The National Duck Dog Challenge Takes Flight

Since this is my first column for Shotgun Life, a bit of background is probably appropriate. I was raised in New England and have been involved in the outdoor sports since a young man. At one time I wrote a weekly column for a newspaper about hunting and fishing. In recent years I have been in the shooting sports industry as an industry professional managing a company that manufactured sporting goods and imported shotguns from Italy. I just recently decided to return to my first love of photojournalism.

I was offered the opportunity to write for Shotgun Life and I will be bringing to you information and reports from the west on this great sport of wingshooting we all enjoy. I am not an expert in any particular part of this sport nor am I a particularly proficient shooter.

In fairness to myself, however, I would like to point out I do hit more than I miss especially when it’s birds fit for the table. I do have specific knowledge of the shooting industry and I am also able to travel around this sport and bring you what I hope are interesting and informative articles for your enjoyment.

Now that you know a bit about me perhaps you will find the following information interesting and useful.

In the spring of 2008, a new game for dogs and shooters was introduced for the first time in Spokane, Washington. I am referring to the National Duck Dog Challenge. The fitting slogan for this game is “Sporting Clays with Your Dog”.

It is a competition, but more importantly it is an opportunity to get yourself and your dog ready for bird season and at the same time have a lot of fun, meet some other great people and test your skills along with those of your dog.


You should know that this game is primarily designed for duck hunters and retrievers of all breeds. It is a game that is scored and not judged, and for that very reason all the rules are based on real-life duck hunting scenarios. The game consists of two parts, shooting and dog handling.

The competitor is called into the blind with his dog and upon a signal a bumper with a clay attached is launched from one or more locations.


The launcher with bumper and clay bird.

The competitor must shoot the clay and then send his dog to retrieve the bumper. Points are scored for a hit on the clay and additional points are scored for the least amount of time taken to retrieve the bumper to hand.

Both parts of the scenario are important to score and finish at the top. However, missing targets is a higher point loss than time taken on a retrieve.

After all if you don’t hit the duck when hunting, the dog has nothing to do and we all know that does not make your dog happy.

Duck Dog Challenge offers different level of competition for all levels of participants. In the hunter class targets are launched one at a time and single retrieves are the norm. In the Open class multiple targets are launched from different spots and multiple retrieves are required. In the Open Team class two shooters and one dog are required to shoot again multiple targets and multiple retrieves as well as a blind retrieve for the dog.

To win a team or a single class a competitor must have a good day at shooting as well as good dog work. It certainly is not as difficult as it sounds and it is a lot of fun to be sure.

Last season it was determined that many people want to play the game but some were only dog handlers and not great shooters while others were good shooters who did not own a dog.

In response to that demand the NDDC now allows for a designated shooter or a designated handler in the Open and Open Team classes.

The first event held in Oregon in March of this year proved that this was a positive change as many dog handlers seeking to get titles on their dogs participated with designated shooters. Men, women and young shooters from everywhere are enjoying NDDC. Duck Dog Challenge is now open to more people, and if the first event is any indicator the season will be very busy. If you are lucky enough to live near and event you should probably get registered as early as possible.

Unlike sporting clays and trap where the clays fly in a fairly straight line, the launched bumper with the clay attached tumbles end over end and is a more challenging target. The competitor also has the additional challenge of being able to focus on the dog while shooting to prevent him from breaking which costs points.


A retriever brings back the bumper.

Once you get with the program, it is a great day of practice and training for you and your dog.

The game is designed to be flexible and may be run on water or on dry land so that dogs get both kinds of retrieves. Relatively small acreage is needed to hold the event and this game is ideal for fund raising for any club or charity whose supporters are involved in the sport. Any age may participate providing the competitor has a hunter safety certificate.

At last year’s events several breeds of retrievers were there, including black, yellow and chocolate labs. In Spokane an event was held at Burlington Ranch and one of the stars of the day was a little Boykin Spaniel who not only was a fast water retriever but was equally effective on land.

A major rule change for this season involves the amount of shells you can bring to the line. Last year, a limit of shells equal to the amount of targets presented was allowed, if you used an extra shell, penalty points were deducted.

This year the shell limit has been dropped which brings semi-autos into the game, and you can have three in your gun even if you have only one target launched at a time. This is much more in keeping with real duck hunting.

There are many events planned all over the country for 2009. The cost to compete is very close to the average sporting clays day unless you choose to get into the options pots for prize money. The future will see a pro division where competition will include prize money rivaling that of bass tournaments.

This event is also ideal for spectators as well since the field can be set up safely to avoid any danger to those attending. This provides additional ability for fund raising for clubs who host the event and provide the volunteers who perform the duties associated with running the event.

The folks from National Duck Dog Challenge show up at the location with a trailer completely outfitted with all the remote controlled launchers, blinds, targets and scoring system. The event coordinator from NDDC will layout the courses, direct the volunteers and provide the safety instruction and even instructions to the competitors.

The National Duck Dog Challenge schedule and other information are available at They even maintain the results for national rankings on the site and that of the dogs as well. It’s worthwhile mentioning that if you and your favorite hunting partner want to share a dog you can both run the same dog as separate competitors.

Keep an eye out for the next event in your area and get out and give it a try. This is a fun and realistic way to sharpen both yours and your dog’s skills for the season. On top of that you will meet new friends, learn new ideas and it definitely beats sitting around just dreaming about duck hunting all summer.

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