I spent a magical morning with my golden retriever puppy on the opening day of dove season. We were fortunate to find a spot with not too many other hunters and with nearly too many doves.
Willa, now 11 months old, made a wonderful showing on her first hunt. She found every bird I shot, even those that fell in thick weeds that towered over both our heads. When my friend's Brittany spaniel couldn't find a bird that fell in waist-high soybeans, Willa stuck with it and eventually produced the bird from a spot 20 or 30 yards beyond where I thought it had fallen. Priceless.
Having this exuberant, affectionate spirit by my side soothed the ache I still feel over the loss of her predecessor, Guiness, last summer. It's hard to lose a friend who has shared your successes and failures with constant devotion, but the rewards are more than worth the pain.
Words are utterly inadequate to express the warmth, comfort and pure, giddy joy that a good hunting dog adds to days afield. If you hunt waterfowl or upland birds and have never owned a hunting dog, you cannot even begin to imagine what you are missing.
Willa and I will share many days afield in the years to come and countless evenings on the couch. Together, we will fill mental photo albums with images of dove fields, woodcock coverts, intimate duck marshes and vast riverscapes whispering with the wingbeats of blue-winged teal.
I know that one day I will lose Willa, too. That was in the cards from the day a wiggling ball of fur with a wet, pink tongue stole my heart. But going outdoors without a hunting dog of my own would be like going to heaven without my wife.
Does anyone else have a story about a four-legged hunting buddy?