On opening day of duck season in Montana a blue-winged teal I had just shot sailed over the hill out of sight. I had marked where I saw the bird land on the small ridge when Rosie, my 6 month old chocolate labrador, veered off to my left in the knee tall prairie grass on the edge of this wetland.
Frustrated with a puppy obviously going the wrong direction, I called to her, trying get her to come back the twenty or so yards back to where I thought I saw the bird go down. As I turned towards her, very annoyed with my retriever, she popped her head up with a duck in her mouth. She turned towards me and gleefully brought it back.
I was happy to get the tiny little duck back, which would be on the menu later that night, but I was thrilled for Rosie. It made me happy to see her in her perfect element. A cool gray Montana fall day while retrieving dead things in the water and grass was her dream day. This is what she was bred and born to do.
Now a few hundred retrieves later, a few of those are burned in my memory. One retrieve was 100+yard swim through deep cold water to get drake mallard and another was her climbing 10 feet up a salt cedar tree to retrieve a flapping hen canvasback. Both bring back the same feeling, joy and happiness for my dog and her accomplishments.
Growing up I had a general distain for horses and livestock. They smelled, tore up trails, and their owners always seemed to be indignant. I still believe two of those to be true.
My first pack season was a serious struggle. I did not really understand any principles of horsemanship and naturally thought the donks could do everything I could. I would get really frustrated with myself and them when I would walk them into a bad situation, such as steep hill, with loose dirt, and heavy packs. I was learning slower than them.
The temperature was in the teens, several inches of snow had fallen, and I just fed them the last handful of grass pellets we packed in. On our 7 mile hike out we had several gnarly switch backs, which dropped us about a 100 feet down to a creek. The trail was ankle deep mud from the from the early September blizzard.
My heart was in my throat. I let Cisco trail behind free and we started our decent. The donks had their rear legs spread as they tried to brake their slides. Like a couple of pinballs they slid down each switchback. The donks managed their heavy bulky loads like pros. We made it to the bottom and across the knee deep freezing water of the creek, and up the other side.
Everyone was smiling.
Dogs and Donkeys
At some point my love for duck hunting became a love for watching Rosie work. When Rosie is not there, my enjoyment is easily cut in half. I never would have guess I would have the same feelings for my burros.
When I hear Cisco’s nasal wheeze and Julia grunt, I cannot help but look back and appreciate what they are capable of. This is what they were born and bred to do. The hunt takes a back seat to a quiet and successful pack in.
Being in the outdoors brings you closer to your connection with the environment, hunting does even more so. Bringing trained animals in the mix connects you in a way I did not know existed. I think they long for that connection as well.
When it all converges in one moment, you can’t help but smile.