By William Lockard, Jr., DDS
In 1995 I bought a black Labrador retriever puppy and named him “Hunter.” After 2 years training, hunting and competing in field trials Hunter achieved the “Hunter Retriever” title.
Since then, Hunter and I hunted everything from doves, ducks, geese, pheasant and the wily squirrel in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado. He has been featured on the “Oklahoma Wildlife Channel” and an “International TV Feature on Outstanding Breeds.” While hunting pheasant in Kansas a friend shot a bird that fell into thick grass. Hunter did not see the bird fall approximately 50 yards away.
I sent him in the direction of the bird on a blind retrieve; when I thought he was close I whistle stopped him; he sat facing me waiting for a signal; I held my arm high above my head and made large circles in the air; he instantly started to make expanding circles until he picked up the bird.
My friend was amazed and asked, “How did you train him to do that”? I said, “I have never done that before.” I always called him “Hunter the Wonder Dog” and he really was.
In 2006 John Amico (Hunter’s trainer) selected a male puppy, Max, from Hunter’s last liter. John trained Max as he had done with Hunter. Now, fast forward to 2008, three friends and I were going to hunt Pheasant at our favorite place, Flying W Pheasant Ranch, in Kansas. Hunter is now 13 and Max is 2 years old. This would be the first time Max will hunt pheasant.
When we arrived at the old house that we have stayed in for the past 10 years, Hunter immediately acted like he is a young dog again. He knew where he was and what was going to happen in the morning. Max just thought it is a new adventure with the guys.
The next morning in the field, Max had no idea what was going on so he followed Hunter as he moved among the rows of cut maize. When Hunter would flush a bird someone shot it; Max was so fast that Hunter or the other man’s dog never had a chance to retrieve it.
My friend decided to put his dog back in the truck. After about one hour I put Max in the truck so Hunter could retrieve some birds. After Hunter retrieved 10 birds he was looking very tired so I brought Max back.
The last bird shot finally fell at about 70 yards; Hunter and Max started off together, but running over the uneven ground was hard and Hunter sat down about halfway and watched Max race on to retrieve the bird. They returned side-by-side. With tears in my eyes I witnessed the passing of the torch. They both sat in front of me; Max presented the bird to my hand as he had been taught. He learned from the best, his father.
At the end of the day, 4 shooters shot 50 birds. Max on his first hunt retrieved 35 birds, Hunter picked up 10, and my friend’s dog retrieved 5 birds. Max now 7 years old has matured to become a carbon copy of his father, Hunter, in looks and ability. This was ‘the best of hunts’ to see Max and Hunter working so well together. And the ‘worst of hunts’ knowing this would be my last hunting trip with Hunter. He could hardly move for 2 days and died the next year.