By Sierra Langbell
Family traditions are an essential part of our hunting culture. Your dad was probably a hunter and his dad before him. Someday, you will teach your kids the same morals, admirations, and traditions that were passed down to you. Waterfowl hunters have many ongoing traditions and one of them is hunting with a dog. I own two Labradors and one Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Sometimes our home is more like a scene out of the movie Jumanji, but I wouldn’t change it for one second. They are truly a man or woman’s best friend. It is extremely rewarding watching an animal you have invested so much time into be as passionate about something as you are. Hunting runs through his blood just like it runs through your blood. You put him through weather conditions that would make an Eskimo want to stay home, but he never complains or calls in sick to work. He listens to you and trusts you to make the best decisions for him. You two are bonded with a connection only another dog owner would understand. This is because he is your family. He is your protector, your best friend, and he keeps your feet warm at night. When your 4-legged hunting buddy has their first retrieve, it is truly an experience you will never forget. All the time and effort spent training suddenly comes full circle, and you cannot help but be a proud dog parent. It takes patience, loyalty, and a whole lot of love to teach a waterfowl dog. There will be times when you think he is testing you, and he most likely is. He is trying to figure you out just like you are trying to figure him out. He is learning your strengths and weaknesses just like you are learning his strength and weaknesses. The first few hunts with him may not go as smoothly as you planned. He may stare at the bird in the water and then gaze back up at you and give you the “go get it yourself” look. All of a sudden, you are riding home in your Victoria’s Secrets and he’s in the back content with himself and laughing at your defeat. (This is a true story) Eventually though, he will start to understand you and understand what you are asking of him. You will start to have completely unforgettable days with him. The multiple blind retrieve days. The days where you don’t even know if he can recover the goose your buddy sailed but somehow he impressively pulls it off. These are the days when you are sitting in a sludgy rice field during snow goose conservation season and he is going strong on his 300th retrieve since daybreak. His nose shielded with ice and his chest saturated in mud. Those are the days you live and breathe for as a waterfowler. The days a kid will never forget when he or she is introduced to hunting. The days that started it all, those were the days for me. Keep the tradition alive.