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 November, 2020 eNewsletter.
It Isn’t a Duck Blind Without a Dog
If you have followed my articles in the past, you know that my hunting stories always include a dog. The reality is that I have not hunted a single day of my adult life without a dog present. I consider myself blessed to be able to say that. My indoctrination to hunting with a dog started very early. I was fortunate to grow up with a Labrador (Laddie) who loved to hunt anything we chose to hunt. He was equally happy in a duck blind or in a field flushing pheasants. When he died, we hunted pheasants over our “remaining” dog who happened to be a beagle named Thunder! Although our hunts may not have been the most productive, I remember them fondly. Of course, his favorite hunt involved rabbits. We obliged him, but my family seemed genetically wired to hunt waterfowl and Thunder’s passion for water was not exceptional.
Shortly after Laddie’s death, my father found a litter of yellow Labrador puppies and we had a natural retriever back in the family. Puchyan Mingo arrived in the middle of my high school years. His selection probably broke all the rules that I previously wrote about in “Choosing a Puppy”. His strongest features were that he was a Labrador Retriever, he was yellow, and he was cheap! On top of that, I knew nothing about training and had many other distractions that kept me from putting in the time needed to make a hunting dog good at their trade. In spite of that, Mingo and I spent many days in the field creating hunting memories. Most of the memories are not the kind dreams are made of. No long blind retrieves across big water. No extended pursuits of wounded ducks diving and resurfacing. Instead, I have stories of retrieved possums, fights with raccoons and an excursion to the neighbor’s domestic duck pen!
Once I purchased my first hunting dog (Big River Brodie), my view of a hunting companion changed. I spent endless hours training her in preparation for our hunting trips. She became my shadow and most trusted companion. Her first live retrieve was a wounded lesser Canada goose that I would never have recovered if not for her instinct, training and drive. Shortly after that effort came numerous retrieves of wood ducks (notorious for their ability to disappear if a clean, killing shot is not performed). I soon realized that I enjoyed my dog’s retrieves more than my decoy set up, shooting prowess, or lack thereof, or my daily bag. My family and friends probably soon grew tired of my bragging about the performances of my dog. There was the incredible recovery of a wounded mallard at the headwaters of Lake Eau Galle. The retrieve lasted a full 15 minutes and I had tried to call Brodie off what I was sure was a wild “duck” chase only to have her show up with greenhead securely in her mouth. Never doubt your dog! And then there was the retrieve of the bluebill on Lake of the Woods that took her on a swim of over 500 yards that ended with her “diving” under the surface of the water several feet to claim the bird. And finally, there is the memory of her breaking skim ice to retrieve birds on the last day of our first Saskatchewan duck hunt.
The years that have followed that first dog have produced a lifetime of memories – most of them filled with pride. I have been fortunate to have wonderful, loving, talented dogs that made being in a duck blind a special experience. Brodie, Bren, Bradie, Lost, Lizzie, Jojo, and now Azzel all have made my hunting trips enjoyable and memorable. And just in case you think the memories are all about exceptional dog work and training, let me share a few other moments. I remember the time my well-trained retriever marked a down bluebill, swam through the decoys as it dove under the surface, and in what I can only assume was a moment of frustration, decided to return with one of the decoys from the spread! Or the day in Saskatchewan when I stopped to speak to some hunters as I was exiting the marsh with my limit of ducks. Shockingly I witnessed my “well-trained” dog attempt to consume one of the drake gadwall we had harvested.
My most recent trip to North Dakota a few weeks ago illustrates my feelings about the importance of my dog in the waterfowl experience. Our hunting “guide” had an idea for a hunt along a pond with minimal cover on its fringes. He suggested layout blinds and no dogs. I politely explained to him that leaving my dog in the truck during a duck hunting morning was not an option. I brushed her “Mutt Hutt” and placed her next to my layout. I knew that another “blind” on the shoreline could result in fewer good shots for us. It was a gamble I was willing to take. The morning turned out to be one of the least memorable hunts of the trip. The weather was the epitome of “bluebird”. The number of ducks was meager and few ducks even considered decoying. As is often the case, there was one memorable moment. A gadwall swung over our decoys within range and my brother dropped it far beyond the fringe of the decoys. Jojo marked the big splash and waited for her release. She swam with urgency toward the bird which had sailed a good 100 yards to the fringe of the pond. As she closed the distance on the bird, it suddenly took flight and flew about 50 yards to the south and landed on the edge of the pond. Jojo eventually retrieved the bird that had climbed out of the water and took cover in the field adjacent to the pond. It was not a spectacular retrieve, but it was a recovery of a bird that likely would not have been found without a dog. More importantly, it was retrieved by my dog – the trusted companion who shares my blind – and bed. The one who makes my duck blind a real duck blind. Enjoy your dog!