Ice can wreak havoc on gear. Ice chunks can easily puncture waders, crack decoys and rip a determined retriever to shreds. Be cautious when sending retrievers into icy waters and keep an eye out for injuries to your retriever's chest and hind legs as he crashes through the frigid waters. A neoprene vest is highly recommended for your retriever when spending time in the field during the coldest days of the season. These vests will guard them from sharp edges created by broken ice.
Safety the #1 Concern
"Hunter behavior needs to change with the birds," Humburg says. "While the hunting can be great this time of year, hunters need to always be conscious of safety when dealing with extremely cold temperatures. It is much more unforgiving if you were to make a mistake."
Hypothermia can set in quickly when the mercury is below freezing. Humburg reminds hunters to be very cautious when hunting in frigid temperatures, paying close attention to every detail affecting safety.
"Never hunt alone and be sure to bring along some dry clothes in case there is an emergency," he says. "Keep an eye on your hunting partners and your retriever throughout the hunt for any sign of frost bite or hyperthermia."
There are so many ways hunters can find themselves in trouble this time of year; the focus needs to remain on safety. When hunting moving water, be cautious of ice drifts that can overturn a boat or break easily under the weight of a hunter or a retriever.
As icy weather continues to take over many parts of North America, birds will be more concentrated and possibly even a little more predictable. Being where the birds want to be is still the ultimate goal, but during these frigid days, just getting there might be the problem.
"I've set decoys out on the ice before and had great success," Humburg says. "But if you can find open water or create an open-water hole in an area that is mostly frozen—it can be a spectacular hunt when you're the only game in town."