When you last left Britney, she had just "gone under the gun" during her very first dove hunt at about 6 months old.
A lot has transpired for my newest "daughter" since then, much of which I wanted to write about. I know, however, there is nothing more obnoxious than a doting parent who won't shut up about their kids, so I have refrained—until now.
Britney (named after Britney Spears, in case you missed that previously) is coming of age—I hope with more maturity and wisdom than her namesake displayed.
Of course, that is mostly up to her trainer. And mostly that has been yours truly, with a few weeks of professional help from Haley Shealy and the fine folks at Blowing Springs Kennel. I hunted Britney for her first duck season last winter and, I hope, didn't screw her up too badly before sending her back to Blowing Springs for some remedial work and advanced training.
I knew early on that this dog had the capability of learning a lot more than I am capable of teaching. That hasn't changed.
Most Labrador retrievers stay "puppies" until they are 3 or 4 years old. On Sunday, when I gave her permission to leave the truck and hit the field for the first official hunt of the year, my heart soared as she ran circles with pure, unadulterated glee that only a young, inspired hunter can display. Folks standing around couldn't help but laugh a little at her antics. However, after allowing her to run off a little energy, a few hard blasts on the whistle and a command to come and she was back at my side, still trembling with excitement. It was a good start.
A year ago on her first dove hunt, my greatest concern was whether she would be scared by the gunfire. I figured out quickly that was a needless worry. Like any true hunter, if anything she is attracted by gunfire. Almost instinctually she knows that gunfire equates to something falling, which means something to retrieve.
A retriever's sole reason for living is to go get something and bring it back to her master. Until you've experienced that incredible passion firsthand, it is a hard thing to comprehend. A good retriever will literally challenge fire or ice to find fallen game to please its master.
Britney clearly has those genes. We knew that from day one. This year, however, my greatest fear was whether she would only retrieve what I told her she could retrieve. Dove hunts are typically crowded, and there are always other birds, shot by other hunters, falling within easy sight. Good "hunting manners," however, dictate that your retriever is supposed to only go get your birds—or birds she has permission to get—and only when you tell them to go get them. Until that point, they are supposed to sit at your side, patiently waiting for their turn to get in the game.
That is a very hard thing for a puppy bursting with spitfire and energy to do. To watch a falling bird—anybody's bird—hit the ground and not go get it takes almost more restraint than many retrievers can muster.
I won't dissect every retrieve from our Sunday and Monday hunts, suffice it to say they ran the gamut. She broke twice—meaning she headed after a falling bird before I told her it was OK to go. But the majority of the time she made her daddy proud, waiting for the command to go, sniffing out a few lost birds fallen in thick cover and even following a couple of my whistles and hand signals from a distance to help guide her to fallen birds.
Only once did she sneak away when I wasn't looking and retrieved a dove out of my neighbor's bucket. Yeah, that's embarrassing.
And on one occasion a fallen dove, only wounded, got up and flew low across the field with her chasing it for nearly 300 yards—ignoring my whistles to return all the while. I can't say that was a completely bad thing because the bird really looked as if it could fall back to the ground any second. But it didn't, and she was finally forced to give up the chase. She was so far away, however, I wondered if she could find her way back to me.
She did, but she had to stop and pay a friendly visit to several other hunters along the way.
But mostly, my little girl was well-behaved and followed instructions well. I once asked a friend if his beagles were good dogs, to which he responded, "They usually won't embarrass me too bad."
Britney didn't embarrass me too badly ... and even managed to impress on a few occasions.
If you have followed Nooga.com Outdoors, you might remember that I make annual road trips to South Dakota in pursuit of ducks and pheasants. South Dakota is on the October agenda once again, and I am hyped more than ever before. I will have a companion in Britney to help in the hunting.
Hunting in and of itself is always an adventure. However, those who have added a dog to the equation understand that the pursuit takes on new meaning, new challenges and greater rewards.
My friend Ed McCoy is going along as well—Ed is an excellent retriever, he takes commands well, and he doesn't embarrass me too badly—but he doesn't have nearly as good a nose as Britney.
South Dakota pheasants, beware—Britney is on her way.
Updated @ 10:13 a.m. on 9/5/13 to correct a typographical error.
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