Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why I hunt with a dog...

This makes my third season hunting with my own dog.  I know many of you have far more seasons than that with your dog(s) under your belts, and could probably do a better job of writing this than me, but here goes nothing...

Having a dog has given me a way to enjoy this sport year-round.  With a dog the season never really ends. You can justify all kinds of excuses to get out of the house because of a dog. Training days with friends in the spring and summer, trips to a local lake to swim, hunt tests, and many other activities start to crop up on your personal calendar that you might not have otherwise considered.  Don't forget the opportunity to rationalize all kinds of new gear, in the name of your four-legged companion either!  Dog blinds, stands, ladders, collars, vests, training gear.....ahh, the life of a gear-junkie!

Having a good dog helps secure invitations.  Word of a good dog spreads quickly (be careful, the inverse is also true!), and often you may get calls to hunt and it may not be that important to the inviter that you go or not.  "What time can Roux be ready?" is frequently asked of me...I try not to get offended.

Dogs provide endless photo opportunities.  Some dramatic, some comical, but there is always a dog picture to be taken.  Im certain I have missed some shooting chances at birds because I was shooting photos of the dog instead.  He just takes it in stride...much like my kids do when my wife breaks out her camera.
Roux even graciously allows me to have my photo taken with him every now and then

Dogs recover game that would likely be lost otherwise.  This is REALLY why they are there, isn't it?  While we all strive for birds feet-up and dead in the decoys, we all know sometimes this just doesn't happen.  This is where a well-trained dog earns his keep.  I have seen my dog, and many others, pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat time and again, finding birds humans would have never come close to.  This also becomes a great source of pride for the owner as well.  The last weekend of our first split provided two such instances for me:

First, my partners and I lightly knocked down a drake mallard that sailed l-o-n-g into thick weeds in a flooded crop field.  We had a decent mark on the bird, but knew our chances of chasing a lively duck down in that stuff were slim.  I looked at Roux and he had a line on the bird, but I knew his line of sight was hampered by the brush in the field.  I sent him out, and he stopped, looking back for direction, after about 175 yards.  I kept casting him back, until he was just a small brown speck to my old eyes.  One more cast and I saw him whip his head around, staring into a patch of smartweed about 30 yards wide.  He dove in, and the weeds shook for a minute, and he emerged with a fat and very much alive drake in his mouth.  We all stood and applauded!

Nice job, Roux-ster!!

The following day,  two friends and I hunted a lake from a boat blind tucked way back in the reeds.  Roux's view in front of the blind was severely hampered by the vegetation, but we made the best of it.  Midmorning, one of my friends knocked down a goose, which splashed down about 60 yards from the blind, off the left front corner.  The goose's wing was broken, but his legs sure weren't!  Another partner was able to smack him on the water pretty hard, but the goose was still cutting a wake for the main body of the lake to our hard left.  I lined Roux as best I could and sent him, figuring he would either run the goose down, or we would pick him up in the boat if not.  He hit the water, looking for the bird, and once he got to the edge of the decoys, picked him up about 50 yards or so farther out.  What ensued was a great race.  Roux managed to slowly close the gap on the bird, eventually getting within 6-8 feet well over 100 yards or more from the blind.  The goose attempted to dive, but was caught by the wing tip by a very determined brown dog.  Roux slowly began spinning the goose back toward the boat, bettering his hold by a few inches every chance he could.  He pushed the big bird all the way back to the blind, proud as a peacock, saving us a long chase on a lake with electric motor use only.  With the headstart the bird had, we might never have caught up.  To say I was proud doesn't come close...

Goose thought he could out swim the Brown Dog.  Silly Goose.

A dog has taught me that there is so much more to this than just shooting ducks and geese.  There is the pride you have when your dog does something spectacular.  There is the humor and embarrassment when your dog does something not so spectacular (a certain NY skunk comes to mind).  There is the look on his face when you drop a bird, and he is bursting to be sent and retrieve the prize.  There is also that look on his face when you totally muff the shot and he glares at you like, "seriously??".  There is the smell of wet dog, that is usually not desirable, but becomes a welcome part of every hunt.  I could go on and on and on, as I am sure any dedicated dog guy could.

Bottom line, I hunted many years without a dog of my own, but I am not sure how or why.  I also worry about my waterfowling brethren that prefer to hunt without a dog.  I am to the point now, that if my dog is not hunting, I have to think twice about if I even want to go.  To quote my buddy Ramsey, "waterfowling without a dog is like honeymooning without the bride."  I couldn't agree more.

To be sure,  Brown (or whatever color you have) is Beautiful!

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