Memorable Hunting Retrievers

March 25, 2009 by  

By PJ Maguire

PJ and Java

PJ and Java

Life is just a series of moments where you connect with another person, place, or feeling. Every bird dog I have ever owned has had it’s own moments. These were times when dogs did remarkable things based on minimal training and experience. These moments seem to burn deeper in my memory for the dogs I only had for a short period of time. I do not know exactly why this is but I believe that it falls into the category that only the good die young.

I would like to say that one of the best dogs I ever owned was named Java. The female black lab was my family’s second dog and we purchased her when I was only 13. The first hunt my dad and I took her on was stopped short due to a thunderstorm. It was opening day of the duck season and the wood ducks were coming into the decoys like kamikazes. Unfortunately, lightning forced us off the lake shortly after the noon opener. Java was barely six months old and was the only one in the boat without fear in their eyes.

The thing I remember most about Java was that she had a knack for doing blind retrieves. I did not do a lot of extensive training with her but we seemed to have an understanding. She completed one of the best blind retrieves I have ever seen on my younger sister’s first duck. It was a beautiful drake wood duck that now graces a coffee table at our cabin.

At only two years of age, Java was killed crossing the street in front of my house on Halloween night. She was a runner and was greeting trick-or-treaters across the street. Java had made her last retrieve a few days prior on a green-winged teal. I had shot the bird moments after shooting time at Carlos Avery Management Area in Minnesota. It was a blind retrieve through an ever-changing maze of cattails.

PJ and Daisy

PJ and Daisy

The next dog to grace our home was Daisy, a little Shorthair Pointer with a love for retrieving.. Daisy was not supposed to live past six weeks. When she was brought into the vet with her two siblings they were aged at ten weeks and marked stray. When she pranced into my college house, “the duck shack” she was six months. She was not only the best looking dog I ever owned, she was the fastest.

Daisy spent spring break my senior year of College in South Dakota snow goose hunting. At eight months she gained tons of experience about traveling and hunting. She slept on hotel beds, chased pheasants and tried to retrieve snow geese. Daisy would try and try to remove the birds from the ground with her mouth but could not even move a Ross goose.

PJ and Cutter

PJ and Cutter

Daisy, like Java, was a runner by nature. She would have made a great field trail dog; she had the speed and the nose. Daisy was the only dog I have ever had that caught turtles in the weeds and muck at my cabin. Shortly after graduating from the University of North Dakota I took my first job in the Twin Cities. Daisy however was not a city dog and I had to give her away to my dad’s friend that lives in Southern Minnesota after countless efforts to urbanize her.

When reminiscing about dogs I often forget about the dog that is lying by my feet as I write this. Cullie is a nine-year-old black lab that has retrieved more game for me than any other dog. At nine, she is also the oldest dog I have ever owned. Although she is not steady enough to hunt from a field, she always helps me find the birds that sail at the end of the day.

Cullie has embarrassed and amazed me every season. She is only dog I have ever hunted over that has a knack for flushing pheasants back towards approaching hunters. This unorthodox approach gets me more than a few raised eyebrows when she is working on the fringe of shotgun range. I don’t know how many times I have been thinking to myself she is a little rangy, when the next thing I know I have a rooster barreling towards me that I have to dispatch in self defense.

Cullie has an excellent nose; in eight hunting seasons I have lost very little game while hunting with her. I refer to her as my jump-shooting retriever because it is the style of hunting that she excels at. She is one of those dogs that have a hard time sitting still in a duck blind. She makes unusual marks on fallen game and searches with her nose not her eyes. “It looks as though she is chasing the fallen ducks shadow.” Phil Bettenburg, a friend, commented once on an afternoon duck hunt. Cullie is an average retriever, but most importantly she is an excellent family dog and companion.

Every dog has its day; it’s just easier to brag about the ones whose days are over. Dogs are like kids, only they never really grow up. So if your retriever embarrasses you or steals a bite of your sandwich, remember to take it easy on them and enjoy those moments before they become nothing more than memories.


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