Retrievers in training

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Joe Kramer trains his hunting partners, Norma and Ruby, to retrieve at Lemon Park Pond in Pratt as preparation for upcoming hunting seasons.

If happiness could be measured in water spray, Joe Kramer's Labrador hunting dogs Ruby and Norma, might likely be the happiest dogs on the planet. During a recent training session at Pratt's Lemon Park Pond, the two seemed overjoyed at the chance to jump in the water and retrieve Kramer's orange training baton. And on return to the shoreline, wagging tails and body-shaking water spray signified their joy of success.

"I've gone hunting and fishing all my life," Kramer said. "And I've always loved training my own dogs. That's just part of it."

For Kramer and other hunters in Kansas, dove season opens the first weekend of September, and the teal season opening isn't far behind. Duck season officially opens in October.

Hunting has always been a family affair for Kramer, who retired from a job with the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism in 2014. Son, Luke (a current KDWPT employee stationed in Hays), as well as a son-in-law, a grandson and Kramer's wife, Sandy, are all part of the hunting-season equation, which of course, includes the dogs.

Ruby, a black lab, is the youngest member of the hunting crew. She is an English Labrador with a shorter, stockier body style, and at just 18 months of age, this will be her first outing in coming days to show what she has learned at the beck and call of Kramer's whistle.

"Since I'm hard of hearing, I just always train with a whistle and they learn to respond to that," he said.

Kramer also uses voice commands and arm motions to send signals to the dogs as they go from fetch to retrieve, but the piercing whistle is undeniably a focal point of their existence.

According to Sandy, the men in her family have been hunting together since their son was 9-years-old.

"Their favorite place to go is Cheyenne Bottoms, that's the largest duck marsh there is," she said. "When he (Joe) is using that whistle, they can all hear it, whether in the water or on dry land. It gets their attention."

Norma, a 3-year-old chocolate lab is an American Labrador, longer and taller than her counterpart Ruby.

"Norma is actually our son Luke's dog, but we dog sit on weekends and she loves to train alongside Ruby," Sandy said. "They love these outings together."

Sandy Kramer said that whatever ducks or doves her hunting family brings home, she cooks.

"We could live on wild game and fish year-round," she said. "They never waste a thing."

She said there were some who might like to eat duck, but through the years she and her husband had developed some pretty good recipes.

"I make a duck gumbo," Sandy said. "When it is deer season, the men will take a whole pot of duck gumbo out with them to deer camp and live on it. It's really good."

Sandy's duck gumbo has duck breast chunks, shrimp, smoked sausage, rice, okra in it, but the what makes it special is the rue with lots of spices, she said.

Most of the time the hunters breast out their catch and grill it with jalapenos and bacon, but sometimes they have roasted the whole birds on a spit.

"We all love duck hunting season," Sandy said. "The dogs especially love the extra attention, even though they are pretty spoiled year-round."