A lot of work goes into training and maintaining a hunting dog, but it’s a labor of love. When a setter staunchly locks up on point over an unseen woodcock or a relentless retriever ferrets out a teal from a tangle of cattails, it all seems worthwhile. Hunting with man’s best friend can be a rewarding experience, but occasionally leads to some unexpected adventures.

We were sea duck hunting the islands of Casco Bay one morning when we noticed a boat approaching our decoy spread. My initial thought was that they were being rather inconsiderate until binoculars showed it was old Johnny Greenlaw. As the shooting had slowed and we had nothing to hide we cordially greeted the wardens when they motored up to the rocks.

They were equally amiable as they cautioned we should be aware their female lab was in heat. Our three males had already figured that out and chaos and mayhem soon ensued, followed by pandemonium. By the time we got the dogs untangled, leashed and moderately under control the wardens were so flustered they undertook a hasty license check and an abashed retreat.

Always looking for new and different adventures in the outdoors, I eagerly accepted an invitation to join friends for a bear hunt with hounds. “There’s a reason we call it dog hunting,” they advised me as the day’s hunt began. Before it was over I understood clearly as we spent most of the day hunting for their dogs, a task that GPS collars have since made considerably easier. They also told me most of their successful hunts, when they occurred, ended with a bear still in the tree. “It’s about the dogs, not us.”

I reluctantly accepted an English setter once, the adoption brokered by a friend who bred a good line. Years later my old friend Gary Sefton wrote a song titled “Beware of Free Dogs,” which I wish he’d written sooner. Things weren’t going well to begin with, but took a decided turn for the worse the morning I let her out to do her business. She promptly ran a quarter mile down to the river, rolled in mud, raced back, knocked over the neighbor’s trash cans then came back inside and peed on the floor.

My dog, Jack, had a nose and a heart like no other. I recall one sea duck hunt when he was retrieving an eider and got tangled in the decoy lines. There he was, swimming with all his might and making no progress, but he wouldn’t let go of that duck. We had to launch the boat to retrieve him, pulling him safely to the boat by grabbing the duck.


I also recall the day I almost lost him. We were hunting from shore on a bitterly cold day. My companion shot an eider and Jack dutifully swam after it. Each time he’d get close, the bird would dive then reappear further from shore. Despite increasingly emphatic commands, he would not give up on that bird.

Frustration quickly turned to panic when I realized wind and tide were both pulling Jack farther and farther from shore. I raced up the beach to a couple of prams and quickly exhausted myself trying to free them from their frozen state. When I turned around I could barely make out Jack’s tiny head above the water, getting smaller and smaller. There was nothing I could do.

Fortunately, I gave up before he did. Slowly, gradually he paddled with all his strength against the ripping current and back to shore. When he finally made it we decided to call it a day. Jack and I were both shaking most of the way home. There were far more days when things went well, but it’s the odd and unusual that seem to stick out in my memory.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: bob@bobhumphrey.com

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