Beginning at age eight, our son, Jack, accompanied me over the course of two years to his Uncle Doug's duck club (the Duck-a-go-go) for numerous hunt trips in California's Suisun Marsh. Always eagerly rising before dawn, he relished the routine of dressing head-to-toe in camo, while shouldering his trusty, Daisy BB gun.
Since during those years we had no dog (our lab, Angus had past away two years earlier), Jack became my second set of eyes - scanning the skies for birds and readily climbing out to retrieve whenever lucky shots found their mark. Our blind, which he helped brush weeks prior to opening day, became a sanctuary for both of us; a place where father and young son could talk about anything and everything. It was during these precious times that I realized his interest in hunting, his patience in the blind and because he would be getting his hunting license the next year, the time was probably right to get a dog and have him help train it.
Because we hunt in all-too-often, warm California sunshine and in marsh ponds rarely over knee-deep, the need for an big, ice-bustin' retriever was never a priority. What's more, my wife, Trish, wished that our new family member could be a house dog, too. While reluctant to veer from trusty Labs, I began researching other dogs (and breeders) that might suit our whole family's wants and needs. My search ended several weeks later, when I discovered a litter of field bred springer spaniels in Yuba City, CA (very near the legendary Butte Sink) whose sire and dam both were used regularly for waterfowling and upland hunting.
After discussing the usual things with the breeder and conferring with my family around the dinner table, we elected to make the two-hour sojourn from our suburban home in the Bay Area to see the pups and the parents. As anyone could predict, we all melted at the sight of the eight little puppies, but now it was Jack's turn to pick the dog that would be his partner for many years to come.
Jack methodically lifted and examined each 5-week old pup: three liver & whites and five black & whites. From his readings on selecting a puppy, Jack already knew that if the parents were good hunting stock, most likely any of the pups would make a good hunter. Just the same, he thought his intuition would help him find just the right dog for our family. After some deliberation, he looked up at us and said, "H3-BWM", short for Halle's 3rd pup - black & white male (also easily identified by two, dice-like dots on his right hip's white patch). So, the simple part was done. Now, we had a three-week wait until we picked-up our new, future hunting partner.
During the next couple of weeks, Jack would run potential names by all of us. Naturally, his older sisters tended to poo-poo almost every suggestion. As the pick-up day grew nearer, I asked Jack if he had settled on a name for his new hunting buddy. That's when it hit him... Buddy. Simple, short and descriptive. It also led to his appropriate registered name: My Huntin' Bud of Duck-a-go-go.
And so it was. We picked up Buddy at 7-1/2 weeks and the fun began. Jack started with the sit, stay and come commands on a routine basis. Buddy grasped these lessons quickly. For fun and exercise, Jack rigged a duck wing to a line from an old fly rod and would work with Buddy. His birdiness was instinctual, and within a week, Jack could hide the wing in bushes around our lawn where Buddy would work his nose (and tail) until he found the wing.
With such quick success, I thought, was it possible to think our work was done? Heck no.
There were plenty of hunts when both Jack and Buddy joined me and plenty of times when Buddy would break at or just before the shot, or pick up a fallen bird and bring it back just short of the blind, or sometimes pick-up a bird and then not bring it at all. But we knew the more exposure to real hunting, the better. Jack and I continued training Buddy at home, progressing to retrieving, blind retrieves, hand-signals, etc...
Jack takes a shot as Buddy looks on
Now at age five, with four full seasons under his collar, Buddy, I confess, is still a work in progress. And, by the way and probably no surprise, so is my now fifteen year-old son. Jack got his hunting license just prior to his 10th birthday... which happens to always fall on the opener weekend. Don't you love it, when a plan comes together!
The two of them have grown into great compadres and most certainly, wonderful hunting partners. It amazes me that Buddy, like his sire and dam, knows his job is a retriever in the blind and a flusher in the field, having flushed and retrieved too many roosters to count. His nose is as good as any Lab, golden or Chessie that IÕve ever seen. And his tail... well, his docked tail never knocks over my cocktail! How many retriever owners can make that claim?
Did I mention that he also rules the roost at our home? I'm convinced Trish prefers his company to my own.
Long story short, I've had the unequivocal joy of watching two young pups, Jack and Buddy, forge a bond and partnership that would make any dad proud. It just doesn't get any better.