By LEN ACKERMAN
For The Union Democrat
In my early years of waterfowl hunting,very few of the hunters in the old Apple City Club, which we started in 1947, owned a dog.
In those days, being young and healthy, we were content to chase down our own birds.
My first experience of hunting with a partner who owned a dog was back in the 1980s with the late Dick Brown, formerly of Mi-Wuk Village.
He started a big male black Labrador named "SOB." This was an exceptionally large dog, which eventually developed into a good retriever, charging into heavy tule cover and rarely coming out without a duck.
The one problem Brown had was breaking him of running down the levee in the dark and clipping another hunter from behind and knocking them off the levee.
In later years while I was hunting with Bill Davidson of the Santa Fe Club, he acquired a female black lab named "Pepper."
As we hunters got older it was a pleasure to sit in the duck blind and watch her go out, sometimes up to 100 yards, and bring back a downed bird.
Pepper made it through 13 seasons before being forced into retirement. The following year, Davidson acquired another young female black lab named "Rosie."
I was present when she made her first retrieve, going straight out and picked up her first duck and then - despite Bill's calling - went straight back to the parking lot and laid the bird down by Bill's truck.
Rosie settled down after that and became a great retriever, making it through 13 seasons and part of this year before having to retire with arthritis and other age-related problems.
If I could go back and start over again, I would have a hunting dog from the beginning.
A state law set to take effect Jan. 1 will outlaw the use of dogs for hunting certain wildlife, including bobcats and black bears, but not waterfowl.
On the current duck hunting scene,hunters are still hoping for colder storms and a big freeze up north to move out the majority of the waterfowl that are resting in the flooded rice fields and the many "no shoot" zones.
In the grasslands area, the public shooting grounds have reported slightly higher averages over the past week, with some more than two birds per hunter.
For more information, call the Los Banos Complex at 826-0463.
Most of the private clubs in the areareport a fairly good early morning shoot, but no afternoon flight as the birds settle into the closed zones.
Shooting from floating blinds at Modesto Reservoir Wednesday, Sonora residents Bill Caldera, Bob McMahon, and fishing guide Danny Layne had a good shoot and bagged 10 ducks.
Avid fishermen are still outpursuing their favorite sport and at New Melones Reservoir, the Dept. of Fish and Game is now planting rainbow trout weekly.
Bank fishing is picking up for anglers using PowerBait or marshmallow/worm combos.
Lure casters are also catching trout with Kastmaster lures in gold or silver.
The Big Fish contest winnerat Glory Hole Sports last week was Jack Winter of Lodi with a beautiful 3-pound rainbow caught on a Kastmaster lure near the Glory Hole boat ramp.
Meanwhile, Dick Anderson of Twain Harte landed a 6-pound rainbow trout last week while fly fishing at Camanche Lake'sSouth Pond.
The Mother Lode Gun Club Youth Trap Programis currently taking sign-ups for the 2013 season.
For more information, call John Luckie at 533-2162 (cell:559-2078) or Bob Gandolfo at 984-5055 (cell: 559-6459).