People and dogs have a long history. They formed a bond with us over the waves of time that is strong and special. Dogs are our companions, friends, family members, just plain good buddies. They overflow with unconditional love and they are not what you do, what you have, what you look like, only that you love them back. It is such a simple and pure thing and so rare in today’s world. Hunters have used dogs to pursue game for centuries. Waterfowl hunters are recent players in the dog game relatively as the retrieving breeds are young in age compared to others designed for different pursuits. But where there is years lacking, there is a partnership between a hunter and his retriever that has no equal.
Maybe it’s because duck and goose hunters spend their time in close proximity to their dogs that makes the relationship different. Maybe it’s the reliance on each other to bring the birds to hand. All that can be said is a great retriever is a priceless commodity to the men that rely on them. These dogs are fearless, intelligent, and above all loyal. They love to go out when others shy away when conditions are harsh and comforts are few. The same can be said of the men and women they hunt with and for.
In a waterfowl hunters life the lucky few have many good dogs and the luckiest know the best of the breeds. But a day will come. That last hunt, that last retrieve when age has turned such a strong and vibrant animal into a shell of what it was. We all hope that it is special but so many times we don’t know that this retrieve is the last. For those hunters that do know that this is the end, we wish them this kind of memory.
This is a true story. It could only be as a fictional tale would be unbelievable. Sunday, January 31st was the last day of the 2015-2016 duck hunting season. A man and his dog left out alone for one last hunt together. His dog, a little female black lab, is now 13 and although her heart is still strong her body is failing. So this would be it, the last hunt together, the last sunrise shared waiting for whistling wings cutting the air. They walked out together and settled in.
The morning opened before them and the birds began to fly. Not many, but more than enough for their purpose. Soon a goose fell to the gun, followed by green-winged teal and a pair of mallard drakes. With one duck to go the man and dog waited as the action slowed. But they had each other’s company and the man savored every moment. As the sun climbed higher reaching from the eastern sky, a mallard pair headed in their direction.
What happened next was nothing new to dog and man. The drake and hen spotted what they thought were other ducks enjoying morning feeding and resting and headed in for a closer look. Satisfied that all was well, they pitched into land in the open space directly in front of the pit blind. Now, this part is where it becomes legendary. The man shouldered his shotgun and fired sending the drake crashing to the water’s surface. She was locked in and he called her name just like every mark before. She mustered her remaining strength and moved through the shallows to her prize. When she reached the duck she grabbed it like all the others and headed back to her partner who was taking in the last retrieve.
But then he saw something else. A glint of silver caught by the sun. No, it couldn’t be, just not possible. But it was, the mallard was banded! She brought the drake to hand and the swell of pride began rising in the man. His joy was evident and he praised her like never before. She could feel it too and her tailed wagged and wagged and wagged. She knew nothing of trophies, only that he was happy and that made her happy too.
So here is to all the dogs we have loved and lost with names like Ace, Boomer, Jack, Hatchet, and a myriad of others. They remain in our hearts forever, tucked away in that place reserved for our best friends. Raise a toast to the most wonderful animals we have been graced to know. And when you take that new pup home, the one filled with promise and the exuberance of youth, hold him or her close. Hopefully, your journey together is long and full of laughter and tears, as every experience should be.
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