By Tim Spielman
I’ve hunted ducks, pheasants, and similar feathered creatures
for twenty-some years not a lifetime by any means but several
years, none the less.
While doing so I’ve wandered behind some mighty fine hounds,
flushers and pointers alike. Without them, many of those downed
birds would never have been found, and many of those seasoned
pheasants would never have been rousted.
But until this year, not a single canine with which I hunted
could I call my own. Nor could I feel the satisfaction that comes
with knowing, as an owner and trainer, I’d done well.
After trudging through ankle-deep muck (or deeper if you stood
there long enough) to retrieve a wood duck in the duck slough last
year, I knew it was time for a helping paw. It so happened a friend
of a friend had some Labs for sale. Long story short, a 7-week-old
female rode home with me later that night. She didn’t have “papers”
or anything, but she seemed to have spunk. And she was damn cute.
How’s that for pedigree?
Mo received some in-the-field experience last year during a
late-season pheasant hunt, but that consisted mainly of her paws
and snout bouncing off my heels as I paved a path in the snow.
Throughout the winter we trained, not especially hard-core
training, but the basics sit, stay, come. I was as much of a novice
as one might be, but with the aid of Richard Wolters’ book, Game
Dog, we learned, Mo and I. I kept my expectations low, mainly
because of my shortcomings as a trainer, not hers as a trainee. We
worked together every day.
The training included a few other tidbits picked up along the
way from other dog owners and amateur trainers, and when hunting
season approached this year, I honestly didn’t feel anywhere close
How much can you expect from a dog that’s just over a year old?
The duck opener held few ducks. Further, Mo was joined in the blind
by another black Lab that was a few months her junior. They had a
wonderful time, chewing cattails, shell casings, and jumping on one
another in the water. I’m sure they would’ve been attentive had
more teal and mallards been buzzing our blind.
The following day, a mallard was downed, in the water, not far
from the blind. The big opportunity!
“Fetch it up!”
Like a shot, Mo dove in, swam to the duck, then around the duck,
and around again. Then she looked at me. “Fetch it up!”
No go for Mo. I had to get the bird myself. It was a long ride
home, as again, I thought about my shortcomings as a dog trainer.
The next weekend’s duck hunt was not one for a young dog, but I was
able to bring home a harvested teal a teal that I was determined
would be retrieved by a certain 60-pound Lab.
To the neighbor’s pond we went, me, Mo, and the duck. After
waving the duck in front of her face and “getting her excited” as
my friend instructed, the teal sailed into the pond. Mo was a bit
hesitant, but soon pulled the duck ashore. Three more times this
was performed with more precision each time. I rose suddenly in the
ranks of amateur trainers.
The next big test came on the pheasant opener. I felt a bit more
confident, as most of our training had been on land. Mo knew the
commands and seemed to have an excellent nose. But, would another
dang rabbit sidetrack this hound? I hoped not.
Mo demonstrated a unique hunting style, one which made a hunting
partner query, “Is she a dog, or a deer?”Through the tall grass Mo
bounded, till she got on a scent and her nose hit the ground.
If the pheasant failed to flush, she uncorked another nuance:
The Pounce. Head up, she’d “dive” toward the unflushed object. If
it didn’t flush, she’d dive again. And if that didn’t work, she’d
just grab the darn thing (which occurred once, with a young
And, by golly, she retrieved a pheasant, without offering that
quizzical look I received when the dead mallard was lying before
I’m not quite ready to proclaim Mo a wonder-dog, or myself a
wonder-trainer. Far from it.
But a new dog working in the field is poetry. When it’s one
you’ve trained, especially when it’s your first, it’s one of the
biggest thrills hunting can offer.