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Retrievers are as much a part of waterfowling as calls and camo, but because their personalities are different we encounter some that leave indelible memories.
I put them into three categories: Love ‘em, Tolerate ‘em and Hate ‘em. I don’t like to say that about the latter group, because dogs are an extension of their owners and that means something went awry in the training. But it’s true and everyone’s had an encounter or two with good, bad and ugly retrievers.
One of the best I ever saw was in Arkansas several years ago. The big Lab was enthusiastic but not psycho. It ran around while we loaded up and then came to the boat with one call, sitting perfectly by its owner. We motored in the canal through the woods and then were stunned to find the dog was gone.
He either leaped out or fell out several hundred yards behind. We turned around and retrieved him from the levee without problem, went to hunt and had a great morning. This dog was a field trial reject whose owner said would never amount to anything, and gave it away. Turns out the dog sat rock solid in the stand, didn’t whimper or jump at the shot, retrieved every dadgum duck that fell — even in the thickest button-ball slog imaginable — and minded everyone, not just his owner. His was a gem.
A few have been tolerable. They retrieved, but it took coaxing and patience. Some were older, some were younger and still learning. You can put up with a dog like this as long as things don’t go badly in the blind.
Those in the final category, well, those are the doozies. They roam in the blind, which makes me skittish with loaded guns. At the first shot they’re bounding off even if other birds are still decoying or circling. Their owners shout and blow a whistle, maybe curse a bit, and ol’ Blue is hell-bent on retrieving something. Maybe a duck, maybe a decoy.
Ai-yi-yi… these are the ones when you wonder if it would have been better without them. Their cousins are the ones in the dove field that retrieve any bird that falls and, before long, you have a pile of gray ghosts the game warden would ask about.
I prefer those dogs we love. What’s your best or worst tale with a duck dog?
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