By Chris Jennings, DU Web Editor
More than two-thirds of Ducks Unlimited members own dogs, but as the organization's official mascot for 13 years, Drake belonged to every DU member. Along with his owner and trainer, Mike Stewart, Drake regularly appeared on Ducks Unlimited Television (DU TV) and ducks.org. Stewart and Drake traveled widely, hunting waterfowl across the United States and Canada and attending numerous DU national conventions, outdoor festivals and other events.
Sadly, Drake passed away on Dec. 15, 2013, and was laid to rest at his home, Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi.
"Drake was an excellent gun dog and represented Ducks Unlimited well," DU CEO Dale Hall says. "Drake has made a lasting impression on members and supporters for years. He embodied all of the characteristics treasured in a hunting companion, and his legacy will live on with Ducks Unlimited."
Drake was born in July 2000. At 10 weeks of age he found his way into the spotlight via training sessions filmed for DU TV. The show would document eight and a half years of Drake's training. In total, Drake appeared in more than 90 different television shows as well as countless magazine articles.
"Had you recorded each session, you would have an excellent training plan for developing a waterfowl retriever using positive, balanced reinforcement," Stewart says. "These tips remain the longest, continuously aired segments on dog training on television."
The majority of DU members' interactions with Drake did not come in the duck blind but at one of the hundreds of DU events Drake attended. The hard-charging retriever effortlessly transformed into a huggable mascot for the kids and a well-mannered dinner companion sitting by the head table at DU banquets.
"He will be remembered as a gentle dog that would allow scores of people to pet and interact with him at shows, and he pleased so many DU Greenwings who knew him well," Stewart recalls. "Never once did I worry that he would be aggressive toward another person or dog that he encountered. Drake was the epitome of a gentleman's gun dog. He was also quite versatile, serving capably as an upland flusher, strike dog for quail, waterfowl retriever, and an adventure dog, earning the Master Trekker merit."
In 2004, he joined the first U. S. Gundog Team to compete in the United Kingdom. The team placed first in the prestigious P & O Irish Sea International Gundog Challenge and won the Atlantic Cup International Team Competition. Drake left the competition with an individual award as well: the Top U.S. Dog in the Eukanuba Interclub Challenge.
Drake passed the torch as the official DU dog to another young black Lab, Deke, in 2008. Following a similar training schedule by Stewart and under Drake's watchful eye, Deke has continued the highly popular retriever training sessions on DU TV and ducks.org.
Drake touched so many DU members over the years. Through his example, he encouraged many DU members to get a retriever and to train one.
"Whether hunting ducks from Nash Buckingham's famed blind at Beaver Dam or sitting beside me waiting to make the next retrieve of a downed dove on a hot September afternoon, Drake loved to pick up birds, and he proved over the years to be a superb game finder," Stewart says. "The hallmark of a fine retriever is to bring back birds that otherwise would be lost, and he did just that. He will be remembered in so many ways—as a show dog, a hunter, an adventurer, a friend, and a wingshooting companion that complemented the sporting lifestyle until his last day."
Read his memorial at wildroseblog.wordpress.com.
Retriever Training Tips featuring Drake, the DU mascot