Monday, January 11, 2010

Knowing when to say no...

This is a continuation - of sorts - of my last blog post, because recently I've been mulling over a blog post that  David Dibenedetto posted over at F&S (and if someone could tell me how to post a link without the address I'd be eternally grateful.)

It touches on an issue and a question of responsibility that - if you hunt ducks with a dog - you will at some point be confronted with: when is it too dangerous for your dog to hunt?

The story in question involved three brothers in California who were out duck hunting when one of them (for reasons not made clear) threw a rock out on the ice. One of the brothers' dog, being a dog (a chessie, I believe) went after it and broke through the ice. In trying to reach the dog two of the brothers ended up dead.

Duck hunters who often hunt in extreme conditions ask a lot of their dogs, and almost without exception, be they labs, chessies, goldens, spaniels, whatever, they obey without hesitation. They don't question your decision. Personal safety or self-preservation are not issues with which duck dogs bother themselves. You say go, they go. Unquestioning loyalty, unwavering faith. That's what they're bred to do, and it's an utterly amazing thing to watch. But in doing so, our dogs are quite literally putting their lives in our hands. That's a huge responsibility.

Once, long ago, I almost lost my first retriever, a lab, in a situation similar to the one David featured on his blog, except it wasn't a rock she went after, but a duck that had fallen well past the shelf of thick ice ringing the large and very deep pond I was jump-hunting. I was young, new to duck hunting and I stupidly assumed my dog could either break through the ice or climb back on top of it with no problem. That stupidity almost cost my dog's life. After a few tense minutes of thrashing around she finally managed to pull herself back up on the ice, but the experience of standing there helpless, watching as my dog struggled for her life left an indelible impression.

I don't coddle my dogs. Like most duck hunters I generally hunt without regard to weather or temperature, and I expect my dogs to do the same, sometimes in pretty brutal conditions. But I know their limits - and mine - and since that long-ago experience with my first lab I've tried to never put them in a situation they couldn't get themselves out of.

The morning I went duck hunting last week was, quite frankly, miserable. Like all of the central plains states last week Oklahoma was - and remains - frozen solid.

But before I hunted the river I checked the lake, and there were ducks out there, in little pockets of open water scattered across the otherwise frozen surface.

I thought about it. I could break a little ice, clear a spot, throw out a few decoys and probably shoot a few. But what if I wounded one and it glided out a few hundred yards onto the ice, way beyond the thigh-deep cove I usually hunt? The ice may hold for the dog. Then again, it may not. Then what?

I decided this wasn't a situation I wanted to put my dog in, so I turned the truck around and headed for the river. No open water. Many fewer ducks. But my dog came home with me.


  1. Link code: In the blogger "compose" mode, you just highlight the word you want to have the embedded link then hit the icon to the left of the flush-left button (a globe with a link on it) and paste the web address in the popup thingie.

    If you write in "edit html" mode, you put this code before the word(s) you want to have the embedded link: and after the word(s) you want to have the embedded link, you put this code: .

    Feel free to delete this comment so it doesn't muck up salient discussion here.

  2. ok, that didn't work - Blogger just assumed I was inserting real code. Email me here.

  3. Thanks, Norcal. Between you and SBW I think I've got it. At least I'll practice a bit and see if I've got it...