It is hard to believe that four years have past since I brought Dalton home. He is now getting into what many would consider the prime of his hunting career. When I look back at the experience, I can’t help but laugh at my initial thoughts and where my feelings are at today. When I first brought Dalton home, I was dead set that he was going to be a working dog and I was going to be the boss. The first few months he was treated as such. It wasn’t until I started taking him hunting that every changed.

It is through our selfish nature that we train our dogs to love the hunt just as much as we do. We spend time, money, blood and sweat trying to perfect our ideal hunting companion. I realized that during all of the training and trying to create the perfect hunting dog, all I was doing was bringing out his natural instincts and refining them. Labs were born to retrieve. That is why they never complain, they never back out of a challenge and are always up for any adventure; they are constantly looking for more. They are first up in the morning and the last who want to call it quits. They look at us dumbfounded when we call it a day or when we miss a shot. They have complete disregard for their own safety. We are the ones who have to tell them when to stop. After seeing this transformation first hand, hunting began to mean something else to me.

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I know that a dog’s time on earth is far too short. Hunting seasons quickly come and go and the time during those hunting seasons when we are able to ignore our worldly obligations becomes even less. This leaves a small amount of time for our dogs to do what they love. It is in this way that I learned that Dalton is more dedicated to hunting than I could ever be. While I always wish I could be hunting, I have life to distract me. For Dalton, it is the one thing that he has spent his life training for. It is what he lives to do. That is why every hunting season I get out as frequently as I can, but my original selfish intentions are not the same. Rather than using him as a means to make my life easier, I now get more joy out of watching Dalton make a retrieve and go after birds than shooting them. Part of what keeps me coming back is the same nervous feeling I get when a flock of geese approaches or a rooster flushes. My heart rate quickens the same now as the first time I went out, but I do not pretend to have a blood lust over the game in which I pursue. Whether successful or not, any day I get to spend in the field with my dog is a good day for me. Seeing the happiness he derives from the hunt, pushes me to keep going. My only regret is that I cannot take him out every day, and that he must work around my schedule. When the time comes, there is no alarm clock too early, tank of gas too expensive, decoy bag too heavy, field too muddy or destination too far to get your dog afield. They will be right by your side for all of it, patiently waiting for whatever comes next.

In the beginning someone had voiced their opinion, saying that I was getting the leftovers. While I will never know the actual motivation for the stranger to pass up on this particular dog, I am grateful for it. First pick or the one that was left behind, it is my hope that I would have ended up with him anyways. Throughout the past four years Dalton has given me memories and experiences that will never be forgotten. He was able to take my love of hunting and expand it into something beyond what I thought was possible, which is more than I could ever repay to him. The only thing I can do is take advantage of every possible opportunity, and try.