By Larry Dablemont
It is hard to describe the feelings and emotions you have watching an old companion you have raised from a puppy make his last retrieve. Unable to see now, Bolt, my 12-year-old chocolate Labrador, had put his nose into the wind and found the mallard drake that had flown out into a nearby field and dropped stone dead. It was under knee high grass where I could never have found him, but Bolt did, scenting the duck from 30 yards away.
So with half a good meal in hand, we headed to another pond a mile or so away, my old buddy staying at my heel, and we flushed another flock of mallards when we snuck up over the bank. Most were out of range, but one hen came up closer and I dropped her in the top of a fallen, mostly submerged tree.
At first I thought Bolt would have it in short order but I got to worrying about that tree top confusing him and thought about him getting all tangled up in it. But I wasn't going to lose the other half of a supper of grilled duck breasts.
In an hour or so we made it back to my pickup and headed home. Normally I won’t shoot a female duck of any species, but that day the hen mallard was the only way I would be able to get another duck for supper, so I wasn’t about to let it stay in that pond for the turtles or an otter or an eagle.
I took Bolt home and there sat his grandson, Lightnin’ Lad, on the porch. Lad had never retrieved a duck, but he was just a little over a year old, about 11 years old in human age comparison. The only problem was, he still is a pup going thorough training. It was time to see what he was made of.
Lad didn’t want to get in the front seat of the pickup, as every Lab I ever owned was always eager to do. He weighs about 100 pounds, too much for me to help him, and if I could adequately describe the half hour skirmish it took to get him in there I could provide readers a pretty good laugh.
Out in the country a half-mile or so from the pond, he went for a romp in the field around me but happily stayed within shooting range most of the time like you want a Labrador to do. I told him to get out in the pond, but I didn’t have to. I watched him go in with his customary eagerness and within five or six seconds he caught scent of the hen mallard, then maneuvered the tree top and found the duck. Then he headed back to me, dropping his first retrieve at my feet as I took photos and waited.
It seemed strange, being so happy to see him do so well, while knowing that soon to come, Bolt will not be there with us anymore. On the same day, I felt such elation knowing what a great hunter my young Lab is going to become and knowing that my precious old companion, Bolt, will likely be relegated to sleeping at my bedside, dreaming of days when he waited beside me, trembling with anticipation, watching flights of mallards circle our decoys.
I raised hundreds of Labrador puppies over the past 50 years and there were other wonderful dogs I kept and hunted with, now buried here on Lightnin’ Ridge, that I loved too, Brown-eyed Beau, Rambunctious, Czar, and Aladdin. Soon Bolt will be there with them, and then someday Lightnin’ Ridge Lad will join them, like just before or just after my ashes will be scattered not far from them.
In heaven, I don’t want some gold mansion; I want rivers and lakes and marshes near my cabin, lots of ducks and all my old dogs, a wooden johnboat, and a duck blind. Imagine a place where we can watch ducks in the winter and turkeys in the spring and catch fish all summer long.
I would be happy taking my dad and grandpa and uncle Norten and St. Peter and many others hunting and fishing, and have them brag on what good dogs I have and what a good boat paddler I am. I can’t imagine a better life than providing lots of folks in heaven wild game and fish to eat and making them as happy as I have been in my life here on earth.
I do not understand how heaven can be better but I have confidence there will be no computers nor television, nor bulldozers, nor greed to be found there, so there has to be beautiful rivers and unspoiled wilderness and ducks…and Labradors.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.