middle of the river, and well out of range. I would give them a few quacks on the duck call, and a few would come in a little closer to investigate, but it was second season, and these ducks had been shot at from northern Canada, and the northern part of Maine for several weeks, and curious ducks typically don’t become OLD ducks!  So without decoys in the water, no ducks paddled into gun range.

After a while I came to a little cove with a lot of oak trees on the banks, and sure enough there were a few black ducks paddling around feeding on the acorns that had fallen into the water.

Sierra had gotten a little anxious seeing ducks so close after 2 or 3 hours of sneaking around that she started whining and fidgeting around waiting for me to shoot. The ducks hearing the commotion in the thick bed of oak leaves swam out a little further away from the bank.

Luckily for me, the flock of 8 or 10 birds swam in opposite directions, so I had a chance to call them back in, as I was now in the middle of both groups. I reached into my coat to pull out my duck call, and it was gone!

I never carried it on a lanyard when I was “jump hunting” because it sometimes rattled on the zipper of my coat, or my shotgun , and that can easily spook ducks.  Plus, since I was on shore, I had an opportunity to take ruffed grouse, and squirrels, so being as quiet as possible was important.

I was pretty upset. Not because these ducks were swimming away, but because this particular duck call was the closest thing I’ll ever have to a family heirloom! My dad had this Faulks wooden call back in the 1970’s, when I was 4 or 5… My little sister had cut her teeth on it! Not only that, it was a GREAT sounding call.

I thought back to when I had last used it, and let out a defeated sigh, it was probably a quarter of a mile back, and at one point I had jumped over a small stream feeding into the river. This duck call was likely lost! I had to at least TRY to find it, but a wooden duck call lost on the ground, in a half-foot of oak and maple leaves was bad enough. Add to it the rock strewn ledges, with deep crevices, I had crossed, and the quick-moving little stream, and things were not looking good.

I got down on my hands and knees, and turned over the leaves along the path I had come down. 20 minutes later, my knees were almost raw from crawling on the rocks and my back ached from being hunched over for so long, and I had only covered a quarter of the distance I had come, IF THAT!

I was about to give up and call it a day. I looked around to see what the dog was doing. While hunting, Sierra had to heel, and now she was taking advantage of the time off, and had been romping around nosing into crevices, and chipmunk holes. She was about 20 yards away from me, and she was snuffling, and digging in the leaves. I went over to see what her problem was. She had scratched out an area in the leaves right down to bare earth, and in the center of it was my duck call! How she knew what I was looking for, I’ll never know. I have it to this day, and one day I hope my son William will use it to hunt ducks with his children.  For now it is tucked safely away, along with the memories of several special hunts with the best dog I ever owned!


Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.