By Ed Coleman
If you hunt without a dog, there have been times when you’ve lost ducks in high marsh grass and water. It’s unavoidable. Ducks have a way of vanishing, especially at dusk, when they fall in swampy terrain. And if you shoot over streams and ponds without a bird dog, it’s a given that some of the ducks you drop won’t be retrieved.
This hard and true fact about hunting can be summed up by something a waterfowler once told me. “Hunters lose ducks they shoot even when they have a dog,” he said, “but it’s maybe like only one or two per cent of what they bring down. Hunters without dogs lose many more birds than that, easily something like ten or more per cent.”
An experienced duck and goose hunter said this. He told me he grew up hunting without a dog, then got one and found he was harvesting more of the ducks he was bringing down.
“I was suddenly a conservationist, thanks to my dog,” he said.
I’ve been leading up to something a friend’s Newfoundland-born father used to retrieve ducks before he graduated to a bird dog. “It’s a simple device, a streamlined piece of wood, dotted with nails, with a long cord attached to it by an eyebolt,” the friend said. “Dad always called it a Labrador.”
What the friend described was something that might be useful at times for hunters who don’t have a dog. It may be too much of a nuisance to carry this gizmo around and you might even feel silly owning and using one. But I thought I’d mention it anyway, just to show you how creative some hunters can be.
Here’s a rough description of the Labrador: basically, it’s a small block of wood, tapered at both ends, shaped says the friend “sort of like two small bowling balls placed wide end to wide end.” Nails are driven part way into all side of the wood (I guess so it looks like a hedgehog). An eyebolt is screwed into one end to which a length of stout cord is attached. When you retrieve a duck the nails act as hooks. I’d guess that how far you can fling the Labrador depends on the length of the cord you attach to the eyebolt and how good you are at letting fly with it.
Can you see yourself now, twirling the Labrador around your head like a lasso? Of course you might look … what’s the word? …. silly, ridiculous, ludicrous or even strange. But what if there’s one occasion when the Labrador works and you retrieve a duck that otherwise would’ve been given up as lost? Think about that for a moment.
By the way, is making and using a gizmo like the Labrador any more unusual than carrying a spinning rod while duck hunting? Years ago, I ran across a duck hunter out on the Minas Basin mudflats that was carrying a shotgun and a spinning rod. Grinning sheepishly, he explained he used the spinning outfit to retrieve ducks. “Works just as good as a dog,” he said.