“Is this a true story or are you kidding me?” I asked my friend and he just sat there grinning. He liked to string me along and I wondered if this was one of those times. His story about a stray that turned out to be a bird dog with a handicap sounded like blarney to me.
Over coffee at a local donut shop the friend mentioned a boyhood hunting companion whose family took in a stray dog. “It was a big red, handsome male setter that apparently no one wanted. No one came looking for it after they adopted it so it became their dog.”
Anyway, long story short, the stray soon got the opportunity to go duck hunting. “Buddy took it out one afternoon after school,” the friend said. “When I saw him the next day he told me he shot a duck the dog had jumped out of the bulrushes.
“He didn’t say any more about the hunt. One duck only. He said his dog, he’d named him Ranger by this time, worked okay.”
As fall progressed, Ranger became Buddy’s steady hunting companion. Buddy took him out from time to time, usually after school. “But always just him and the dog,” the friend said. “After a while we began to notice something unusual. He never came back with more than one duck.
“This was so darn noticeable Buddy’s friends dubbed Ranger the ‘one duck dog.’ There was a lot of teasing going on about Ranger and Buddy’s shooting. You know how kids can be. ‘Did you get your one duck today?’ ‘How did the old one duck dog do?’ ‘Can’t afford more than one shell, Buddy?’ That sort of thing was ongoing.”
The friend’s tale about Ranger the one duck dog reminded me a mongrel someone gave us when we were kids. Jock was supposed to have rabbit blood in him so we took him into the woods every day after the season opened. It took a while but eventually he started to hunt. Turns out he was a whizzer. Fast afoot, quick to start rabbits, a good nose on really cold days, a high pitched, squeaky voice you could hear even when it was windy.
Then came the day someone fired at a rabbit when Jock was close behind it. A number six pellet struck Jock in the rib cage, barely penetrating the skin and we plucked it out. Another shot went through the muscle of a foreleg.
Jock was never the same after that. We would take him out and he’d start a rabbit. But one rabbit was all you could shoot over him after he was stung with the pellets. Fire one shot and the hunt was over. Jock would slink back to our vehicle and hide under it. Being shot had made him gun shy.
This occurs even with the very best of hunting dogs, by the way, and it’s the saddest thing that can happen to a four-legged hunting companion. I figured it might have been the same with Ranger, the one duck dog. It must have been gun shy; someone probably gave up on him and let him run loose, hoping he would find a home somewhere. As I said, no one came looking Ranger anyway.
When I asked my friend if Buddy ever hunted without Ranger, or if he was ever seen going home without him, he gave me a puzzled look. “How’d you guess that?” he said. “We thought it was odd Buddy was seen heading out with Ranger and Buddy would be alone coming back. We even kidded him about that. ‘Ranger stayed out to get a duck on his own, ey?’ we’d tease.”
Buddy’s family gave Ranger a home until he got old, the friend said. And Buddy kept on hunting him even after he left home and got another bird dog. But until the day he had to be put under, Ranger was never good for any more than one duck a day. The friend said Buddy eventually outlived the one duck nickname but he never admitted Ranger was gun shy.