Water 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 www.huntspointclub.com).

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.”), but there is no bell involved. The Toller bounds about on the shore, inspiring the curiosity of rafted ducks who then swim closer to see what all the commotion is about … and into gun range.

Wills estimates there are less than 20 Toller breeders in the United States and that of the pups they raise, perhaps only 20 percent are for hunting … but the Toller has been bred for nearly 200 years as a hunting dog and the love of hunting is instantly apparent.

Wills does raise puppies for sale, but only one litter a year and he places the dogs judiciously, always with a waiting list. His puppies sell for $1,200 and the range nationwide is from $1,000-$1,500, depending on bloodlines.

Wills began creating Hunts Point in 2000. The first step was to renovate an old barn, a mammoth job that involved much structural strengthening, jackhammering out an old floor and pouring a new one, and finishing the interior in lustrous spruce sapwood.

A Toller retrieves a pheasant.

That now is the clubhouse, with a dozen rooms in the upstairs for hunting guests (plus a “suite” in an adjacent farm house). The spacious downstairs has a large area where Wills’ wife Peggy holds obedience training classes for any breed (it also can be converted to a banquet area for various groups).

The area also has a sporting clays course and in time will have a created wetland for waterfowl hunting. That chunk of about 150- to 200 acres currently is undeveloped. Another chunk of the property will be subdivided into several-acre home sites and those who build there will become Hunt Club members.

More Info On Tollers   
The AKC site has its official information on the breed: http://www.akc.org/breeds/nova_scotia_duck_tolling_retriever/index.cfm. There are many other citations if you Google “Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever”.

For a fine selection of Dog Supplies, click here.

For a fine selection of Waterfowl Hunting gear, click here.

Joel Vance is the author of “Grandma and the Buck Deer” (softcover $15); “Bobs, Brush and Brittanies “(hardcover $25); “Down Home Missouri” (hardcover $25); and “Autumn Shadows” limited edition, signed $45). Available from Cedar Glade Press, Box 1664, Jefferson City MO 65102. Add  $2/book for S/H.

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