Five months had passed since I picked up Dalton. With the warm September weather and green landscape, the only sign that summer was coming to an end was the beginning of Minnesota’s early goose season. After countless hours of training, Dalton had come far enough that I was ready to take him out for the real thing. At a fraction of his full size, it would be interesting to see how he would handle a large Canada goose.
For his first hunt I decided to go to a small pond that frequently attracted some local city birds. This would be a good spot to start because not many people knew about it and there would not be many distractions of other hunters and gun shots. This spot would give Dalton plenty of space to figure out how things actually worked. It was a sunny Saturday as I headed out, uncomfortably warm conditions for waterfowl hunting. The morning was slow with birds sticking to the larger surrounding water. I heard the faint sound of a lonely single and he started returning my calls. As he came into view, he quickly set his wings for a soft landing. I was able to down the bird in the middle of the water. Dalton was anxious to get the bird and left as soon as he saw the goose fold. He was almost on top of it before I could blink. Dalton initially had a little trouble grabbing the body but quickly found the base of the neck and began swimming back. Even though he decided to break at the shot, it was Dalton’s first retrieve and I finally understood the nature of a working dog. Seeing the whole thing come full circle left me with a sense of bewilderment as to why I had even tried to hunt without a dog. The experience added another level to hunting that I didn’t know existed. That would be the only bird taken the first day but it was enough for me to see that I had a hunting dog on my hands.
After getting out a few times, Dalton learned the signs of what it meant to go hunting .When the early morning alarm clocks went off, he was always waiting for me to get up. When the gun case came out, he was jumping up and down with excitement. One morning I let him out as I was getting gear ready, as it came time to leave I could not find him. With his manhood intact I thought he may have gone on another hunt that morning. After looking around for ten minutes he was nowhere to be found. I went to turn my truck off and there he was, already sitting shotgun, worried that I would leave him behind, and he might miss an opportunity to go hunting.
That fall I had planned a week long trip out to North Dakota. It would be a great opportunity to get Dalton as many birds and possible at his young age and build a great foundation for the future. I was going to stay near Jamestown as a couple buddies had coordinated their pharmacy residencies with the hunting season. The first couple mornings didn’t go as planned. Dalton had a hard time patiently waiting for the birds to come. I attributed it to an excited puppy in a new situation. As a result there were plenty of birds that decided to land elsewhere. Despite his anxious tendencies, we were able to take our limits of birds. Our success was definitely a testament to the sheer quantities of birds that North Dakota holds. Each bird taken was another opportunity for Dalton to learn and one more reason for me to appreciate his services more. After a couple days his newly adapted level of patience surprised me. No longer did he feel the need to move around, instead his eyes were glued to the sky waiting for the next flock to come.
While we were only there for a week, it was full of memorable hunts. One evening scouting I had ran into a few guys from Kentucky. We were both eying up a small pot hole covered in birds and I briefly talked to them. The next morning I ran into them as they were intending to hunt the spot but I had beaten them to. As I was by myself I offered for them to join me. I was obliged by their company as they were able to help get my truck unstuck from the mud on the way to the pothole. The ducks came quickly as we were able to take a four man limit. I was grateful to have that many more birds for Dalton to retrieve. They were impressed with the drive that my young dog had as he excitedly brought their birds back for them after each volley.
With my buddies limited schedules, they were only able to go out during the weekends. I had been watching a large body of water for a few days that I thought would make for a great weekend hunt. The morning came and went as we quickly shot a North Dakota mixed bag as we waited for the geese to show up. When the first flock came we were able to knock down a few and sailed another. The ones we knocked down were almost on top of us as Dalton was watching the bird that sailed away. The bird landed a few hundred yards out, very much alive. Dalton took off after it as soon as it awkwardly landed on the water. Once he started swimming there was no getting him back. As much as I wanted to have him stop and listen, it was more interesting to see if he could accomplish what he intended. Sure enough, he made it all the way out and caught up to the still swimming goose. We were able to get a good laugh at the crazy pup as it took him a few minutes to make the swim back with the bird. As soon as he dropped the bird and he got back into the boat, his eyes were looking up, waiting for another opportunity.
The trip to North Dakota allowed me to see what Dalton had in him and give him a week long crash course on hunting. He was able to refine his waterfowl skills as well as work in a hunt running with some savvy veteran pheasant dogs. In the beginning mistakes were made but he realized what needed to be done in order to accomplish the end result that we both were looking for. I continued to be amazed at Dalton’s growth and progress from when I had first brought him home. After his first hunting season what became the most evident was the desire that Dalton had for retrieving. Whether it was ducks, geese or pheasant, Dalton was willing do whatever it took to get the job done. When it came time for him to hunt, something inside of him was turned on and could not be turned off.