I had just started writing and illustrating The Sporting Life column for Wyoming Wildlife News. My new Lab pup Maggie was ready to be trained. I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder so throwing training dummies for her was out. That’s how I came up with one-armed retriever training…indoor version.
Thanks to long-time friend Scott Morgan I finally got into a good dove hunt. No limits but enough shooting to make our shoulders sore.
Scott, Roger Harper, photographer Jon Blumb and I hunted an eastern Kansas wheat field Friday afternoon. Hunkering in the shade of hay bales we expended a humongous amount of ammo and managed to bring down a respectable number of birds. Flights of low-flying Canada geese provided entertainment while we field dressed the birds, then headed to Baldwin City for drinks and dinner at The Wooden Spoke restaurant.
Roger, Scott and I went back for more the next day. I took my Lab Maggie with me this time for her first dove hunt. Some dogs are reluctant to pick up doves because the feathers come off in their mouths and Maggie was no exception. But when I dropped a bird she marked it down well, making it easier for me to find. Before the end of the day she was retrieving them. Well…sort of.
Maggie did OK for a rookie and we put six succulent bacon-wrapped dove breasts on the grill, toasted the Spirit Of Migration, and froze another six for later.
When I take Maggie to the farm I throw training dummies in the water for her and she chases the ATV (or I chase her) over most of our 200 acres. When we get home she follows me around the house, room to room, until I take the whistle from around my neck and hang it on the hook in my studio, remove my farm shoes and my old blue work shirt. Only then does she realize the fun is over for another day and she can safely collapse into her road kill imitation without missing out on something.
Why am I always the last to know? After limiting out opening morning at a public dove hunting field east of Clinton, MO my friend Gary asked me to go back the next afternoon. Beautiful field, sunflowers, the doves favorite snack, mowed in strips leaving hunters room to hide in the uncut part. Typical dove hunting weather. Hot, lots of bug spray and sunblock. But the doves didn’t show up. As someone once put it, “If every time you went into McDonald’s somebody started shooting at you, it wouldn’t take long for you to find a new place to eat”.
Gary shot one bird that fell in heavy cover and his Lab pup Cody used his nose and found it. I shot one bird and it fell in the same area but with even thicker cover and Cody couldn’t find it. Oh well…nice afternoon to be outdoors.
Afterwards we ate dinner at Mallard’s Roadhouse on highway 7 west of Clinton. As you would expect, duck hunting decor, wood paneled walls etc. Made us feel right at home. Good service and excellent food. We’ll be back!
I think it was Gene Hill who said, “If there are no Labrador retrievers in heaven, I don’t want to go”. Or maybe it was Faith Hill. Anyway, I agree.
Raising and training a Lab pup is an exasperating but rewarding job. You can almost see the wheels turning in their heads as they absorb everything you teach them.
I’ve trained five Labs and my long-time friend Gary Custer of Lee’s Summit, MO has trained many more. Now eight months old and ready for water, Gary’s male Lab Cody is ready to take on new challenges.
Gary and I recently introduced this gangly black ball of energy to water and shotguns. All legs, feet and wagging tail, Cody started doing what he was born and bred to do and thoroughly enjoyed himself in the process. He’s no Ester Williams right now but style will come when he gets those big webbed feet under control.
While I fired a shotgun in the air forty yards in front of him as Gary threw a training dummy Cody learned the big boom means something fun is coming. Gradually moving closer we soon had the pup sitting at his owner’s side while Gary fired the shotgun and I tossed the dummy.
If Gary can scare up a pigeon or duck sometime this summer Cody will learn what feathers are all about. That’s when the real fun begins.
No doubt about it, this pup will be ready for duck season come November.
Scott Morgan and friends celebrated New Year’s Eve flat on their backs in layout blinds in a field near Baldwin City, KS. Using only fourteen shell decoys, they had hundreds of Canadas checking them out all afternoon. Conscientious hunters that they are, Scott said they could easily have limited out but didn’t want to clean that many birds so they quit with six honkers in the bag.
Good dog work is at least half the fun of a waterfowl hunt and Scott’s Lab Kola did her part by dragging one goose on a 1/8-mile retrieve. The big gander weighed in at 15.5 lbs. and had a vise grip on Kola’s ear all the way.
Now these guys know how to celebrate!
As explained earlier, a Tweener is a cartoon that’s too raunchy for outdoor publications but too outdoorsy for Playboy. It’s in between. This one was close, but maybe it brought back unpleasant memories for the editors.
Yesterday we had to have our old Lab Ebony Of Lone Oak put down. She was slowly dying before our eyes from a nasty combination of age-related problems.
A gentle pet and eager retriever, Ebby began her thirteen-year career in 1999 as an outrageous eight-month-old puppy and retired after the 2011 season to spend her remaining days as a pampered house pet.
As with our previous Labs, her ashes will be loaded into shotgun shells and fired over the area where she made her most memorable retrieves. At some point in the future my own remains will join hers.
I think it was Gene Hill who said, “If there are no Labrador retrievers in heaven, I don’t want to go.”
Photography by Jon Blumb