One particular late season day, I found myself with a midweek day off work and opted to try to make it out for one of the last times of the season. The weather had been pretty cold as is typical for January, and the forecast called for a slight increase in temperature the coming day. Upon arriving at the refuge I frequent often, my habit is to drive the areas and watch for bird activity in order to make my best decision on where to setup. I had a stiff north wind that had opened some of the water in an area of flooded, short grass I like to hunt. This area happened to border a rest area to the North and I had watched birds moving off the rest area headed south.
I quickly stuffed a half dozen full body decoys in my sled along with my gear and dog stand and set off. Finding the tallest grass in the area, I stuffed my sled in as deeply as possible, set the dog stand about 50 yards behind me, in a patch of grass, and settled in with a burlap cover over me. In a few short minutes a pair of birds flew toward me. Drawing close quickly, with the wind behind them, I could see they were Mallards. Dropping altitude and flying within range, they presented a fast right to left crossing shot. I sat up quickly and fired, missing the first shot. Following up, I watched the drake fold and fall. As Grace, my dog, got back to her stand, another group headed in. This time as I sat up with the first shot folding another drake, and the second doing the same, I was already pleased with the day. Ecstatic about the morning’s progression, Grace came back with the second and third drake. She was having as much fun as I was and I had a sincere appreciation for her effort and companionship.
Sending her back to her Place on the stand, I quickly picked up yet another group of birds closing in fast on us. They were heading wide and with a few notes on a call they swung towards and in front of us, heading tight over our heads. I recognized a small group of Pintails. Sitting up and firing, I missed with the first two shots and then pulling some fortune, connected on the third, sending the bird falling far, making for a long haul for Grace. With Grace en route to bird number four for the day I watched in appreciation, then heard geese. Looking back to my right, a group of six geese drifted low toward us. In a little bit of a tough spot, with Grace in the middle of a retrieve, and birds flying I gave one blow on my whistle for her to sit, and gave her the down command. She obeyed perfectly. With the geese closing the distance, I began to shake with anticipation. I had never shot geese on this particular refuge before, and it looked like it was going to happen in mere moments. Coming well within range, I threw the burlap back and shouldered my gun. With the first squeeze of the trigger and one goose falling, the second squeeze resulted in another coming down, and the third squeeze was a clean miss as often is the case for me. Releasing Grace to finish her duty, I stood in my sled and couldn’t believe what had just happened. My hunter’s soul delighted in this hunt with my beloved Yellow Lab.
In just over an hour, I had a complete limit of drakes and geese. Grateful to have had such a special day alone with one of my best friends, that perfect hunt will be forever etched in my mind. May we all have a great season and appreciate each and every opportunity to spend days in the field with great retrievers and better friends!
Patrick and his hunting crew can be found on Instagram (@crobiltcalls) and Facebook (facebook.com/crobilt.calls)
A postlude to this story: Grace has been diagnosed with cancer and sadly may not be with us long. I’m proud to say that I introduced Patrick to duck hunting years ago at this same refugee. I was just an occasional hunter, nothing serious, going out for recreation and enjoyment with my son. Since that time Patrick has become obsessed with waterfowl hunting and has taken it to the umpteenth level. Through the ensuing years we both got heavily involved in retriever training. Many ducks and dogs followed. While he continued on I had a few years of inactivity, mostly due to the death of my last dog and, quite simply, age. Three years ago, through his urging and influence, I got another puppy to train, a sister to Pat’s pup, and we started training together. A mutual friend had told him, paraphrasing, “Your dad needs a dog to train. Him not having a retriever is like a gunslinger without a gun”. I’m now back into ducks and dogs with my son. It’s become the glue that holds us together. I’m slower and lack the stamina of years past but it’s been a lifesaver for this old man and given me the opportunity to share my limited knowledge of retriever training with Patrick and carry on the tradition. He now has a retriever worthy of filling Grace’s shoes. It’s all about ducks and dogs. Thanks, son.
Gracie is a beautiful dog and endearing friend in the family! I’m so glad you had this opportunity and memory with her! Especially as she is nearing the end of her life! Happy hunting!
Patrick and Grace are an amazing team!! I am so happy that they had such an amazing day!! I love you both very much!!