Story by Joe Koehly.
We were lucky to have farm land and a few pot holes that attracted ducks in the late fall. Instead of riding right to the blinds in Rangers like we do today, we would often trudge through thick black mud for hundreds of yards with our gear slung over our shoulders. In 1985, the state-of-the-art gear we use today didn’t exist, and if it did, we most likely couldn’t have afforded it. Carhart bibs, cowboy boots, and five or six layers got the job done, mostly. I had never even heard of waders.
My first memory of hunting ducks was crouching behind our blind for cover. We were busted by a group of Mallards on our way in that afternoon, and my younger cousin Hank was scolding me for moving or making noise as they circled overhead trying to commit. I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old at the time, him being three or four. It has pretty much stayed that way throughout our entire lives, Hank’s passion for hunting ducks burns as strongly as his dad’s.
Uncle Steve’s first lab was named Jack. A big black lab with a block for a head and a huge heart. Prior to Jack, if a few birds were knocked down, retrieval meant jumping in a rowboat and ripping across the pond as fast as possible to scoop them up. Since then, there have been seven labs that have hunted for Steve and our family. From Jack to Buck, to Deuce, to Sam, and then Little Sam. During that time we’ve gotten some better spots to hunt, improved our gear, and burned through dozens of pairs of waders. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to the pursuit, Uncle Steve’s connection with his dog, the Koehly family huddled up in a blind season after season, and the joy in seeing the next in pup in line launch into a retrieve.