article and photo by Dan Chason
I have been fortunate to have had some very memorable dogs. From my first yellow beagle named Goldie to a pair of remarkable labs, Anna and Ranger. Dogs and men, especially those who hunt, are a natural combination.
As I related in my article about Eli Haydel, Ranger, my, lab was old. Grey in the muzzle but he was my number one dog for many years. I remember one year, a friend of mine (who will remain anonymous– Pat Wright) invited me to go on a Arkansas duck hunt at his lease. At that time, I had three working labs. Hand signals, whistle-trained and just good hunting dogs made for many invites from friends as a good dog always makes the hunt easier. On this hunt, Pat called and I offered to bring my lab. “No, Dan. I’ve got my lab back from retriever school, and we are gonna hunt with a REAL dog.” Famous last words. NEVER, and I mean never, brag on two things: your dog or your kids. They will show you up every time. Such was the case this duck hunt as this “real dog” brought back every decoy in the spread and not one duck. To this day, I always gig Pat about hunting with a “real dog.”
Then there are duck hunters who are hard on their dogs. I have literally left a hunt after seeing how some guys treat their dogs. Ranger would sit in the blind, hang his head over for his honey bun and then perk right up in mid bite if he saw a duck. You didn’t have to look for ducks. All you had to do was watch Ranger. He was slow and methodical, but man could he retrieve. I remember one of his last hunts in Little Missouri, north of Mer Rouge, Louisiana. We were on my lease and had knocked down two crippled mallards who were swimming near the next levee over. I sent Ranger out, and I promise (you can ask my son) this happened: I guess to not overexert himself, Ranger picked up the first duck, went to the second, dropped number one and put his foot on it. He then grabbed the second duck, let the first float up and came back to the blind with two necks in his mouth. I took a picture of it. I guess he had learned that one trip was better than one.
Then there was Anna. Anna was a good mama to her pups. She was all of 95 pounds and was a big, block headed lab. She was an absolutely beautiful dog.
When I hunted Anna, I would always warn anyone with me to not approach her in the truck or wheeler if she was by the ducks we had taken. She was very protective of “her ducks” and only my son or I could get them from her. We were back in Mer Rouge with one of the very hunters I had seen abuse his lab on another hunt. As we packed up to leave the hunt, I loaded Anna in my truck bed. I was putting my gear inside my truck, when I heard Anna squeal and then this guy grab his face and scream. According to my son, he had reached into the truck and Anna growled at him. This guy then slapped her and she bit a chunk out of his face. Not only did he now have a dog bite, I left him there. You slap my dog? Might as well slap my wife or kid. That’s a big no-no, but it was pure justice.
Rule number one when I married my wife Michele was “no Labs.” It was an un-written agreement, and I abided by it for about 9 years. She had previous bad experiences with the breed. I missed having my labs, and even though my wife has a Boston Bull Terrier that is like a child to us, it just wasn’t the same. I was searching through Craigslist one day looking for collectible decoys, when I saw the ad: “Beautiful Lab… free to good home.” Those two words usually mean trouble. Free and lab. That usually means he isn’t a full blooded Lab or he bit the preacher or the previous owner’s mother-in-law. Curiosity got the best of me and without going into much detail, I drove to the duck camp where he stayed and met Buddy.
Buddy is a chocolate Lab. Deep green eyes and a beautiful coat. I brought him home and introduced him to my frowning wife. I had concreted my kennel and had the perfect place for him to stay. I was going to see if Mama would let him stay permanently.
I got my answer about a week later, when I came in from fishing and went into the house. When I looked outside, I saw Buddy’s head in Michele’s lap, and she was stroking his head. Looks like Buddy has a new home. But it didn’t come without problems. Buddy was a chewing fanatic. He chewed the seat off of my Gator… twice. I don’t mean a little bit. Half the whole seat. When I would leave to go hunting or fishing, Buddy would chew up something that belonged to me. My gas can, my boots, fishing equipment or anything else left out. I really liked this animal but he was putting me in the poor house. Finally, Michele figured it out. “Honey, he misses you,” she explained. All he does is howl when you leave. Since then, if I leave for the camp, Buddy goes with me. Problem solved. He just wants to be with me. Fishing, riding the UTV, walking in the woods or anything I do, this animal wants my company.
As I write this, Buddy is doing what he does best. He is treeing a squirrel. I noticed that Buddy would sit on my carport and look out over the numerous oaks in our yard and watch the squirrels. He eventually, with encouragement would tree the squirrel. But he would not bark. That is until the day that he treed a squirrel on a hunt. I shot the squirrel who kindly bailed out of the tree and landed on Buddy’s head. One scar and one dead squirrel later, Buddy is now my all around hunting dog. He will bark and even pull the vines on the tree to make the squirrel move. He will tree a squirrel and will do so from daylight to dark. He hates them. He fishes with me as well. If I don’t put him in the boat, he will follow me on the bank and wait by my truck until I return. Where I go he wants to go. Just a loyal animal that stole my heart and is a natural nightmare for squirrels. What else could you ask from a friend… or a lifelong friend named Buddy?