It’s been a long time in coming-anyone who has ever owned a retriever, a Labrador Retriever to be sure, longs to see that first retrieve. The hours in the back yard and trips to the local pond with a jacked up pup and dummy in hand knows this. It’s one thing to hit the water at full tilt in July, but quite another in a mucky cold marsh in October.
Molly made her home at the Meurett camp 2 years ago and even though she has a stellar pedigree, one never knows until feathers hit the water so to speak. She had a prolonged training period since signing on with her hunting partner (me)-a major injury kept her out of her first fall, but we resumed working in the field as soon as possible after that. A considerable worry for all hunters is gun shyness, but a gentle introduction to the report of a shot proved no problem for the excited dog chasing pigeons. Good friend Jamie (a master with German Wirehaired Pointers) provided the birds and encouragement through Molly’s indoctrination to the gun.
Last year became her first as a hunter, even though she was four years old. Prior to her joining me in the pick-up, she lived at a breeding kennel and had no field experience, despite her championship bloodlines. I remember vividly her first hunt at some DNR property where pheasants are stocked-she could be exposed to a few birds there and we could take our time to work them. She became birdy within minutes, speed and urgency surged through her body and soon a rooster was in the air. A fortunate shot brought it down and Molly knew exactly what to do, returning it to hand through the tall grass. I was so proud. She went on to have a great autumn, doing well on pheasant, grouse and woodcock. Upland game is one thing, but waterfowl, quite another.
We never had a chance to hunt ducks or geese last year, so it was a priority for this fall. I was given permission from a neighbor down the road to hunt a small marshy pond for one weekend-a rainy cool weekend, perfect for ducks I’d hoped. Being on private land, I didn’t have to worry if Molly totally failed at figuring out a retrieve on a woodie or mallard, we could be patient. This would be the perfect location to see if all our water work last summer would pay off. It’s been 2 years since I donned waders, tossed out decoys, and slid 3 steel 12 gauge shells into a gun. Man, I’ve missed that. Molly didn’t know what to think of all those bird looking things floating around in the water-they sure looked like her retrieving dummy. I figured as much, so I tossed her fake duck out a few times and let her thread her way through the bobbing decoys to see if she could distinguish between the two. She could. We settled into a makeshift blind behind willow branches I’d cut and the natural cattails getting pelted by the rain and waited. I’d brought my two favorite calls along, but realized any bird that flew near this pond was going to land here with no encouragement from me. That’s exactly what happened-I heard a splash and glanced to see 3 woodies already swimming toward the decoys. Molly did as well and spun out of the blind and in seconds, I managed to stand and drop one of the birds in the water. Molly was interested in perusing the flying birds, but quickly saw the flapping in the water and was in, instincts taking over and she was back with the bird in the blind. That was her first duck, so I snapped a few pictures, which she seemed ho-hum about, it was like she was saying “that’s what I do dad-dahhh.” It would also be the last bird we’d see that day, but it surly was a successful hunt.
We returned the next morning a bit late (still pelting rain) and quietly approached the pond-I sensed maybe there would be geese on it as I’d heard some flying earlier nearby. Sure enough, as we crested the dike, birds were in the air everywhere and I picked one and dropped it on the far side of the water. Again, Molly had it pegged and swam across to pick up the large goose and returned across the water with the bird seemingly half the size of her. I think all labs get really jacked up about geese, for her compact body and tail were just quivering. So our second trip to the water was also a success as she’d made her first goose retrieve and I couldn’t have been more proud.
We returned one more time, but birds were scarce and soon decoys were packed in oversize bags and the clumsy hike in waders back to the truck began. I’ve found that hunting with a dog changes everything. If I’m by myself, working brush or a swamp for hours and never click the safety off, it can feel like a poor hunt. With the dog along, it’s fun just to see them work cover, get birdy and in the end, trot alongside you as we return to the pick up-they are just happy to be out there, as I am. I hope we have many more years together in the field and marsh, for seeing how Miss. Molly did on her first retrieves I know all the summer “work” pays off and there will be many more proud moments for this hunter and his pup.