Goose the Boykin

Goose the Boykin

“If I could clone Goose to get me one just like him, I would,” I told his owner a few weeks after he picked up his spirited Boykin Spaniel. The one-and-a-bit-year-old had come to me just for a month of force fetch and holding drills as he had stubbornly decided on a whim that feathers were not for him (all while bumpers were his love language). An observant little dog -as Boykins tend to be- he actively studied me like a miniature villain as we trained, trying to determine what he could get away with and whether or not this new handler was going to be the one to make him pick up those feathered things he loved chasing, just not holding. To make a long story short, he holds birds now.

Dove Hunting in South Texas

But this story is not one of training, for that was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Nor is it of great feats at Field Trials, for Goose doesn’t care for such things. This is one of a new relationship -a friendship- built with a dog that is not my own.

As we trained, that friendship began to blossom. He has a big personality that I relish, but we kept it professional and it didn’t go much beyond the fact that I enjoyed working him, that is until the real work began, quite by accident. A buddy of mine wanted to hunt a specific spot, but had no boat. With mine being beyond the legal horsepower limits in the refuge, however, we had to improvise. This led to the plan of running the bayou in my 17 foot mud boat with a 14 foot canoe strapped on top for putting into the refuge.

Loaded Down Coming out of the Refuge

I haven’t done it before, but I have enough sense not to put a two-year-old, 75 lb Labrador in an already-full canoe and paddle for half an hour at 4:00 AM. So Rex couldn’t come. But then why go hunt at all? For me, to kill birds with no retriever surpasses “jumbo shrimp” as the world’s #1 oxymoron. While I like to tell myself that I usually only kill one out of the flock, not because I’m a bad shot, but because I want to get the dog out there as soon as possible so I can watch, that theory doesn’t seem to hold up with anyone else for some reason... In any case, there had to be a dog present, that much was certain.

Following the obvious realization that a smaller dog would work, I shot a text to Goose’s owner and asked if the swamp poodle could be available for the next day's early morning mission. The little brown dog was at the kennel within the hour; was fed, watered, and put away for the night.

The next day, following the new-moonlit (another oxymoron for you) drive to the ramp, we were running the bayou with the wind in our ears. After loading up the canoe, I put Goose in a spot behind me that could barely have fit a backpack, but he appeared to like it well enough and curled up. Half-way through our paddle, however, I suppose he saw something in the darkness he wanted to investigate, and I felt him on my back as he jumped up and out towards the shore. A quick “no Goose!” brought him back along-side the canoe, and I pulled the dripping pup over the edge and into the space between my knees, where he was “seatbelted” in-between my thighs until we got there. As was the reason for bringing him, the boat barely rocked throughout the single-entry dock diving contest. We arrived at our spot with no more excitement, throwing out the decoys in front of some thick cover, stashing the canoe, and settling back into the cane to talk, snack a bit, and await the sunrise.

My friend drew first blood, knocking down a blue-wing teal directly followed by my own green-wing, putting two in the water but up against the far bank. Goose got excited, but in my own error setting up in the dark, I put him in a spot where he couldn’t see very well, and as a junior dog, he couldn’t run the blinds. We had to pick those ones up, but threw him one as a practice retrieve to get him going. After moving him to a better vantage spot, we nestled back in and waited for the big-duck flights. The gadwall struck next, with both a hen and drake falling by my friend’s reports while I hit nothing but air. Goose didn't see the drake but watched the hen fall, poking his head out to the side while his body stayed put, exploding on his name as I unclipped him, and bringing the flapping bird back to hand. He was learning. A big flock of bluebills were the next attendees at the party, swooping in with their little football-shaped bodies, wobbling in to land. My friend and I smoked one apiece, with the hen falling close enough to walk out and pick up and the drake flapping at the right edge of the spread. Unclipped at this point as he had proven to me that he wouldn’t break, Goose locked onto the drake, looked back at me as if to ask permission, and gunned it on my approval. I could tell the bird didn’t have a lot of strength, but it was flapping a bit and I hoped it would dive a few times. I really wanted him to have the experience of chasing a cripple who could hide underwater instead of taking a final shot to make the retrieve easier. It dove under right as he neared the spot, and he stopped and stared at the little whirlpool incredulously, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. With a few encouraging words from me to keep searching, he slowly turned around in a circle, and after seeing the bird pop up ten feet away, rejoined the pursuit. The bird was on his last vestige of strength, and he made a feeble attempt to dive again as Goose neared him, but the little dog quickly thrust his entire head underwater (I have it on video) and pulled him out before he could make his escape, delivering the little round bird perfectly to hand. Fool me once, shame on you. But Goose don't get fooled twice.

The Hollywoods finished off our morning, coming in a group of ten or so. We again knocked down one each, and Goose made a textbook retrieve on the orange-footed drake I had hit. With birds still in the air, my friend quickly made the trek for his kill to save time.

After that however, the sun rose a few more degrees and the action dried up. We saw some big flocks on the horizon, but my buddy and I shared a laugh at my mention of the classic line: "they know where they're going and they ain't stopping for nobody."

Before Loading Up

We filled up the canoe far less carefully than on the pack in, once again stashed Goose between my knees, and began the trek to the mud boat. Stopping to pick up a teal that the group north of us had sailed but perhaps didn't notice (or I suppose didn't bother to get), we returned it to them on the paddle out, and the rest of the trip was just part of the montage.

Back at the ramp, I of course took a few minutes to take more pictures, and we were on the road back to our respective houses to tell our women all about it.


Back at the Ramp

That day marked the beginning of what I hope to be many times hunting with Goose. He has made other appearances since then and is always welcome on my boat and in my blinds. A quiet, intelligent hunter, I'm not sure how else to say it: waterfowling with him simply makes me happy. I look forward to the next time we sit together in the reeds, waiting for the next wobbling diver or Top Gun teal.

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