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When we hunt in South Dakota we get to our cabin at around 2 a.m., unpack and sleep for a couple hours and then head out to the potholes. We have a friend who does some pre-hunt scouting for us, but this is done from his truck and it’s only to tell us if there are ducks using a particular marsh. So for the most part, we walk in blind and hope that not much has changed from the previous year. This year the water level was still up and the opening morning of the hunt, the water was all the way up into the cattails, meaning there was no place to sit. In the predawn, we found an open area that we could get our decoys out and be seen, as well as a place for us to hide four hunters and not be seen. While the spot was the best we could find and there were quite a few ducks around, the problem was that the small open hole we had was pretty tight and really didn’t allow the ducks to finish and come into our decoys or at least they didn’t want to come into our decoys. The first duck that actually came into our decoys came from the left side and Mark Lemmon took it at about twenty yards. The other thing we quickly found out about our hunting hole was that you couldn’t go out too far and you would be over your waders. Now it wasn’t a problem for Mark’s first duck and he waded out to it. My yellow lab, Bailey went with him, but didn’t think her help was needed on the retrieve.
This might be a good time for me to explain Bailey or at least make an attempt to explain Bailey. She is 8 1/2 years old and when we got her as a pup, the Mrs. told me that she was to be my dog. So as a pup, I spent a great deal of time with her and in fact for a month I slept on a roll away in the basement and she slept at the end of the bed. Now I would like to tell you we have a special bond, but Bailey bonds with everybody. But because of how she was raised, she has to be close to me. In fact, it’s rare that she isn’t making contact with me. Most of the time she has her paw resting on my foot or she leans against me when we sit on the ground and hunt, such as we do in South Dakota. When I retired, she and I even made a stronger bond if that’s possible and she is with me about 90% of the time. As I write this story it’s 4 a.m. and she has her head resting on my left foot. She also has a couple rules that she follows. The first is that if she sees the dead duck is close to shore, she will smell the duck, but not retrieve it. It’s her way of saying, “If you want to get more exercise then get off your rear end and you get the duck”. On the other hand, if the duck is further out and in deeper water then it’s her retrieve. Finally, I don’t know if it’s just being out with boys or whether she enjoys hunting, but she becomes a pup again and seems to be full of energy. She also never stops watching for any approaching waterfowl. Dogs are like people and each have their own quirks and like people we live with them and accept them as they are.
The next duck to come through our decoy spread was a pintail drake. The boys on my right tried to take him, but shooting is tough sitting on your rear end and taking your shots thru gaps in the cattails. But when he came by me, I had a good opening and knocked him down. I unsnapped Bailey from her tie out stake and together we walked out into the water and peered around the corner of the cattails where the drake had fallen into the open water. Mark Lemmon was already around that corner, but the water was far too deep to venture out to get the duck. Mark called Bailey and she quickly went to him and after making a couple swims around looking for the duck, she saw the duck out in the center of our small bay. She quickly swam out to the duck and just as quickly brought him back in to where I was standing. Regardless of how the rest of the hunt would go, my trip was made. When we went to the restaurant for dinner I ordered Bailey a hamburger. I told the waitress it was for my lab and she asked if she wanted a bun on her hamburger. I replied that I didn’t know because she didn’t say. (As much as I love her, she still cannot speak)
The next morning found us on another familiar body of water, but this time while the wind wasn’t perfect it did allow us to make a pocket with our decoys and we had ducks that finished in our decoy spread. But even if they came into our spread, a number of them fell beyond where we could walk out with our waders and remain dry, so it was up to Bailey and for the most part she did very well making quite a few retrieves. I’m not going to make excuses for her as she is my friend. She doesn’t complain when I miss, so I’m not going to say anything when she struggles to find a duck. I will tell you in her defense that when you hunt with the wind to your back for ducks, which is how it’s done and a duck falls forty yards out its scent is blowing away from the dog’s nose. I will also tell you that for the most part the wind never stops blowing in South Dakota making the water very choppy and for a dog whose eyes are just inches from the surface of the water it’s hard to see a flat duck on the surface. She tried and that’s all I can ask and the fault really lies with me because I didn’t train her with hand signs, but she did look hard for the duck, but simply couldn’t see or smell it. I was proud of how she performed on the morning, as well as proud that she performed not just for me, but she retrieved for the guys hunting to the far right, who saw most of the action. I would simply unsnap her and they would call and she would run along the bank as fast as she could go throwing water and mud behind her. Once she made the retrieve I would call her back and she would come back to me just as fast as she left. On this morning, she earned a bacon cheeseburger. My friend and hunting buddy earned it.