Great Hunting Dogs: For Whom The Dog Tolls

Jim Wills’ Minnesota license plate says it all (“Toller”), and he is in love with Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers and their ferocious desire to hunt.

Wills, a Minneapolis corporate lawyer, is building his retirement dream on 620 acres of sandy north-central Minnesota grassland, a few miles south and west of Pequot Lakes, off Highway 371. He calls it Hunts Point Sportsman’s Club and it is almost 10 years old and thriving (see

A close-up of a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

Tollers are an old breed, but newly recognized in the United States. The American Kennel Club gave the breed official recognition in 2003, but it had been accepted in other countries, including Canada (since the 1950s), much earlier.  According to the official breed description, “Many Tollers have a slightly sad or worried expression when they are not working.”

Hunts Point has the usual shooting preserve mix of pheasants and chukar partridge, plus bobwhite quail, which visiting hunters use mostly for dog training. “We have a half-dozen or more wild broods every year,” Wills said. Most of the countryside is wooded ruffed grouse country.  

Wills rehydrates his dogs with Elements-H, which is specifically a hydration supplement drink, available in Minneapolis, but not widely elsewhere. He uses a squirt bottle, injecting the liquid into the side of the dog’s mouth and not a drop escapes. 

Tollers Work Like Fine Machines
The two Tollers work like a well-oiled machine, running crossing patterns within gun range, the way good flushing dogs do. Their fluffy tails work constantly and Wills said that is the hunter’s warning flag. “When they’re on birds the tail starts windmilling,” he said.

Jim Wills with one of his Tollers.

Wills uses the dogs to retrieve ducks on lakes west of his hunt club, mostly mallards and diving ducks, with a few wood ducks mixed in. He uses boat blinds, tucked into wild rice and if there is no better eating duck than a rice-fed mallard. 

The breed name is misleading — “tolling” implies the use of a bell (“It tolls for thee

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