It is with a somewhat heavy heart that I write this post. It is about my hunting companion of the four legged variety. It seems that recently when we were out waterfowl hunting that she informed me that she's had enough and her heart just isn't in it anymore. Needless to say I was deeply saddened by her news. The way in which this came about I will share with you now.
We were at Lowlands in S.Oregon's Klamath Basin to be specific. We had hunted ducks the day prior and mostly doing so by walking the many dikes and jump shooting the ditches. In the morning we waited til we had fair light and then went out spending about 3 to 4 hours walking and getting a few ducks. The retrieves Jet made were not difficult, at least not in the typical manner of waterfowling. They were straight forward, easily marked and without heavy cover or long swims required. She was working at her usual pace of "I'll get there when I get there and just hold your horses," all of which I fully understand and have come to respect of her. We had 4 ducks in my vest and headed to the cabin around 11'ish. Time to get a cup of coffee and take a break for both of us. I cleaned the birds and had brunch then we went back out for a short afternoon hunt. With very few birds in the area, all we got was 1 hen N. Shoveller. We called it a day and turned in for the night. Jet was tired and ready for her dinner, followed by her 8 p.m. scooby snack which is the norm and a good nights sleep. Well, and maybe a belly rub or two if I was so inclined. I was all to happy to accommodate as it also gives me a chance to giver her a good looking over for burs or any problems she might be having.
We got up early the next morning and I coffee'ed up followed by a bowl of cereal then out we went. We walked the back ditch first and nothing happening there. We then went to the S. side towards the Klamath Rv. and just as we started down the main road to the river, a Pheasant flushed from beneath a wild rose bush and I dropped it shooting through the bush. Now I knew why Jet was whining while I got ready cause she could smell that the Pheasant was close by. I marked her and sent her on her way for what I figured to be a slam dunk retrieve. Boy was I ever wrong. Firstly she is losing her hearing and second, she didn't follow my mark. My mistake there. So as she went across the shallow water filled ditch and came to the top of the dike she then ran up and down the dike and didn't see the Pheasant splashing in the water only 30 feet further out. There was very little cover on the dike and she had her own agenda which was scenting where the Pheasant had come from. Not so uncommon. As I was walking back to get some rocks to throw in the water to get her attention she winded the Pheasant and was on her way. I shortly heard her whining after she had been searching for the bird amidst the long stem bulrush. I saw her standing belly deep, stationary as a stone with the Pheasant a foot away from her. She had a look of "I'm not liking this and will you please come help me" on her face. I was dumbfounded and tried my best to encourage her to help herself but to no avail. She wasn't really stuck in the bulrush as much as I think she was cold and tired. Her expression was very clear that she wasn't having fun. I was not wearing waders or hip boots so I succumbed to the knee deep water to go help and upon reaching her, I patted her pointy little head and said "come on, lets go sis" then picked up the Pheasant and headed for dry land. I gave her a gentle tug at the top of her shoulders to get her moving and that was all she needed. I guess sometimes we all need a little help and I was glad to oblige her.
I was challenged to manage my emotions and not offend her. Frustration, disappointment and sadness were filling my body. She sat at my side loyal, tired and a bit sad herself I feel. Sad that she wasn't able to do what I asked. Labs are overachievers when it comes to wanting to please their owners. I saw her disappointment in volumes in every wet hair on her body. I loved her up and choked back the tears and decided to make a hunt out of the morning anyhow. I was soaked up to my knees and it didn't matter. What did matter, was giving Jet an enjoyable positive experience before we called it a day. After all we have been a team for many years and I wasn't going to let down my end of the deal. We walked the main river dike and eventually made our way back to the truck. She was pooped and laid down immediately. I was hoping to get an opportunity to let her make a retrieve so we could get her confidence up. It just wasn't meant to be so we headed to the cabin to dry out and got ready to head home.
Every dog is an individual with their own likes, dislikes and tolerances for discomfort. She was a slow starter yet has had many excellent years and still has a few more in her. She will be 10 in March and even though my previous 2 Labradors worked in their 13 th. year not every dog has the same drive, desire or genetics to do so. I have much respect for her and look forward to some easier hunts with her.
The road home was a longer drive than usual. I thought long and hard about what changes I'll make so Jet and I can continue to hunt together. She will get the easy days with mild weather and I'll be thankful for whatever she is willing to do. What's most important to me is that she has fun being in the field. I am beginning my search for a new family member come next spring. With any luck I'd like to find a started dog, preferably a female Yellow Labrador Retriever. Certainly not the high octane American Labrador Field Trial blood lines but rather the English Labrador field hunting lines. Will keep you informed as the search progresses. If anyone has some good leads or positive experiences from a kennel or breeder, I am happy for the recommendations and referrals. Til then we'll keep it simple and fun for Jet and myself.
Women's Hunting Journal Integrity For The Hunt