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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Nobody ever accused him of being a "robodog".
His name was Ranger, and he loved me and wanted to please me, but he was a black Labrador male pushing 100 pounds and he also had to indulge his own stubborn spirit. I fought it for years, tried to make him steady, but he'd go as soon as the first bird dropped, we had some battle royals in the early days. He was a year and a half old when I got him, and he had learned to take his pleasures where he could find them. He loved to go on a ramble, or sometimes, on a vast, 640 acre field of rye grass, a hard run. Even my guiding partner, an Irishman who brooked no foolishness where dogs were concerned, had to laugh to see that big dog run, he'd kick up mud clods and his ears would fly straight back behind his head. I tried love, switches, electric shock collars, etc. He would behave somewhat with the collar on, and his antics never adversely affected a hunt, as far as missed shots, lost birds, etc., but he quickly became the most collar wise dog I've ever seen.
Pushing too far ahead, or refusing to sit in cold water, etc., he'd make an effort to comply when he saw my hand go into my pocket for the transmitter. He seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. One thing I could not do was break him off a retrieve. One of my clients shot a bird one day and as it fell, I saw a large gator launch off the bank. I tried to call him off, no dice. So I activated the tone on the collar, to no effect. I nicked him (one of the few times I ever did that when he was in the water) and he would wince, put his head down and keep paddling, like "WTH, Dad!" He picked up the bird and paddled back, I guess the big gator didn't want dog that day. It was late in the season, after we quit worrying about them, but there had been a little warm spell.
We both loved pheasant hunting, in Kansas. The annual trip (or two) was Ranger's vacation as much as it was mine. He wasn't a big ranging dog, after his initial morning air-out, he'd stay, usually, within good gun range of me, exploring here and there, under mounds of CRP grass, little tufts of milo stubs, weedy plum thickets, etc. As the morning wore on he would attract a following as he pushed up rooster which had evaded or the big running pointing dogs and springers had run past. I was usually nearing my limit ahead of the rest of the bunch by then. After weeks of having to stay put beside a blind, and retrieve on command, this being able to putter and explore and chase birds up into the air was simply grand, if you were a dog. Generally, each trip, with sore legs and feet, my friend and I would hunt our home town lake for waterfowl one day, usually a Monday after hunting pheasants all weekend. We generally made it a fairly leisurely affair, an easy walk down a refuge road and a pass shoot, where we sometimes killed a goose or a mallard or two, but mostly visited and caught up with each other, hard to do while hunting pheasants.
This afternoon, my friend believed we could pass shoot some geese by walking a mile or so down an old airstrip, and hiding in some tall weeds near the refuge boundary. I had a new-to-me Model 12 heavy duck gun that I wanted to try out with some large Kent Tungsten Matrix shot. It was a beautiful clear, cool Kansas evening. My friend is a very conservative hunter, he will hardly shoot at anything past 35 yards although he's a better shot than I. As it goes, then, when the sun touched the horizon I had killed one greenhead and an unfortunate pheasant who had decided to fly past me on his way to get an evening drink from the lake. The Snows were piling into the refuge half a mile away, and somewhat downhill from us as we walked back to the truck, and I notices Ranger was not by my side. When I wondered aloud where in the heck my animal was, my friend's brother pointed to a black speck moving towards the 50,000 or so white geese on the refuge. We laughed, he was wearing a collar but the transmitter was not effective at that range, and besides, he would never get close to the geese. That's what I thought. Then I noticed he'd slowed, and found a small arm of cover, and it ran up to a number of big round hay bales, just beyond which sat the geese. As the evening sky turned that beautiful purple which only happens, as far as I know, on the Great Plains, we watched as Ranger burst from behind the haybales and the flock took flight, honking and squawking. He was out of sight behind the bales for a minute, I suppose. Then he came trotting back into view, with something large and white in his mouth. My buddies were surprised, I really wasn't. In fact, I'd been pretty sure that if the birds weren't too far away when he burst from cover he would likely get one. Boy was he proud. He fairly PRANCED all the way back, a good 4-500 yards. My friends were very impressed. That is, until we noticed the green pickup truck sitting on the end of the airstrip. My friends are both hunter education instructors, and knew the state refuge staff well. But this truck had USFWS on the door.
"Well, boy, you are going to the pen" I said, only half joking.
The goose had been seriously injured in the scuffle, and I'd wrung it's neck. I was thinking he might have company in the slammer. However, the light was not good, and the vantage from where the pickup was didn't have a very good view of the scene of the crime. I didn't see a spotting scope on the hood and the vehicle was parked head on to the refuge, where one couldn't have been easily deployed.
As we approached our vehicle, the green truck rolled up beside us, and a stern USFWS Special Agent asked to see our birds, our licenses, check our guns for plugs, etc. He seemed quite interested in the pheasant. And, of course, the snow goose. As I waited for the other shoe to drop, he curtly wished us a good evening and got back into his truck. He pulled abreast of us and said in a low voice, so that only I could hear, through the window of his truck,
"Next time you come to Kansas to hunt waterfowl, either leave that dog in Texas or keep him under control."
"Yes, Sir."
I still hunt that edge of the refuge, and the Snows still roost there, later and later into each season, it seems. I'll never do it again without thinking of the big goofball who left me a month ago.
See ya at the sunshine bridge, big fella. Say hi to Peggy and Kate, and tell them I'll be along soon.
 

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Another great story {hs# Thanks for sharing a part of Ranger and your time with us.

While reading I could picture in my mind the scenes you were describing :D

Take care and I'll be on the look out for the next one.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks, guys. It's somewhat therapeautic for me to share these stories with those who can appreciate them, "get" the small nuances and references to gun dog.
 
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