I don't know you from Adam but based on your story and what I saw from your other posts I'd say we'd get along just fine in a duck blind together. Last year I did pretty much the same thing in South Dakota. Solo hunt, first time out there, had a little bit more waterfowl experience than it sounds like you do, but enjoyed the heck out of it. I had a rough summer last year but 9 days last fall, just me and my dog was one of the best experiences of my life. I reflected on it on the drive home last year and there were 3 days that I didn't speak a single word to another human. THAT IS PRICELESS!!!!!
You didn't ask for any, but if you don't mind, I'd like to offer a couple ideas to you. (This is the internet afterall and everyones got an opinion
) I hope you regard mine as purely constructive criticism and don't take any offense as none is intended.
In no particular order:
Join a retriever training club.
You obviously enjoy this game as well as your dog. Almost nothing will benefit you more than a well trained retriever. When you and Bud are on the exact same page, you will be a force to be reckoned with. You seem to have the drive and determination to do what ever needs to be done to have a succesful trip, so don't sell yourself or your dog short by not putting in time with him. It sounds like he is at a fair level of ability for his age. Consider teaching him how to handle on blind retrieves (directing him to downed birds he did not see fall.) Nothing exemplifies the relationship between man and his hunting buddy like working together to retrieve a bird. You had a taste of that by working your dog while others did the shooting. You can also stop throwing rocks once the dog can handle on blinds. He will go where you tell him to because he trusts you and know he will be rewarded with a bird to retrieve.
Shoot as much as you can.
Trap and skeet ranges can provide tons of hands on practice, but almost as importantly, knowledge from other shooters (especially the old farts that break 99% of the targets and only miss the ones that their eyesight fails them on) Consider a short trap league: 6-12 weeks. Shoot the league with your hunting gun know it like the back of your hand. 25 clays a week will go miles compared to boxes of shells at sub-sonic speed teal. Missed clays and old-timers watching you shoot can teach you more in one round of trap than you will likely figure out in a thousand misses on ducks. It is also the least you can do for the birds, reduce the chance of cripples as much as you can with practice.
Practice Bird Identification
Get yourself a pair of rapid focus binos and practice IDing ducks while in flight or "on the wing" Solo ducks can be difficult for anyone, but watch flocks of ducks. How they behave, their shape, how they twist and turn in flight, how they land, what sizes are the flocks etc. Everything you learn about ducks in flight with your eyes or binos will serve you even better when you shoulder your gun. That day that you shot your two hens, that would be the pefect day to practice IDing ducks. Set the gun across your lap, slow yourself down when ducks come in. ID them with binos while they are circling, if you make a positive ID and they are still circling, then put down the binos and shoulder the gun. I too get into that mad rush to drop ducks as quickly as possible. I usually end up dropping a hen mallard as my first bird when I rush and then am forced to really slow down before pulling the trigger on the next bird.
A link to probably the most popular waterfowl ID book, useful for in hand IDhttp://www.gundogsupply.com/lemmetwatidb.html
In the air IDhttp://www.amazon.com/Ducks-Distance-Wa ... B003YHA1TG
As I'm sure you know, there is tons more to learn but these might be very beneficial to you and you growth in duck hunting. If you plan to visit ND again next year shoot me a PM next spring. I can't imagine I will draw a third consecutive non-resident tag for SD. You sound like the kind of guy I wouldn't mind sharing a trip with just for the sake of shooting a couple birds and enjoying the fruits of a good retriever.