Dueling Dogs in a Snowstorm

An article from WWA’s Doctor’s Orders

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

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s March, 2021 eNewsletter.

There are many reasons we choose to hunt waterfowl.  For some, it is the time shared with family.  For others, it is time shared with friends.  For still others, it is the excitement of being in the great outdoors and matching wits with waterfowl in hopes of having the perfect setup.  And finally, for many of us, there is the thrill of great dog work.  The following is my story of when all four of those desires became reality.

The setting is east-central Saskatchewan in the mid-nineties.  What had started as the ultimate do it yourself waterfowl trip several years earlier, had now turned into an annual event that family, friends and dogs eagerly anticipated.  The first trip started because I heard the phrase, “someday we should hunt Saskatchewan” from my father so many times, that I could not resist the temptation to make it happen.  Members of his morning coffee group had relayed stories of great waterfowl trips to the province and he relayed those stories to me.  With youthful enthusiasm, I went to work gathering information about where to go and how to DIY in Canada with no real contacts.

The first trip was made by my mom, dad and brother Bob (whose nickname would become Canada Bob).  We arrived on the Canadian prairie with a very meager set up to hunt snow geese and ducks.  We had secured lodging in a small cabin that allowed us to cook our own meals, process our own game and not travel exceptionally long ways to our hunting sites.  It seems that the first few years were a combination of adventure, hunting and settling into a new community.  Once we found ducks and geese, we needed to secure permission to hunt them.  This was not an easy task in Saskatchewan at that time.  Homesteads were miles apart and the harvest was still in progress.  Finding someone home or in the mood to discuss hunting was not always easy.  Within a few years we had made some solid contacts and had reliable access to many fields and potholes.  Water conditions were fantastic and the number of ducks and geese in that flyway were spectacular.  Soon the trip was being made by almost all of my immediate family and we had developed a very close friendship with one of the Canadian families in the area we hunted.  They eventually requested that their teenage son be able to join us on a hunt.  Now we had it all: family, friends, waterfowl and two dogs.

It was a perfect day for hunting snow geese in Canada.  It was overcast and cool, but not frigid.  A stiff northwest breeze made our windsock decoys wiggle like a field full of real snow geese.  Our spread was meager by today’s standards.  We placed a couple of hundred plastic wind sock decoys along with four dozen snow goose shells and then added a few dozen mallard decoys to the side of the goose spread.  Since this was prior to layout blinds being popular, we all dressed in Tyvek and spread out across our decoys.  That morning we had seven hunters and two dogs so we placed the dogs on the outside edges.  Bob’s dog, Brady, was a female yellow Labrador with plenty of desire, above average skills and solid (but not spectacular) discipline.  My dog, Bren, was a female black Labrador with almost the same skill set.  She loved to hunt, could mark reasonably, was steady to shot but could be easily distracted.

Our morning started with a flurry of snow goose activity and didn’t slow down for hours.  Small flocks of snow geese were leaving their roost about two miles to the north and seemed to have their GPS set for our field.  This is what they now call “being on the X”.  The stiff breeze and overcast conditions resulted in the birds decoying on the first pass more times than not.  Our group dropped snow geese regularly and Brady and Bren raced to retrieve geese repeatedly. Soon a sizeable pile of geese had accumulated to the left of me along with several mallards that had been harvested.  It was the kind of day that hunters dream about.  Eventually the action started to wane and fewer flocks headed our way.  What happened next was what made the hunt most memorable.  A single snow goose circled our decoys and decided to join us.  My dad dropped it with a single shot but it sailed quite far down wind.  Both dogs broke without being released and raced toward the downed goose.  Bren arrived at the goose first, picked it up and headed back to me with the goose in her grasp.  Brady briefly hunted for the goose, or any goose, and then turned and sprinted directly to where I was instead of returning to Bob.  Without hesitation, she plucked a dead snow goose from my pile of geese and delivered it to Bob.  We laughed hysterically as Brady proudly made her retrieve and took her place alongside Bob.

The hunting that morning was exceptional.  It had the right combination of birds, weather conditions, a good setup and of course family, friends and dogs.  The dog work that day was as good as the hunting.  Long retrieves, multiple marks, and tracking wounded birds efficiently.  I can still see the action of that day vividly.  When we gather to reminisce about good waterfowl hunts this one regularly gets replayed.  It seems like everyone there appreciated a special hunt, and nobody forgot the day Brady stole the goose from Bren’s pile just so she could make one more retrieve.

Enjoy your dog!