A Tale Of Two Hunting Dogs

Moira’s Legacy, Maggie’s Mandate

The subject of hunting dogs is one that is near and dear to my heart. This comes as no surprise since hunting dogs themselves are near and dear to my heart. Upland bird hunting and waterfowling are a big part of my life, and dog work is big part of my interest in hunting.

Over 31 years ago, I started with Brittany spaniels and shot over a brace. Their names were Beckett and Obie. They were fine dogs with whom I enjoyed many good days afield.

With the passing of the Brittanies, about 16 years ago, I decided to go with a Labrador retriever. I wanted an all-around dog that could handle both upland and waterfowling chores. A dog that would be part of the Boa family also had to be a good companion in the house and on the road throughout the year.

Moira: A Big, Lean Huntress
We found all of these qualities in a shiny-coated, black Lab pup we named Doc’s Moira Nan. Moira grew into a big, lean huntress who developed into a fine hunting retriever, in the truest sense of the term. She never won any tests or trials, but was truly great and hunted all 14 years of her life.

Moira was not a fancy worker, but she got the job done. Whether retrieving ducks from icy water, or chukars and pheasants out of high corn and sorghum, she always performed admirably and with style.

Despite being exposed to Lyme disease and suffering a hip injury as a pup, she was highly skilled at putting birds to flight for the gun. Moira became a running pheasant’s nightmare, as well as a top conservation tool due to her uncanny ability to track down and bring back cripples.

She had a fine nose and I always enjoyed watching her work a blind-water retrieve. As soon as she caught the scent, her great head would snap around in the direction of the heretofore, unseen floating bird, and she would swim straight for it. I had a special appreciation for this, since as a former surf lifeguard, I knew what it was like to pursue an objective while swimming and only catching an occasional glimpse of it due to the action of the waves.

An elderly Moira dressed for a hunt.

While hunting with Moira, I often limited out on pheasants without ever firing a shot, as she would bring back downed birds shot by other hunters with less capable dogs. When working marshes, I was impressed with the way the ground seemed to thunder under her as she ran. I was mainly hunting public land in New Jersey then, and Wildlife Management Areas such as Assunpink, Manasquan, Flatbrook-Roy, Walpack, Dennis Creek, Marmora, and the sedges in the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers were often graced with her presence.

An Enjoyable, Faithful Companion
Moira was an enjoyable and faithful companion, who could make the best of time spent in the home as well as in camp, boat, or car. She was loved by all.

As time went on, Moira’s health began to fail ever so slowly. Although she hunted all of her 14 years, the hunts became shorter and her naps became longer.

Finally, one day I returned home from an appointment and found that she had departed. In a manner that was typical of her low-profile style, she had peacefully slipped away in her sleep. After all the good times we had together, I never really had the chance to say goodbye. She may have felt it was better that way and perhaps it was.

The void created by Moira’s passing was deep and despite her reserved manner the house and yard seemed unpleasantly quiet without her. Sometimes I thought I heard her paw steps even though she was gone. I missed our daily walks that I instituted to keep her mobile during the off season. My wife, Kerry, and I decided to get another Lab and that 9-month wait seemed endless.

And so, much to our delight, Maggie entered our lives. When we went to look over a litter of nine chocolate pups, she stood out right away. She was the smallest of the females, but unlike her somewhat lethargic siblings, she was active and took to me right away. And, she showed an interest in sniffing everything, especially bird wings. This tiny ball of glossy brown fur would pick up a pheasant quill or a chukar wing and parade around with it, and with head held proudly high, demonstrated a style that made us laugh out loud. Before naming her we referred to her as “the little one.”

Maggie: A Fast Learner
We brought her home on a cold, late winter afternoon. Traditionally, Kerry brings new pups home wrapped in a blanket and this was the case here. Maggie cried on and off all night and ended up sleeping with us that first night. As the days and nights passed the crying subsided. Crate training worked well for Maggie and she quickly became house broken, and enjoyed going outdoors for any reason despite the ice and snow that covered our backyard.

Mocha Maggie Mae IX at 6 weeks.

Her interest in feathers and bird wings increased as I worked each day to develop the strong bond that is so necessary to the relationship between a hunting retriever and her master. Early on she retrieved all manner of bumpers, dummies, and pursued a pheasant wing on a fishing rod and line with abandon. She has accepted the basic obedience commands of “come,” “sit,” “stay,” and “heel,” both on and off the leash, and enjoys working scent in our favorite training areas. In short, she has all the makings of a fine hunting dog.

Officially, she is Mocha Maggie Mae IX, and she sticks to me like glue. She is a most affectionate pup, with yellow eyes that seem to look right through you. She is stocky with a partial look of the English line. And yet she is finely muscled and when she started to develop out of the chubby puppy stage all I could think of was that candy advertisement from the 1950’s, “Chunky, what a chunk o’ chocolate!”

Maggie Will Be A Great One
Maggie is versatile and can be quite content, in the field, in the house, in her crate, in the outdoor kennel, or in the truck. She is a strong swimmer and at this point (7 months old), I’ll predict that she will be a great one. As I write this, she is curled up under the kneehole of my computer hutch, asleep but ready for action at a moment’s notice.

Yes, I probably do get too attached to my dogs in view of the fact that they remain with us but a short time. For me, however, one of the greatest joys of the hunt lies in working the dogs as well as in the relationship that can be enjoyed with them in the off-season and throughout the years.

Thus, in a way Moira’s spirit continues on through young Maggie Mae, and Moira’s legacy is becoming Maggie’s mandate — a mandate for excellence in hunting, companionship, and a loving family life.

For a fine selection of Dog Supplies, click here.

Hang on Maggie, hunting season is almost here.

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