Christmas Gifts for the retriever lover

Pro-staff Contributor:  Zach Raulie

Important not to forget your hardest worker in the field on Christmas morning!

Important not to forget your hardest worker in the field on Christmas morning!

It’s creeping up on us faster it seems every year; Christmas that is.  My wife and family members are always asking what I’d wish for this Christmas.  Another new puppy isn’t likely this year but outfitting our newest pup is.  We’re not easy people to shop for, us hunters.  I bet most hunters’ families agree that “he has it all, so what do I get him”.  Here are some great pre-holiday thoughts on my top picks that will be for both me and my retriever Finn, for Christmas 2013.

Stocking Stuffers

Avery EZB Mallard

Avery EZB Mallard

A retriever owner can never have too many training bumpers and this really goes without saying as each season we lose some, pups chews some up or a couple extra just to make sure you have what you need next training season.

Whether by Mud River or Avery Outdoors these bags are fantastic for weekend hunting trips and overnight stays at the in-laws while you’re out of town keeping the dog food dry and transportable in an easy to tote bag.

You can never have enough.  Get a fluorescent color for upland game, one for waterfowling and another for the local playground.  Inexpensive and always useful in the day-to-day retriever world.

Nice list

My mother mentions that Christmas is a time when you gift something to someone that they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves.  Maybe the hunter in your life would like an item that they’ve done without for some time, but it sure would be nice to have.  Here are those items.

Maybe that new puppy you bought last Christmas is now ready for advanced training or maybe it has taken on a few bad habits that need some attention.  Whether for an upland bird dog or a new waterfowler SportDog has the right electronic collar for the job.  The Sportdog Wetland hunter is by far my pick of the litter.

Avery Jr. Ruff Stand

Retriever feeling extra comfortable Avery Jr. Ruff Stand and vest

A retriever never knew luxury could be so good until the Ruff Stand was developed.  This is a gift that every waterfowler has dreamt of and it sure makes waterfowling with your best friend a whole lot better experience whether in the marshes or the timber.  On many days this has provided a dry stable location for all my retrievers.

Products made by Avery Outdoors or Drake have years of experience in fine tuning the correct fit for man’s best friend.  A Dog Vest makes a great item for the retriever to insulate them on cold mornings in the blind and protect them from potential harm beneath the water’s surface.

Check out these and the entire selection of proven Guide Recommended Gear at

Tips for your Retrievers First Hunt

Pro-staff Contributor:  Zach Raulie

I picked up my pup Finn up north of Atlanta, Georgia as a 7 week old black lab pup on soggy and cold January en route to a Kansas duck hunt.  What have I done since to prepare him for hunting this season, is he ready?

A young Finn

A young Finn

Fast forward 10 months, the migration has started and fall is well upon us.  Many states upland and waterfowl seasons have already begun.  Hopefully you have spent time this summer with your new retriever pup working on the basics, socializing in many environments and transitioning from yard work to field work.

Zach putting in the preparation with Finn

Zach putting in the preparation with Finn

Proper Preparation: My buddies that know me well know I am a big believer in the 5P’s.


Silly as it may seem, this college acronym is one of the few that stuck with me.  I like a retriever who’s prepared.  I hope to have Finn going into his first duck hunt thinking “been there, done that”.  Like an athlete who understands their role and at game time puts forth a solid effort and gets the job done.  I don’t expect that player to do this without countless hours conditioning, practice and watching film.

Don’t let “game day” be the day your pup experiences everything for the first time.  So here are 4 Keys to making your retrievers first hunt a success:

  1. Introduce your retriever to birds early.
    1. Start with a duck wing & live pigeons in your back yard.  Graduate up to using live mallards or pheasants in field-work to simulate a real hunting situation, so when that first greenhead hits the water he isn’t just nosing it and licking it.
  2. Train how you hunt.
    1. If you hunt out of a boat or ground blind make sure your pup is familiar with these and the dog stand/blind they may hunt from.
    2. Introduce your dog to all types of decoys that they’ll be running or swimming through.
    3. If you use duck/goose calls, use them in and around your pup while training
  3. Gun shots
    1. Familiarize your retriever with the tools you’ll be using; you don’t want to create a gun shy dog on its first hunt.
  4. Set realistic expectations of your hunt
    1. Don’t expect a young retriever to do a seasoned retriever’s work.
    2. If you haven’t mastered a blind retrieve in training don’t try it in the field.
Important to work with real birds before the first hunt!

Important to work with real birds before the first hunt!

One of the best ways to prepare your retriever for hunting situations is by joining a local retriever club.  Participate in their monthly or weekly training days and their semi-annual hunt tests.  A great way to learn training tips, experience real hunting situations and see what finished retrievers can do.

Training days will simulate almost all situations presented to a retriever while hunting; allowing you to train, practice and teach your pup invaluable lessons.  All the sights, sounds and smells associated with a real hunt are present at these events, including your own excitement.

Finn equally comfortable in both the field and water

Finn equally comfortable in both the field and water

Hunts tests are sanctioned by UKC or AKC organizations and designed to challenge your retriever against a minimum standard for grading.  These are also fun competitive events, and much can be learned by simply attending and observing; or for those with a competitive heart they tend to be very addictive and truly rewarding as you watch your retriever handle tough conditions and excel during challenging hunts.

I mention all of this as a way to prepare our retrievers for “game day”, the big hunt or season opener.  When you show up with pup on their first hunt, hopefully the sounds, smells and excitement are nothing new to them.  One of the best suggestions I was ever given about a retriever’s first hunt is for the handler of the dog to put his or her gun away that day or at least to the side at first.  Focus on your retriever.  Make sure they are steady to gun, obedient and controlled.  Taking this time to focus on the dog will be more rewarding here on out as they are less likely to form bad habits.


Finn is ready for his first hunt, but prior to that he will be participating in his first UKC hunt test in November.  I think we are more than prepared but I’m sure he will exploit an area or two that we will need to work on before opening day here in Florida.

Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida.   He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests.  You’ll see Zach representing and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year.  You can contact Zach at and find him on Facebook

Five Truths about Alligator Hunting in Florida

Pro-staff Contributor: Zach Raulie

2012 Gator Hunt – Snatch N Cross from Zach Raulie on Vimeo.

Interest in alligators and alligator hunting has increased during the last couple of years. I think this is most likely due to the success of hit TV shows about swamp adventures. But with all of the publicity comes a lot of misinformation. For instance, many people do not know that each state that offers hunting has its own set of rules and some states only have commercial trapping, not recreational hunting.

In Florida, there are 5,700 recreational alligator hunting permits available by lottery drawing each June. The hunting season opens August 15th for four short, one-week seasons. The season reopens from mid-September through November 1st to those who have unfilled tags. Legal hunting times are from 5 pm to 10 am and each permit holder has two gator tags. If you’d like to learn more about hunting regulations in Florida, this link is a great resource.

Here are five “must know” truths about alligator hunting in Florida:

1. It is illegal to use a firearm in Florida.

You must “attach” a line to the gator rather than shooting it without having a way to bring it in. There are a few options for doing this. Typically we use our Stryker crossbow. But in certain areas it is tough to get close enough for a crossbow shot, so we’ll use a weighted snatch hook to “snag” the alligator that has submersed itself. Then we’ll use a harpoon, bow or crossbow shot to attach a line to the gator–enabling us to work the gator to the boat. A bangstick—a four- or five-foot pole that has a power head at the end of it to safely shoot the gator under water–is the best legal way to quickly kill the gator.Jen Stryker

2. It is illegal to use any type of baited hook.

Using a baited hook can put the alligator at risk, because it could swallow the hook and injure itself even if it gets away.  However, baiting is still useful and can legally be accomplished with a wire leader and a 2″ wooden peg. The alligator will swallow the bait and peg which will become lodged inside the gator allowing the hunter to pull the gator boat-side.  Also, if the gator escapes, the wooden peg will not injure the gator like a hook would. Just remember, the end of this line must be attached to a fishing rod or hand held. It cannot be unattended.

3. Each permit is assigned to a designated management unit, body of water or county.

In June, each applicant will submit to enter the lottery for tags in five locations. If the applicant is selected, he or she will be awarded two permits for one location. There is no guarantee that you will get drawn. However, if you’re not successful in the first lottery drawing, any leftover tags will be made available after the first phase drawing on a first come, first served basis. Also, if your buddy gets drawn and you don’t, you can always hunt off of his permit by purchasing an agent tag.

Scenes while scouting for gators

4. Gator hunting requires specialized gear.

Not everyone has an arsenal of snatch hooks, bangsticks and harpoons at their disposal. Do your homework and go with a buddy that has some experience. Maybe consider hiring a guide as your best solution if this is you first gator hunt. I’m a geek for lights and my favorite is the Minimus Headlamp made by Surefire. Most times a high power spotlight will alert a big gator, but a high-quality headlamp with a dimmer can allow you to sneak in inconspicuously for a shot.

5. Safety is priority #1…and common sense never hurts.

A lot can go wrong in a cypress stump laden Florida swamp at night while you’re chasing a predator that could potentially be 13-feet-long with a mouth full of nasty teeth. Cell phone service is not guaranteed and you could be many miles from the nearest boat ramp. So remember to be cautious and pack these things: PFD’s, required by law, go without question. Also, reliable lights and lighting systems will guide you safely in the dark. Finally, a GPS is a great tool when the morning fog or sudden rain storm hinders your sight. Always be prepared for the worst. Hopefully it will be completely unnecessary, but it’s better to be over prepared than caught off-guard.

Be sure to stay tuned as the 2013 gator season is almost upon us! I’ll be writing updates about our gator hunts this year on this blog.

Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida. He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests. You’ll see Zach representing and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year. You can contact Zach at and find him on Facebook (

Gator Hunting in Florida

Three Ways to Remember Your Turkey Hunt

Pro-staff Contributor: Zach Raulie

Different memorabilia from hunts.

Different memorabilia from hunts.

Spring turkey season in the south has come to an end and in a few weeks most other states will close the books on their seasons.  It has been an unforgettable and very successful season in many different ways for my wife and me.  My wife got her first kill and I witnessed many great things in the woods while enjoying time with the new and veteran turkey hunters in my life.

The question then arises: now that we’ve harvested birds, and hopefully you have had success as well, what do we do with your trophy to preserve the memory?  Here are a few post season projects I enjoy working on.

1.      Photographs

This seems obvious but a single, well-shot photo can tell an amazing story of a successful hunt.  Digital photography is great, but I still like to print out the best photos and on the back of them write down the location, date and time of the hunt, conditions and bird’s measurements.  Maybe you guided someone to harvest their first bird or it was your child’s first hunt.  Encapsulate that memory with a framed photo for them as a reminder of a great experience with you.

2.      Preserve the Tail Feathers, Beards and Spurs

Preserved beards

Preserved beards

I love taxidermy and preserving the trophies of spring.  There are many mounts available out there by extraordinary artists.  But full-body turkey mounts aren’t for every hunter (or their spouse) or budget.  There are multiple ways you can preserve your trophy yourself with a little creativity.

Many turkey hunters keep the beards, spurs and shotgun shell from their harvest.  Don’t just toss those in a drawer once you clean them.  A friend of mine likes to write a quick description of the hunt and the bird’s measurements on a piece of paper, then roll it up and place it inside the shot shell to revisit those memories another day.  A lot of us emphasize the use of the shot shell and glue the beard to be displayed in it.  I have kept the beards and spurs from my successful spring hunts to hang for display.

Preserved spurs

Preserved spurs

I also keep every set of tail feathers, if in good condition, after a hunt.  I have some of the more memorable fans displayed in our home while others I save for use in next years decoys.  I am currently working on a framed shadowbox display of my wife’s first turkey (fan, spurs and beard).  I will blog about how to build one of these once I’ve completed the project.

3.      Wing-bone Turkey Call

Years ago, my Uncle David made my father a turkey call out of a wing bone from the turkey he had killed.  It wasn’t until last year that I attempted to make one of these.  Surprisingly it was fun and very simple to make!

Wing-bone calls

Wing-bone calls

1. While cleaning the birds from our hunt, we remove the three wing-bones key to making this call.

2. Boil the bones and remove any excess meat from them.

3. Using a dremel tool or small saw, cut the pieces to the desired size.

4. Dry fit the pieces. Then use a 2-part epoxy to affix the bones together and let dry.

5. Sand the calls down to finish them off.  Date the call and location of hunt.

6. Finally, add several coats of high gloss to really finish the call off nicely.

I can’t say I use this call much for hunting, even though it can be surprisingly effective in the woods, but it serves as a great memory of the hunt! The project can also be a fun thing do with your kids. Don’t be afraid to experiment when you make these either—the first wing-bone call I made was a little crude—but after that prototype, the calls I’ve created for friends are much nicer.

I hope you enjoyed all of these ideas and try a few out!  These projects are a great way to extend your season and pay further respect to the bird you harvested.  As many have said, it’s not about the kill but preserving the memory of the hunt that is most important.

Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida. He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests. You’ll see Zach representing and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year. You can contact Zach at and find him on Facebook (

Zach and Jen

Successful Turkey Hunting: Understanding the Breeding Cycle

Pro-staff Contributor: Zach Raulie

I’m no archery purist, but I prefer to hunt turkeys with a bow. I know, crazy, right? Taking spring gobblers with a bow requires that I slow down, be patient and more thorough in my setup. And my success rate has dramatically increased since switching to being “mostly” a bow turkey hunter. This isn’t because of my weapon choice, but rather, because I’ve found that the single greatest factor that determines whether I go home empty handed or with turkeys in three to four states each year is the ability to understand where the turkeys are in their breeding cycle.

Zach with his second kill this year.

Zach with his second kill this year.


Prior to hunting, I spend time determining what part of the breeding season the turkeys are in. Are they still in winter flocks? This will likely be the case this spring as many of the Midwestern states are seeing very cool temperatures and have snow on the ground as seasons open. Even in North Florida, where I live, the spring season has been 2-3 weeks later than normal due to the much cooler temperatures. Scouting is critical in determining what part of the breeding cycle birds are in.


You should be ready to adapt your hunting tactics as turkeys break from their winter flocks and go into full swing. A prime example of this is the changes I experienced during our Florida opener this year. Ten days before opener, trail cameras were showing only a few turkeys—still in winter, bachelor flocks. As seasoned opened, I was blessed with 6 gobblers, 20+ hens and 10 jakes all around the small property I hunt. Then by the end of the first week of the season, this big flock had broken up into much smaller groups of hens, solo-dominant gobblers, and subordinate gobblers and jakes. This all occurred within seven days!

Suffice it to say, the stages of the spring season change very quickly. Adapting to these changes will increase your success rate immensely.

Working the Cycle

Early in the season, when gobblers are still establishing their roles in the pecking order, I’ll observe a lot of fighting between them. Jake decoys, like the Avian X LCD ¼ Strut or a full strut decoy, can be game changers because they challenge the dominant birds on your property. During

A gobbler approaching a full strut decoy.
A gobbler approaching a full strut decoy.

one of the first days of the season, as I yelped at a lone dominant gobbler, he turned, went into full-strut facing the challenging decoy I had deployed, and in less than a minute from first sight he was face to face with my strutting decoy and six yards from my well-hidden blind.

But when the cycle progressed, it was important to adapt. Several days after this first encounter, the gobblers would not commit to the same decoy the first gobbler ran in to meet. I suspected that they had their tails whipped by the dominant bird and had to change my strategy. Before my next hunt, I set out two hen decoys in the predawn hours. I flapped a turkey wing against my leg as morning broke and gave a very soft series of yelps. Moments later a hen cackled as she flew from her roost into the field. Another turkey, with a much harder thud, hit the ground on the fire break behind me and seconds later, 5 yards away, in full strut, he eased his way into the decoys.

Many hunters, me included, have tried to stick with a “lucky” decoy and wonder why it doesn’t work. It’s simple. The cycle within the turkey breeding season changed. Adapting to that change and using different tactics, different calls, and different decoy strategies can be all it takes to pull that gobbler into range. Scout your birds: they will tell you what part of the season they’re in.

Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida.   He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests.  You’ll see Zach representing and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year.  You can contact Zach at and find him on Facebook (

Zach with his first kill this year.

Zach with his first kill this year.

Three Commands Necessary to Raise a Good Puppy Citizen

Pro-staff contributor: Zach Raulie

It was nice receiving a compliment from a fellow hunter this past season regarding the steadiness of Zoi, my veteran retriever, during our hunt. Birds were plentiful and the shooting was non-stop. The compliment validated the many hours I’ve spent working with my veteran lab and reminded me of the necessary work I would put in with our new puppy, Finn. Proper socialization of a puppy is a key factor: how you spend the first few weeks and months setting expectations will go a long way in building a foundation around your pup’s training.

Our Training Method

At our home, we do a few things starting on day one and have found that these simple commands build a respect and bond that will last the pup’s life. This is not formal training and no reprimandsfinn dish are needed. We don’t use a lot of food treats, but if necessary we may use them sparingly at times. Teaching through repetition with lots of love and praise is best in my opinion.

Basic Commands

Do you know anyone that appreciates a jumping, barking, biting dog? I definitely don’t. No matter how cute your puppy is, these three actions are unacceptable and can lead to major issues in the field if not handled consistently at an early age. You can deter these actions immediately by teaching, Pup, your new family member the word “NO”. “No” is very simple to teach and you will use it often with a young exploring and energetic pup. No simply means that what it is doing is not acceptable, so please stop. Teaching this one word can keep a puppy safe from injury and possibly save his life when a dangerous situation arises unexpectedly.

You can also find many training opportunities to teach your puppy “SIT” and “OK” in every day routines. Before your pup is let out or is put back into its kennel, ask Pup to sit. Rather than letting Pup impatiently run to his food or water dish, ask Pup to sit first. Before letting Pup charge through a doorway to the outside or inside simply ask for Pup to sit. Then simply release Pup with the word “ok”. Early on Pup may not understand what’s being asked of it and may require a little assistance. But soon Pup will realize that with the right action a reward will be given—be it food, water or praise!

Turning any situation into a positive training opportunity for a new puppy is easy and there will be many early on. Start right away, on day one, because you can never get back those early days when Pup is eager to listen, quick to learn, and free of any bad habits.

Just a Start

Teaching these simple “Good Citizen” commands is just the beginning. Eventually these good behaviors will be conditioned in formal training and then in the field as a finished retriever who is steady to shot as he waits for the command to retrieve. This is a Good Citizen retriever. Safe, steady and obedient! As young Finn progresses I will be writing more blogs about our training program and techniques used so be sure to check back in.

Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida.   He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests.  You’ll see Zach representing and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year.  You can contact Zach at and find him on Facebook (

Zach and Finn