By John Pollmann —
I don’t know if I’ve ever met a bad dog, but I know I’ve met some pretty good ones. For a little more than the past year, I’ve gotten to know Buddy, my new yellow Lab, and despite his wont for barking at the window at every little thing that moves outside — folks on a walk, leaves, cats — this pup has the makings to be a really good dog.
Dogs are supposed to be bragged up by their owners, and I’m guilty as charged. But I quickly answer anyone who asks about Buddy as a hunting partner that he is a work in progress. I also tell them his shortcomings are no fault of his own; rather, they belong to his trainer (me).
Through all of the mistakes that I’ve made trying to train him, I can see that he will likely be successful in spite of me. He’s got a good nose, drives hard to each bumper and would retrieve until the life went out of his body, if I pushed him that hard.
Buddy cut his teeth on pheasant hunting last year, but this fall will be his first taste of waterfowl hunting. I love watching a dog work a chunk of grass for roosters as much as the next guy, but there is just something about having a Lab as a partner in the duck blind.
Through the years I’ve been blessed to sit next to some great ones and watch them make tremendous retrieves. One of the best retrieves I’ve witnessed came courtesy of my first Lab — a hulky, block-headed yellow named Deke — on a hunt in flooded cypress trees with a pair of friends in Arkansas.
We were just about ready to load up the boat and head for the lodge when I noticed a flock of mallards working another hole in the stand of cypress trees. My friend, Mark, was able to turn the flock our way with a series of calls, and then in typical fashion the mallards made swing after swing, slowly lowering their altitude toward the patch of open water in front of the giant blind that hid our presence.
The next sight was something that I had never seen before, as the entire flock managed to squeeze through a tiny opening in the cypress, dropping in like leaves off of a tree. Mark waited patiently to call the shot, and at his signal our trio of barrels rose in unison.
I picked out a greenhead trying to land directly in front of the blind and splashed him on my first shot. With mallards dropping in the water all around the blind, it was difficult to find another drake, but I managed to scratch a greenhead back-peddling from the hole with my next shell.
With our last shots, Mark and I tried to stop one more greenhead from making its way out of the trees. I missed cleanly, but Mark scored a solid hit, only to watch it fly away, seemingly unharmed.
“Watch that duck,” I told Mark. “I know you hit him hard.”
Sure enough, after the bird had flown about 100 yards, it began a quick descent to the water in the middle of thick buck brush. There were five pairs of orange feet swimming in the air on the water in front of our blind, but we all knew that last bird wasn’t going to be quite so easy to find.
Mark and I waded through the brush with Deke swimming alongside. The cover was thick and reminded me of trying to find a bird in heavy cattails in South Dakota. We stopped in the area we had marked from the blind, and I cast Deke downwind to try and catch a scent. Mark and I circled around looking for any sign of blood or feathers, but we continually came up empty.
Not wanting to leave the bird behind, we continued our search, widening our circles, but still no mallard. With our hopes of finding the bird quickly fading, I caught movement in the corner of my eye. From behind a massive expanse of brush came Deke with the large greenhead in his mouth.
Three guns, a good nose, and a little luck, and we collected the last of six greenheads from one flock. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.
And now it’s Buddy’s turn. To paraphrase the great Gene Hill, an author who shared stories of hunting dogs and our relations with them, the greatest trophies are not things, but times. Hill surely not only meant days spent in the field with our friends, but also the time spent in the uplands and in the marsh with our dogs.
I’m ready to begin building a collection of priceless memories with this young yellow Lab, one hunt at a time, and it will all start very soon with his first retrieve.
About the Author: Waterfowl columnist John Pollmann is from Dell Rapids, S.D. Follow him on Twitter @JohnPollmann.