Most serious waterfowl hunters own a dog. Most are Labradors of various colors or Chesapeake retrievers. I have had five labs in my career, and learned a lot from each of them. My last hunting companion was Queen Smoochy who died a couple of years ago. My life and situation have changed enough that I don’t think I could do justice to another dog.
My dogs always went with me (hunting or not) and slept by the bed. These dogs attach so tightly to their owners that they actually have separation anxiety when the boss is away. I have baby sat Duane’s lab a few times, and that dog sits by the door intent on hearing his vehicle return and the door to open for a joyous reunion. They can’t tell time very well (except for the dinner bell which is very precise) and 30 minutes is no worse than three days.
I had Eider and Smooch together for several years and when Eider died Smooch had serious depression and sorrow. She would sit in the road and look for Eider when we went for walks. It was a hard time for her and I finally sent her back to Canada with Duane and Blitz where she lived out her life with her brother.
Training these dogs is a monumental task. The Jayhawk Retriever Club is the go-to organization around here for guys to train their dogs.
They had a set up at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center on opening day and I got some terrific photos of dogs and masters. There are a couple of ways to go with education and performance. The hunts tests are geared to produce great hunting dogs that are steady and can respond to hand signals and whistles to find a duck if they don’t see the bird fall.
There are three levels and multiple tests – master hunter is a terrific achievement. The other program is a very intensive program culminating in a national title in competition with other dogs. These dogs are usually expensive and bred for this type competition. We had a man named John Hahn who raised and trained a national field trial champion named Czar. I got to hunt with him a few times and it was amazing to watch.
These dogs are often owned by one person or a group and spend a lot of their life in training at special facilities with a skilled handler. It is a different world, usually involves some money and the prestige of a national field trial champion and the breeding fees make it a completely different game from those of us that take our dogs out to get some birds on occasion.
There are so many funny things that happen with these dogs. I can tell you lots of funny stories. Check out the photo of the beautiful dog that was sent after a bird and just happened to spot a paper cup on the way and elected to bring it back. Owners can’t believe our dog would do that—and we will never know why that dog made that choice.
I doubt that the dog had ever seen a paper cup. That is where we have to love our babies and enjoy the laugh as much as they did. The next retrieve was text book.
If you have never had one of the beautiful animals you have missed something very special. My hat is off to the Retriever Club and their dedicated members who have worked so hard to make the best dog possible and have the most fun possible doing it. I still get a lump in my throat when I remember the heroics of my dogs and the joys we shared. Those were special times.
The marsh is rocking and more birds are arriving every day. It is a little cooler, the light is a bit more slanted and the views are spectacular!
Don’t miss it!
Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.