Duck hunting without a dog is not an ideal situation, especially while hunting over deep water. But that doesn’t mean you can’t retrieve downed birds and have a productive hunt.
Whether your trusty retriever is hurt and sitting the hunt out, or you don’t have the opportunity to have a good duck hunting dog, there’s still ways to hunt over deep water and still get the birds you shoot.
In this review, we’ll discuss some of the best ways to retrieve ducks in deep water without a dog that include using a fishing rod and hook, kayak and canoes, and even inner tubes.
1) Fishing Rod and Hook
The simplest and often cheapest way to retrieve ducks without a dog is to grab your fishing rod and reel and simply cast a treble hook or lures with many treble hooks in order to snag a downed bird. The heavier the lure the better and you can even add weight for longer casting distances.
This tactic usually takes a couple tries to get right and topwater lures can help give you a visual in order to line up the hooks with the floating bird. Heavy monofilament line is not needed and even a small micro-spinning reel can work in the right situations.
Whichever setup you choose, it may take several casts and retrieval techniques before you get it right. Slow is always better and coaxing the bird your way will almost always pay off more than trying to snag it by setting the hook hard.
Pro Tip: Use a topwater lure with three treble hooks for the best results when retrieving ducks in deep water.
2) Use the wind to your advantage
Wind direction plays a critical part in deep water hunting situations on large lakes and ponds. Downed birds act as a sail on the top of the water and a strong wind can deposit your bird even further away if not retrieved in a timely manner.
The best way to eliminate wind drift is to use the wind direction to your advantage and let the wind retrieve the birds for you. Setting up with the wind in your face isn’t ideal, but it may mean the difference between being able to retrieve birds easily or having to fight white caps on deep water as your birds drifts further and further way.
Pro Tip: Look for out-crops or sand bars near deep water that will allow you to set up for varying wind directions in a way that the wind will blow the birds back to you.
3) Use an inner tube to retrieve ducks
Inner tubes are another inexpensive way to retrieve ducks in deep water without using a dog. Tubes can be picked up at any tractor supply or feed store and take only a few minutes to inflate fully.
Just hop in and use your hands to paddle you out to retrieve the duck. If you want to take it a step further, they make tube floats specifically for fishing that are designed for you to sit upright in the tube comfortably. If you’re going to be making a lot of retrieves, this is the best option along with some fins for your feet.
Pro Tip: A kayak paddle can make traveling to downed birds easier and more efficient than using your hands, especially if you’re duck hunting in January and everything is starting to freeze.
4) Kayaks and Canoes
Kayaks and canoes can offer a relatively inexpensive way to retrieve birds over deep water in a safe manner compared to going all out on a boat with an outboard motor. If you hunt without a dog exclusively, then a kayak is the way to go. You can even hunt out of them.
Kayaks fit in the back of most truck beds and are easy to paddle out to chase crippled birds or make long retrieves. If your retriever is out of commission and your duck boat will not start, a canoe or kayak is the next best thing. For public land duck hunting with motor restrictions, kayaks still offer a way to be mobile without having to hunt from the bank.
Pro Tip: It’s legal to shoot waterfowl out of a kayak or canoe under manned power in most states.
5) Swim for it
Lastly, the epidemy of minimalist duck hunting is to just swim out to the bird and get it. This method should not be performed in the winter when the water is cold and a life jacket should always be worn no matter the season. Mild conditions work best, especially during early season duck hunting situations.
Pro Tip: Don’t swim unless you absolutely have to. Wear a life jacket just to be safe.
Tips for retrieving ducks in deep water without a dog
- Always have a plan about what to do with down birds over deep water if you don’t have a dog. MacGyvering something together at the last second will only lead to failure.
- If you have a friend with a dog, now’s the time to invite them along. Even if you can’t stand hunting with them, if their dog can retrieve even just 50% of the time it may be worth it.
- Retrieve downed birds quickly on windy days to prevent the wind blowing them into even deeper water further from the shore.
- Let birds work even closer so that you can retrieve them easily in the decoys or shallows.
- Pick your shots well to reduce the chance you must chase cripples across the lake.
- Always wear a life-jacket when retrieving birds in deep water.
- Carry a change of clothes in case you dunk yourself in the water and need to get dry quickly.
- Dispatch crippled birds quickly to prevent them from swimming into open water.
- Place a string of decoys to catch wind blown downed birds to keep them floating in your spread longer until you can get to them.
Why retrieve ducks over deep water without a dog?
Simply put, good waterfowl retrievers are hard to come by and most people don’t always have the luxury of a well-trained bird dog at their side. This means hunters must get creative with how they plan to retrieve birds or simply not hunt (which isn’t a consideration for most).
Luckily there are many methods that can be used to retrieve ducks over deep water and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing which method will work in the area you plan to hunt is half the battle.
The last thing you want to do is shoot a bird and have no way of retrieving it. Not only is it against the law, but that bird will have been wasted when just a little bit of preparation could have prevented it. Always think ahead about how you plan to retrieve your birds before you take the shot.
Retrieving ducks in deep water without a dog can be a challenge if you don’t have the right equipment. But with the right planning you can still have a productive hunt and retrieve all your downed birds.
A fishing pole and hook is the simplest and most efficient method for retrieving ducks over deep water just out of reach from the shore. Treble hooks work the best and heavier setups can be cast over 100 feet.
Setting your decoys up so that downed birds float with the wind back to you is another method that can remove the need to pack special equipment for retrieving birds. Simply walk over and pick up the bird after the wind has blown it to shore.
If the wind is not in your favor, inner tubes, canoes, and kayaks offer a way to get out on the water to retrieve birds at longer distances. Just remember to wear a life jacket.
Do you have other ideas for retrieving ducks over deep water without a dog? Please comment below.