Retrievers reminiscing 

Published 11:23 am Tuesday, December 5, 2023

We are a three-dog household and have been for a few years. Our original two, Hank the yellow lab and Sage the golden retriever, have retrieved birds for our family for thirteen hunting seasons straight. I can only imagine the pressure our two-year-old lab, Junior, is feeling knowing that the old men are going to be spending more time napping on the couch than in the swamp this duck season.

Most days our three dogs take turns guarding our backyard from cats, dogs and squirrels. Every now and then, two of them may be awake at the same time. I can’t help but to believe the older dogs are telling Junior hunting stories from their glory days before gray dominated their muzzles.

Sage would probably tell Junior about a cold hunt one New Year’s Day in a field flooded by a beaver dam. We had a good morning, but the temperature began to drop as the sun rose. Ice formed around both the hunters and Sage. His golden coat was covered in cockleburs and beggar ticks only to be encased in ice on his coat.

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Sage tells this story to Junior with the lesson that you have to be tough when you duck hunt. Even though icicles were hanging from his ears and his coat was matted with burs, he didn’t whine and kept looking to the sky for the next group of birds.

After Sage goes back to napping on the front porch, Hank grunts and stretches as he saunters over to Junior. Hank would look back on his well-traveled duck hunting career: Mallards in Kansas, Specklebelly Geese in Louisiana, and Gadwall in Alabama. With all of these fine retrieves in multiple flyways, Hank’s most pressing advice would be, “Don’t trust cows.”

Random advice, I know, but Hank has never had any love for cows. If we pass cattle while driving down the road, he will bark. If cows are in the field next to the pond we are hunting, he will keep a low, steady growl all morning. The most heinous of all cow offenses though was when the Chick-fil-a outside of Mobile, AL had shrubbery cut to resemble a cow in the drive through. His bark was so loud the Chick-fil-a employee said “Good Heavens” instead of “My Pleasure.”

I know dogs don’t reminisce like people. As much as I’d love to think my old dogs are giving Junior a history lesson, more than likely they are just jockeying for the best nap position. As nervous as Junior may be when he is called up to hunt with the big boys, I’m sure I’ll be even more nervous next to him in the blind. I’ve had the same furry hunting buddies for longer than I have had children. Junior has some big shoes to fill, but he will fill them in his own way. 

And maybe a few years down the road he can tell a young golden retriever pup about how fun it is to duck hunt and to never trust cows.

 

Junior being spoiled by his 9-year-old handler.