Hi, Been a while since I've checked in and thought I would give a hunting partner report that might be encouraging to amateurs like me!
My girl (3rd lab for me) is now just 7, it has been quite a ride to what I would consider success and enjoyment. I'm just a one-dog guy that, when the pup comes home, it is instantly part of the family and if it doesn't perform, too bad. There are no options, other than the dog stays and dad gets sent down the road!
We had quite a ride, from her becoming gun shy as a pup due to a bunch of neighbors touching off fireworks, and and a retrieving desire that didn't really develop until 11 months of age. I kept it fun while working on obedience, one day it clicked. From there we continued with training and she now loves to retrieve. Occasional gunfire during training was OK, but I could tell it bothered her. I foolishly hit the duck blind with her and witnessed a meltdown that crushed me. But she loved birds, she loved to retrieve, and as I said, I'm just a one-dog guy with no other options, so back to having fun and lots of praise with frozen ducks and a blank pistol. And a lot of it. Her 3rd season I hit the point of "time to fish or cut bait", and headed to the fields with a partner to drop some geese, where I could handle the dog a moderate distance from my buddy doing the shooting. The hope was for her to connect the shot with birds dropping, while not being so close to the gun. It took a season of encouragement, me not getting to shoot much, a lot of excitement and running with her on a line out to the downed bird, dragging the bird and getting her fired up, etc. BUT - it worked! The sound of a shotgun is now music to her ears believe it or not.
I finally have a hunting partner that is quiet in the blind, steady to shot, has since never failed to make a retrieve on land or water. She now hunts for multiple guns, is an example to a couple buddy's new pups that are still developing (she even knows where the donuts are kept, but hasn't showed the pups that trick yet), and does a hell of job in the pheasant field too. She handles multiple water retrieves routinely, and stays with diving cripples until the job is done or I call her off if I think a finishing shot is possible and necessary. This year we have worked a dog blind into the mix for field hunting and she adapted very well. She gets the idea that she has to hide in order to get some birds.
Which brings to this past weekend, her longest and best retrieve to date. Hunting alone, I somehow stunk up the place with poor shooting on geese (well within range, just one of those days). I barely hit one that I didn't think was going to come down. But it sailed a long way into a cut corn field about 450 yards away, where it looked like it finally hit the ground. I sent her, stopped her twice for correction, and handled her to near the fall, when the bird "flushed", got some air but not enough and she was able to grab it. Straight back to heal and delivered a feisty cripple to hand. To me, that's what it's all about.
So that's my update. We've had several great seasons after our bumps in the road and I've lost count of the numbers for ducks, geese, and pheasants she's brought to my side. Many of which would not have been recovered without a good dog. I guess my message is to the average guy struggling - don't give up! Couple of pics for proof.
Hope your hunting season has been as enjoyable, and you and your family have a great holiday season.