Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hunting with a Dog

I like dogs. They make good pets. For the longest time, I thought duck hunting meant a dozen mallard decoys, some camouflage, and a black lab. Then I started hunting ducks. In North Carolina. On open water. On my first ever duck hunt, I hunted, with permission, a place called Little Florida. I shot 3 ducks thhat were later identified to me as ringnecks by a 12 year old boy. They were all retrieved by a chocolate lab named Hershey. Upon retrieval, Hershey bowled me over and attempted intercourse with me. Good times! Bu that dog did what it was born and bred to do...go get dead ducks and bring them to the owner. Also, as we rode out of the swamp in our trucks, Hershey shared the bed of the pickup with the dead ducks...and tossed each one out on a major highway. Two wrongs and one retrieve don't make a right and it discouraged me from ever wanting a dog. In fact, I knew of a million bad dogs, and only one good dog. And that dog lived in Mississippi.

In my years perusing the back and open waters, I have learned to do without a dog. I didn't need a mouth to feed or a whistle to blow...especially while ducks were working. In North Carolina, we don't hunt  the X. We hunt the path to the X. Our decoys are used to convince ducks to land and hang out a bit. And we use lots of decoys. Some  people even use mallards! That topic will be discussed in many forthcoming blogs. Back to dogs. A good friend  of mine purchased a beautiful silver lab about 3 years back. He sent her to one of the area's finest trainers wwhere she learned commands that she would never get to use. But she's a beautiful dog with good instincts. We took her  hunting a few times. We never shot a lot of ducks...in fact, we never killed a single bird, but that tragedy can be blamed on the dog. Whimpering, barking, yelping, and just plain running around and swimming through the decoys can do a lot to un-convincce ducks to sit in the decoys. However, when we did shoot, the dog from return from parts-unknown and heel attentively by her master's side. She knew that things had just gotten incredibly serious. After the smoke cleared, there were twelve empty shell hulls, three floating butt feathers (maybe four), and one disappointed dog. Still, she retrieved the shotgun shells and brought them back to us. As we discarded them into the water, she barked, stared at us in disgust, then promptly retrieved the 12 shells again. The painful 30 minute ordeal also saw several flocks of teal and wood ducks pass high and dry over the decoys. Those wary black ducks, laughed from 300 yards away. Black ducks always get the better of me...

Still, I have never been one to totally write off anything...otherwise, a season like this would have me giving up the sport. I longed to hunt with a dog that followed directions. Simple ones...like "Sit" and "Hush." I knew that this season, my opportunity to hunt with a dog would arise.

In my line of work, I meet an impressive array of people. they come from all over North Carolina. And people in North Carolina are similar only in their adoration for barbecue, with the exception of some Tree Huggers in the mountains. But us flatlanders never encounter them. Nevertheless, many people who visit the Center end up in my office, either to book a retreat, debrief during a retreat, or just to stop by and introduce themselves. My office is an altar to all that is good about waterfowl. Taxidermied specimens of redheads, pintails, and cans are suspended from the wall. they share their space with fine, old decoys from Kitty Hawk, Back Bay, and Stacy. Fine art prints showcasing Mattamuskeet Lake as Mattamuskeet Farm illustrate my love for the yesteryear. To put it shortly, if you come in my office, you know what I like.

Either way, one gentleman, whom I've known since I arrived in North Carolina, recently necame a duck hunter. I don't know where he got the idea. In fact, if someone told me they wanted to start duck hunting, I'd tell them to skip the boat and decoys and just go with a guide three times a year. But, let's call him Tony, he never asked. Tony is a fun and easy going guy with a good and fun career that he enjoys. It also frees him up a good bit to waste a lot of time and money...just like the rest of us.

If I were going to give someone a checklist of things to buy to begin waterfowling, I'd include 4 dozen decoys, none of which would be mallards or even made of plastic, a reliable pump shotgun, a boat with atleast 20 horses, and maybe a good ABC duck call. I'll cover ABC calls in forthcoming blogs. Nevertheless, I would not have included a dog. Tony did, though. But he never asked e or anyone else, I suppose. Waterfowling is what you make it. there's more than one way to skin a duck and Tony foundd his, just like I found mine.

Still, Tony and I would cross paths a couple or three  times throughout the year. As he picked up waterfowling, we struck up more frequent conversations. The wetland is the ultimate leveler, isn't it. In fact, at a meeting last year, I had told Tony that I was moving away and entrusted  him with my favorite duck spots. He never  gave them away. I know this because I moved back, and have yet to catch him in there. But he has great spots, too. Buut after I revealed my places, he introducced me to his dog. He also wanted to run some drills. I was fairly interested in seeing another dog do dry land retrieves, to say the least. But after meeting the dog, I knew that he  was special and that the relationship between Tony and his dog was even more special. The dog did not want to disappoint Tony. Anyway, several drills later, we said our Goodbye's, certain to never see each other again. Then I moved back.

A recent meeting in Tony's town, produced an opportunity for Tony and I to rendezvous on a duck hunt, on my good ducking spots, albeit. He promised to bring the dog, an that it would b better than my past experiences. there's nothing I can type to describe the pleasure I endured over the past couple of days when I shared the blind with two great hunting companions...one of which stood on all fours. As Tony counted the technical "blinds", "doubles" and other retrieves his dog made, I counted on my fingers the best hunts of my life. My best friend is also my best hunting partner. He doesn't bark and in fact, he's human. My friend and I mark our hunts as successful based on how many ducks we could have killed. We like to decoy them and watch them. If we shoot a limit, it's because our aim was good. If we didn't, we talked about how beautiful the trio of redheads looked when they strafed the decoys. Tony and his dog have their own way to measure their hunt's success. I'm pretty sure the dog thinks it was good if he retrieved a lot of birds for his Master. I think Tony measure's his success based on whether or not he was able to just share a place in time with him remarkable dog. They hate to disappoint each other. The  best part about duck hunting is sharing it with others...

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