Memories of my First

An article from WWA’s Doctor’s Orders

By K.C. Brooks, an avid waterfowler, dog lover and practicing veterinarian at Lodi Veterinary Care.

Photos courtesy WWA staff

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s September, 2019 eNewsletter.

Ellie Ross (short for Zubenelgnubi, a navigational star visible in the Southern Hemisphere), Bruce Ross’ first hunting dog, a German Shorthair Pointer, who managed to overcome his seriously flawed training techniques to become a pretty decent bird dog

In the past several years, I have come to appreciate the beauty of memories.  The human brain is a fascinating structure that for me has served as an excellent filter of memories.  It seems like the best memories are preserved, while some sort of processor pushes the negative ones a bit further away.  So it is for the memories of my first hunting dog.  Some people remember their first car, their first boyfriend/girlfriend, or even their first kiss.  I remember Laddie.  I must confess that Laddie was not even my dog.  In fact, he was the consummate family dog owing his allegiance to all seven members of the Brooks family.  Laddie was a Black Labrador Retriever with no distinguishing features.  He was not exceptionally large, but not small either.   My image of him in his later years included a gray muzzle, but other than that physical characteristic, the only feature my memory preserved was his tail.  He had a perpetually happy tail that let you know that he loved your company.  The extra sharp memories of his tail come from my experiences in the field.  Laddie loved to hunt and his tail told you that story.

Broox Boettcher, who preferred tennis balls and sticks to waiting patiently in a duck blind

The sixties were a great time for a kid to grow up in central Wisconsin if they enjoyed hunting.  Our little farm was loaded with Ring-necked pheasants and the Puchyan River served as a wonderful reservoir for ducks.  I was lucky enough to have parents who loved the outdoors and had a passion for hunting.  I learned gun safety early and often.  I also spent endless hours in the duck blind with Laddie and my dad long before I would ever load my own gun.  Equally etched in my mind were the pheasant hunts where I was allowed to join the adults behind Laddie.  I waited eagerly for that big gaudy rooster to explode from the cover with Laddie nipping at his tail feathers.  Eventually, I was allowed to carry an unloaded .410 on these ventures.  I knew that if the barrel of my gun ever deviated from a safe position, or I chose to not pay attention to the position of my hunting partners, my time to load that gun would be delayed significantly.

Ellie Ross

My favorite Laddie memory, though, involves ducks.  He was an enthusiastic retriever to say the least.  My memory doesn’t let me remember his flaws, but I suspect he had a few.  I don’t believe he was exceptionally well trained.  I do know he behaved well enough for me to enjoy his company in the blind – something I can’t say for a few other dogs I have hunted with.  My favorite memory came from the early sixties in late November.  During that era, it was common for the migration to send large flocks of mallards and black ducks to “our” little river.  On this cold November day, a large mixed flock descended on the Puchyan in the straight stretch between Cow Bone and Sheep’s Spring (all of our river’s sharp turns were named).  I was not close to hunting age at this time, so my job was to hold Laddie by his collar on a nearby field that was well back from the action.  I took my place on a knoll and firmly grasped Laddie’s collar with my left hand as my three brothers and dad made the great sneak on the large flock of northern ducks.  Laddie squirmed as the hunters with guns left us.  He knew well the routine that was about to play out.  My youngest brother would take the first shot with his trusty Stevens 20 gauge side by side.  The rest of the crew would then take their shots as the ducks flushed.  What followed is etched in my brain forever.  As I heard the first shot, I remember being dragged across the hayfield by a Black Labrador intent on doing what he loved – retrieving ducks.  My hand was caught in his collar, and he had little time to stop and let a foolish child free that hand.  My mind won’t tell me just how far he dragged me.  It probably wasn’t as far as I thought, but I am sure it gets longer as the years pass.  Once extricated from Laddie, I sprinted through the woods to the edge of the river and watched in awe as Laddie retrieved duck after duck.   I remember vividly as a wounded duck tried to take cover under the fringe of ice that had formed on the far side of Cow Bone.  Laddie swam swiftly to that area, and without hesitation, submerged his head and neck long enough to secure the duck and bring it to hand.  His tail served as a strong rudder during the retrieves and a strong indicator of satisfaction once his retrieving was complete.

Broox Boettcher, relaxing at the “hunting” cabin

I have been fortunate to continue to hunt waterfowl for over five decades.  I have been blessed with a couple of exceptionally good retrievers who have made incredible retrieves and shared phenomenal hunts with me.  I continue to derive much of my satisfaction while hunting from watching my dogs work and learning from them.  In fact, one of my favorite sayings is “never doubt your dog.”   Luckily, my mind has preserved memories of my first dog, while those of the first girlfriend and first date have faded.  Enjoy your dog!