By Judy Schonbeck
My first duck hunting experience was with a group of ladies, celebrating a friend's return home from working overseas. All of us knew each other through dogs, most of us became friends when we purchased Chesapeake pups from the same litter. All the dogs we were hunting with had hunt test titles and real hunting experiences. After that weekend of freezing temperatures, waking up at the crack of dawn, enjoying beautiful sunrises and the joy of the dogs jumping into that freezing ice covered water to bring back my dinner. I was hooked. Let's face it, our dogs are built and bred to retrieve birds. They just need training to learn how to accomplish what we want.
At that time I had a couple of Chesapeake retriever pups. I had already planned on doing obedience work with them, but I came back from that weekend thinking and knowing that I had to learn a new dog sport. Later that winter when our retriever group started up classes, we signed up and started learning with our dogs a whole new game. Training a bird dog to hold a bird all the way back to the handler takes a lot more steps than I ever thought of. The pup learns to hold an item while walking a leash, giving back an item. Then learns to go out to pick up a bumper/bird on command, learns to take direction from the handler. Not the easiest of processes. Without a doubt there are some retrievers that are certainly not intended to be bird dogs, they're happy doing anything else but collecting birds and that's okay.
From that training/hunt test group I've formed lifelong friendships.
Let's face it, hunt tests are semi-controlled environments where a dog retrieves a bird. By semi-controlled, there are always surprises that can occur; moose traipsing through the test, a raven dive bombing a dog, a flock of sandhill cranes landing near the test. Surprises. But, the dogs from training and hunt tests have been exposed to gun shots and downed birds that may not have been hit with the greatest shot. Hunt test season pauses and here comes September 1, it's bird season! (at least in Alaska) The dogs are warmed up, they know what they need to do. Yeah right.....
The first hunt of the season, the hunters are more amped up than the dogs until the first bird is downed and the dog hits the water, it brings back the bird. Pure magic.
I've taken my dog out for an evening duck hunt, nothing flies in, the dog gets bored and decides that something smells wonderful under a log proceeding to dig to the center of the earth. My dog and I got out and enjoyed our time together. Sometimes hunting is not about the shot, it's about the time in nature taking it all in. Or, missing your step and going face first in the water with the dog jumping around like an idiot and your friend and hunting partner laughing hysterically at you.